A to Z Challenge 2013

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Realizing How Much I Don't Know

I recently had a friend beta-read a portion of the novel I've been slaving over, and I started to read through their comments. First off, I have to say that this is a person I have a great deal of respect for. I've read their work as well, and I have always been impressed by the quality of their writing. I realized fairly quickly just how much I have to learn about writing well. It's really a daunting feeling, to see just how much there is I should know but don't. It got me to thinking about my own writing process, about how many things I'm not doing that I probably should be doing. I went through all the usual arguments. Maybe this person is just being opinionated. No, thats just writer's ego. This editor has said quite blatantly that its nothing personal. Maybe she doesn't understand me, my muse, my writing. Well, then thats an obvious indicator that I'm not writing well enough, isn't it? In the end, all of the arguments I could come up with against the editor's advice point to the fact that I need to improve my writing level.

Now I could decide to quit, because to be honest, the amount of change I feel like I need to make is really scary. But that's merely my own self confidence taking a hit. Maybe the story I'm trying to tell isn't really as good as I think it is? This is a sign that I need to show this world to the reader, invite them in, and make them believe why my story is worth telling. Because one thing the editor did say enough times is that there is something there, but she couldn't really feel it no matter how much she wanted to. That points to a lack in the writer, not a lack in the story itself. After taking some deep breaths and really understanding what was being said, I realized this is just another step I have to take if I want to become a serious writer.

I bring this up not to vent about my own slight disgrace, but to talk about how we as writers deal with rejection or criticism. I've read an insane number of blogs and posts that talk about queries being rejected, agents being harsh, publishers being rude. This may be true. The problem with that argument is this. If your writing is really that good, how is it possible that so many (arguably) respected people in the industry can't see it? At some point (just as in so many other areas of our life), we need to take responsibility for our own writing. That doesn't necessarily mean that what we're writing is crap, but criticism doesn't have to be the bane of our existence either. We need to evaluate information we receive about our writing with the same critical eye that we expect from everyone else. And we need to be willing to realize just how much we don't know, coupled with a willingness to fill that gap in our own knowledge before sending our work out again.

So how do you deal with criticism, or the realization that you have more work to do?


ElanaJ said...

This is a great topic. I might have to steal it for my blog! ;-)

Criticism is hard to swallow. I take Mary Poppins' advice and arm myself with large amounts of sugar before opening my document or reading my crits. Some of them sting, but usually with a few days of thinking and maintaining distance from my writing, I can see their point.

I think you've hit it when you say that authors need to realize that every word they've penned isn't gold.

WindyA said...

On the handling critiques side that's worked wonders for me is not to go through them thinking you need to make all those changes in your project right away.

Read the crit, let it stew, think it through. Then stop thinking about it. Go back in, the bite will be gone (mostly) and then do what you must. It is easier when you're less emotional and realize that it's called a first (second, third) draft for a reason.

Jamie said...

I like criticism. There, I said it. I think it's because I'm so hard on myself, that it's almost a relief to read a different take on my work. And I can't spot everything wrong with my writing, because I'm the one writing it. I may not always agree with the advice I get, and then it's up to me to decide whether to take it or not, but by and large, it's always helpful, and results in changes for the better.

Litgirl01 said...

I am right there with you! DON'T QUIT! It's all part of the learning process. It's all VERY positive! All writers go through this. The ones who publish are the ones that didn't quit. :-)

Critiques are gifts! They help you to move forward and grow.

The Screaming Guppy said...

I think WindyA makes a really important point. Lady Glamis has talked about the idea of Layers as well, and I think it's a great concept.

Pick one thing, and work from there. Then pick the next thing. Don't try to tackle everything at once, or your head will no doubt explode!

Another important thing is giving your WIP some time off. I took two months away from my manuscript Hound, and when I came back, it was so much easier to revise and edit.

/diet coke toast

Davin Malasarn said...

If you're a beginning writer, you may feel like you're getting a lot of criticism. Just stick with it a little longer and soon you'll have many more techniques mastered. The critical comments will drop and revision will be easier. You pay more up front, but it comes back to you. And the critical reviews will never stop until you've written that perfect book...which I have yet to find.

I get discouraged by some reviewer's comments, but in the end I tend to take the majority of them. You're right, being able to evaluate what's right and what's wrong is important. And, it depends on your writing goals. If your goal is to write a literary masterpiece like a classic Russian author, the majority of agents will probably not be into it. That doesn't mean it's necessarily bad, just that the current publishing world doesn't see it as marketable.

Danyelle said...

Great post!

Knowing that I have a lot of work ahead of me, especially when I thought I was finished makes me want to disappear under the bed. But then I remind myself that writing is work, and I'd better learn to deal with it now while I don't have things like deadlines or people expecting things.

Criticism can be hard, and it's important to look at it objectively. Not all criticism is equal. There is always going to be someone that doesn't get your book or your style, but if nearly everyone doesn't, that signals a problem. I find it easier to deal with if I think of it in professional terms rather than taking it personally. :)

Fran said...

Think about the books you absolutely hated, or couldn't even finish (or didn't want to start!) Then think about how many people loved them. That's the answer to worrying over those personal opinions on your work. YOU have to believe. Never rely on the opinions of others if your need to write is overwhelming. Google "famous literary rejections", or words to that effect and see what comes up.

Cindy said...

You're right, we DO need to take responsibility for our own writing. Isn't it funny that the more we learn about writing the more we realize we still have to learn?

I try to ask myself whenever I receive criticism if it will help my writing. If what's been suggested or disapproved of is something that could help me grow as a writer. And I try not to take it personally. Some of the harshest criticism is what changes our stories for the best.