Enemies of the Art Part 10–Having a Thin Skin
Being a writer is great fun. We are storytellers and we love entertaining people. The new paradigm is AWESOME. Suddenly, if you want to publish your work, you can. We no longer have to go the traditional route and self-publishing is certainly an option. Yet, we MUST be careful. Our product should be AS GOOD as anything out of NY. I see a lot of writers who rush to publish when they aren’t ready.
They don’t have a core story problem, or don’t yet properly understand the role of antagonists and how to use them. Many don’t yet grasp narrative structure or POV. There is A LOT that goes into writing a novel a reader will enjoy. Just because we made As in English doesn’t automatically qualify us to create a work of 60,000 or more words that can keep a reader riveted. There is a lot of stuff “behind the scenes” that readers don’t know about, but they can sense when those elements are missing.
Writing Group Nightmares
I was part of a couple critique groups for a few years, and there were certain writers who I’d just ignore. In the past, when I’d pointed out they had 47 adverbs on page one, they threw a fit. If I mentioned they had no plot? They went berserk. Eventually, I just left the pages unmarked and kept quiet.
I tried running an on-line writing workshop to help writers with this big picture stuff, and I finally gave up. It did less teaching and more “ego babysitting.” There were participants who acted so badly, I just had to ask them to leave. They came to me (me being an expert) claiming they wanted to learn, and yet instead of learning they argued every last little point and acted like toddlers, wailing how I was “trying to destroy their art.”
Um, no. Narrative structure is pretty basic. Being in ONE head at a time is basic. No flashbacks every thirty words? Pretty basic.
One writer, upon being escorted out of the group, blogged about how we’d “wasted her time” because we wanted her to have a core antagonist.
There is a learning curve in writing, just like EVERY art form. I played clarinet for many years. I started by learning how to read music, then how to finger the notes, proper embrochure (mouth position), etc. I didn’t start out playing Flight of the Bumblebee. I started with Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star. I didn’t scream at my conductor that he was ruining my music when he wanted me to learn how to read music.
I happened to be president of a writing group years back. During a critique session, one of the participants brought an article she wanted to submit about how eating from home was healthier and less expensive. Her target readers were retirees with limited income.
In critique, my only comment was that, to perhaps make the article stronger, she might choose some restaurants her readers might frequent and add up the cost of some of the meals. This way, in black and white numbers, she could show them how much money they’d save using her recipes. Later, at a board meeting she lunged over the table, wagged her finger in my face and screamed how I was abusive and had called her a fat cow in critique.
Huh? Lady, WHAT are you smoking?
Obviously, I grew tired of lunatics and amateurs. I’d had my work critiqued, too and sometimes the critique was nothing short of brutal. Bring it ON! was my motto. I’d had critique sessions so blistering that I later cried in my car…but I tried harder. I relished every bit of feedback and worked my tail off. If something seemed off-base, I read craft books until I knew what I should ignore.
We ALL need good critique. We never outgrow it.
Just because someone tells us our words aren’t all unicorn kisses doesn’t mean they are trying to destroy our art. We need to be open to feedback or we can’t grow, learn, change, and become masters of our art. We need to toughen up. Reviewers can be great and give helpful feedback, but some can be jerks who have nothing else better to do than write a nasty comment guaranteed to make even the best of us cry.
The downside of publishing outside the traditional model is that we haven’t been vetted. It’s probably easier to dismiss a ranting review if Simon & Schuster published your book. You know editors have looked at your work and it passed the test.
We NEED Threshold Guardians
If you want to be a non-traditional author? Join good critique groups. If you are in the DFW area, DFW Writers’ Workshop is full of professionals, not a bunch of people who want to play writer so long as all the critique is a fluffy kitten hug. Listen to beta readers. Hire professional editors—content editors and line editors. Content editors will help with the overall structure of the book and the characters, how the story reads. Line editors will make sure you don’t embarrass yourself with mass amounts of typos.
Toughen Up, Buttercup
This is one of the many reasons I encourage writers to blog. Blogging helps us build that rhino skin we will need to be successful. A lot of critique will be subjective. But, we are wise to listen without letting it unhinge us. If we go nutso every time someone points out a problem, then we can’t grow. People will eventually just remain silent and let us fail publicly.
Have fun storming the castle! *waves*
I’ve had people I have tried to correct on very basic things who just ran and self-published. Okay, but likely the reviews are going to reflect advice given but ignored. We will all get critique. It’s our choice whether or not to listen and what advice to take. Yet, brutal feedback will happen and it comes with the job (even with great books). We are wise to take most of the tough stuff in private so we can fix it and save the embarrassment of that same criticism being in a one or two-star review that is out for the world to see.
Professionals get tough. It’s how we mature and keep getting better. It isn’t the world’s job to babysit our egos.
Have you ever had someone go nuts in a critique group? On-line? Argue with reviewers? Have you ever had a critique that left you in tears, but you were later grateful?
I love hearing from you!
To prove it and show my love, for the month of March, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. If you leave a comment, and link back to my blog, and mention my book We Are Not Alone in your blog…you get your name in the hat THREE times. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly.
I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).
And also, winners have a limited time to claim the prize, because what’s happening is there are actually quite a few people who never claim the critique, so I never know if the spam folder ate it or to look for it and then people miss out. I will also give my corporate e-mail to insure we connect and I will only have a week to return the 20 page edit.
At the end of March I will pick a winner for the monthly prize. Good luck!