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Kristen Lamb

Author, Blogger, Social Media Jedi

Kristen Lamb — Photo

Posts Tagged: handling criticism

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I heard somewhere that, statistically speaking, 10% of people will simply not like us, no matter what we do or how much we try. Whenever we decide to do something remarkable or even just different, this is when we’re most likely to encounter push-back.

Also, if we enjoy any measure of success or achievement, expect to be knifed. This is reality. We cannot control others, only ourselves and how we respond and what we choose to internalize. As writers, we’ll experience this with friends, family and even strangers.

Ah, strangers…

If I met someone and told them I was an HR manager, most people likely wouldn’t reply, “No I meant, what is your real job?”

I wouldn’t have to give a resume of all my accomplishments and proof I made money as an HR manager or even a roster of how many people I had in my charge. Yet, no one seems to find this type of behavior rude to do to creative professionals.

Sometimes it’s more than a little hard not to take it personally. But roll with it. Will save wrinkles 😉 .

Yet, I will say this kind of disrespect can derail us when we’re new, so we must learn to IGNORE IT. Maybe others won’t tell you this, but I will. I believe in you. You’re not Schrodinger’s Writer. You exist.

Original image via Flickr Commons, courtesy of Casey Konstantin
Original image via Flickr Commons, courtesy of Casey Konstantin

Write words? You are a writer NOT an “aspiring writer.” Aspiring is for pansies. It takes guts to do this job. Feel free to be a pre-published writer, but leave aspiring to the amateurs where it belongs.

Doctors begin as pre-med and lawyers start out as pre-law. They aren’t aspiring doctors and aspiring lawyers so I recommend deleting that word from your lexicon. Ignore these toxic “opinions.”

Also? Blog any amount of time and someone will call you an idiot. I guarantee it. They will have all kinds of Monday Morning Quarterback opinions, but they often hide behind cutesy monikers and avatars and don’t have the stones to have their OWN blog.

Why? Because being critical is way easier than doing.

There are all kinds of theories as to why humans act or react the way they do, but truth is? I don’t really care. Bluntness is my superpower. I don’t care and most times? You shouldn’t either.

I feel there are some things we’ve been taught in the past twenty or thirty years that’s just plain bunk. If we believe these “truths”? Just save up for therapy.

Every Opinion is Valid

Meme from Facebook

Nope. Sorry. Not all opinions are valid. Yes, people have a right to an opinion, but they also have a right to be wrong. Learning to separate out junk and ignore it is going to help you (and me) maintain peace when criticism comes our way. Discernment is critical.

My mom and I often talk about how stories we gravitated to as children are very telling about our character weaknesses/struggles.

My favorite was Old Man Wicket’s Donkey. The poor old man sets out with his grandson, a donkey and a load of grain. Everyone they encounter on the road has an opinion and Wicket tries to accommodate.

You terrible man. How can you let the boy walk when there is a donkey he could ride?

You dreadful, selfish man. How can you load that poor donkey with all that grain and a boy? The boy can walk!

And on and on and by the end of the story, they are all in the river, the grain lost, and the donkey drowns. By trying to please everyone, Wicket lost everything. He (and the poor donkey) paid the consequences for the decision, not every stranger with an opinion. For them? Opinions are free.

Sometimes, we just have to draw a line and if people don’t like our decision? They can get over it.

Understand sometimes others might not have enough information, the wrong information, sun spots frying their critical thinking. Who knows? Who cares? They might even have kind or noble intentions. But we’re the ones left with a dead donkey for listening to too many voices.

Every Opinion has Authority

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Again? Nope. Some people are not only wrong, but they don’t have a say. I know we live in this touchy-feely world where we’re all friends and peers but that’s a ticket to Crazyville. One of the reasons I quit running a free on-line novel workshop is I spent too much time defending my lessons and critiques against newbies.

I had people who begged and pleaded and got on waiting lists to be in my class…just to argue with me non-freaking-stop in front of others. They’d been in the writing world all of a minute when I’d spent ten years in the field. It was exhausting for me and demoralizing for others in the class.

Looking back? I shouldn’t have indulged this behavior.

I never mind questions. I LOVE teaching the whys behind my methods and new people often think of things I don’t. I learn from everyone. I believe most professionals are open and even excited to share more details.

But that’s wholly different than some neophyte being disrespectful, challenging a professional’s competency in front of others, and refusing to listen and take instructions because we’re all pals. I’ve experienced this poor behavior on the blog, in the workplace, writing groups, family, and even martial arts.

Nothing like a white belt standing there and correcting an upper belt. Le sigh. Most of my injuries in martial arts came from White Belt Know-It-Alls who believed they could correct/ignore me in Jiu-Jitsu (because they once took Tae Kwon Do for a month).

Um, no. And I was the one with the torn rotator cuff, not the noob who didn’t want to listen to how to do a throw properly.

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I learned eventually to stop this early with a boundary. If someone is reckless in the dojo and won’t listen? I won’t work/spar with them.

As a current two-stripe white belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, I know my place. If I have a question or don’t understand something, I respect Coach’s instruction and don’t argue because, “I watched a YouTube video that said…”

No.

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Thing is, some people just don’t get a vote and they shouldn’t get one. There are places even MY opinions are better kept to myself.

One of my greatest vexations in the business/writing world has been dealing with people who go to just anyone for an opinion. This erodes confidence and creates confusion.

If I write romance, it is unwise to get a middle-aged male who likes techno-thrillers to beta read. He isn’t my market. If he doesn’t like it? Fine. But don’t go rewrite the book because one person made a constipated face. This person’s opinion shouldn’t have the same authority as a respected beta reader who’s a middle-aged female and huge fan of love stories.

I had family members who felt the need to give an opinion about me leaving sales and becoming a writer. People who hadn’t talked to me five times since childhood. Really? Just…really O_o .

Okay, when we’re finished talking about my career path, we’re going to have a little chat about your relationship record and child-rearing.

Or not.

Know WHO You Are

My favorite quote is, “Tigers do not lose sleep over the opinion of sheep.” People have opinions. A lot feel the need to share them. Go team! But we don’t have to listen and take these opinions to heart. We can consider the source.

Sometimes criticism or critique is valid, but it can also be manipulation and gas-lighting with a bow. A big red flag is when others don’t address a specific behavior, they’re content to condemn you (or me) as a person. When I was in my 20s and even 30s I used to play these Reindeer Games.

No mas.

Well, people don’t like you because you talk too much.

So I’d be quiet.

Well, people don’t like you because you don’t talk enough. They think you’re a snob.

Oh-kay.

Well, you really just need to watch your topics of conversation. You’re offending people.

Apparently not enough for them to come to me in person. Which people? Which topics?

Well, I don’t want to say. Just be careful what you talk about.

I’m gonna go back to the “not talking” thing.

People don’t like you.

Why? What am I doing? What can I change?

Well, just try harder so others will like you. 

Okay.

People don’t like you because you just try too hard.

I give up.

The mark of a secure person is we don’t need to be surrounded by yes-men and drones. But just because we are open to opinions, doesn’t mean they all should get equal weight.

When it comes to doing this writing thing, we cannot listen to everyone. When we do, we end up with a Book-by-Committee, Blog-by-Committee, Career-by-Committee, etc. And, last time I checked, committees are generally known for just mucking things up.

Sometimes life calls for a benevolent dictatorship 😉 .

Yes, you likely will fail. If we aren’t failing, we aren’t doing anything interesting. I fail. I fail a lot because I try a lot of new things others are too chicken to attempt. Own it. Be proud of it. Show me someone who’s never failed and I’ll show you someone who never did anything remarkable.

Rhino skin is earned by trials and we won’t last long in the world without it.

Image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Paul Hudson
Image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Paul Hudson

Guard your dreams and your heart. Be fierce. Set boundaries. Let go of the toxic stuff to make room for the good stuff, the stuff with merit.

What are your thoughts? Have you encountered this nonsense in the writing world or even maybe the workplace? Do you have family, friends or even strangers who’ve crossed a line? Do you find it hard to ignore wrong or bad opinions? Have you dealt with opinions that corroded your confidence and made you second-guess?

Do you have a litmus test for what opinions and ideas are worth time and mental energy? Have you felt torn apart by conflicting advice? Maybe even dealt with the “no one likes you” maneuver?

I love hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of FEBRUARY, 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. 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).

For those who need help building a platform and keeping it SIMPLE, pick up a copy of my latest social media/branding book Rise of the Machines—Human Authors in a Digital World on AMAZON, iBooks, or Nook

Image via Flikr Creative Commons, courtesy of Anamorphic Mike.
Image via Flikr Creative Commons, courtesy of Anamorphic Mike.

I awoke at three this morning with an aching back (thunderstorms), then my mind began wheeling and there was no getting back to sleep. So I figured, what the hell? Get up and chat with y’all. I’d love to say the storm, my aching back or the toddler who gets up at three every morning lately (which is seriously spooky and a tad Paranormal Activity) is the sole cause of my sudden insomnia.

Alas, it isn’t. Why am I awake? The thought of rejection.

I’d love to tell you guys I’ve always been good at handling criticism, but truth is, when I started writing I had the skin of a grape and needed far more outside approval than was probably healthy.

Boldly…Okay Not-So-Boldly-Going…

The first two books are behind me and both did fantastic, but what about this third one? It’s completely different and I take some huge risks. What if people think I was eating lead paint, licking toads and smoking Qualudes while writing?

Wait. Does one smoke Qualudes?

What if everyone HATES it????

And this is probably why I’m up at three in the morning (aside from creepy toddler activity). I’m on the ledge of something entirely new, about to take the plunge. The book is at the formatter. This is the first time publishing on my own. I’m no longer a newbie. It’s a bigger game and I’m super glad I have you guys or I’d be terrified.

Okay more terrified.

Humans Dig Approval

Hey, I’m not immune. We all wan’t approval. We’re human. Yet, the problem is, criticism is part of life. Yesterday, we talked about writing fast, finishing and shipping. The best way to get really good at writing books is….ready for this? Writing books. As in plural. 

One of the main reasons writers work a book to DEATH is they fear criticism. They fear failure and rejection. So they work and rework and rework and never put themselves out there. Been there, done that, myself.

I know fear is a big reason I allowed my proposal to sit with an agent for eighteen months. I wanted the green light, the outside assurance that Rise of the Machines will be the best thing since unicorn stickers.

Putting ourselves out there is frightening. We open ourselves to rejection. Yet, the thing is, as much as it stings, criticism is vital to success.

Image via WANA Commons
Original image via GrandmaLow WANA Commons

Criticism Let’s Us know Where We Can Improve and Grow

We can’t fix what we can’t see. Criticism (when done properly) can take us to a new professional level. One of the reasons I’ve loved working with Piper Bayard is I didn’t have to waste time candy-coating my feedback and serving it on a polished platter so she wouldn’t cry.

I could say, “No, that doesn’t work. Here’s why.” Still can and it saves time for both of us.

And since I didn’t have to waste time adding fluff and glitter to all my critique, she’s now a published author with a critically-acclaimed book, Firelands. It’s AWESOME, btw.

Piper also has a seven-book series ahead. One is already written (and it ROCKS) and the next six are plotted. She’s a faster, better writer because she could take criticism, learn and move forward.

When it comes to my new book, I want to believe every review will be 6 stars out of 5, but I know that isn’t reality. Some people won’t like the book and I’ll learn and do better with the next book and the next.

Storms Make Us Stronger

Somewhere I heard a story about a bio-dome experiment. Scientists wanted to grow all kinds of plants and trees inside the safety of a dome. The trees were perfectly spaced, received just the right amount of water, sun, and nutrition. They were shielded from the outside elements in an ambient bubble of perfect and the scientists fully believed this would yield ideal trees because they were growing in an ideal “world.”

Yet, over time, the scientists noticed the trees never grew past a certain height and their roots were very shallow. Also, to add to the scientist’s surprise, it seemed trees outside the dome, trees faced with drought, competition, and storms fared better and grew bigger.

How could this be?

What they learned is that storms broke branches, yes. But damage forced the trees to get tougher in the broken places. Trees that had to compete for sunlight had to grow taller. Sometimes there was drought, and this forced the trees’ roots to grow deeper making them stronger and more resistant to high winds because they were anchored.

Original image via David Farmer WANA Commons
Original image via David Farmer WANA Commons

We Don’t Grow in Pink Perfect Bubbles

I know there will be criticism. There always is. Yet, thing is? I’ve been in critique groups where everyone just told each other how awesome their writing was, and you know what? No one grew. The writing never improved.

I don’t know about you, but I want each book I write to be better than the last. I can’t do this if I don’t have (sometimes painful) feedback. We need storms *shrugs*

Original image via Melissa Bowersock WANA Commons
Original image via Melissa Bowersock WANA Commons

We Have to Accept That We Can’t Please Everyone

Part of getting a healthy relationship with criticism is learning to discern what’s constructive versus destructive. Some people are just jerks. Nothing we do will please them, so learn to shrug them off.

Focus on the positive, but at least acknowledge the negative. Maybe the person has a point, but maybe the person is a lunatic. Not all feedback is relevant or even sane. 

Listen to the constructive and ditch the destructive as soon as possible. It’s toxic. If we try to please everyone, we’ll end up pleasing no one. “Books by Committee” suck.

What are your thoughts? Suggestions? Do you fear rejection? Fear failure? Is it keeping you from moving forward? Have you been hurt by criticism only to realize it was the best thing for you?

To make you guys laugh, I’ve included a vlog I did about the first time my fiction was critiqued :D….

I love hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of June, 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 novelor 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 June I will pick a winner for the monthly prize. Good luck!