);

Kristen Lamb

Author, Blogger, Social Media Jedi

Kristen Lamb — Photo

Posts Tagged: writers handling criticism

Screen Shot 2015-02-25 at 1.15.18 PM

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

Screen Shot 2015-02-25 at 2.16.16 PM

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.

Screen Shot 2015-02-25 at 1.32.48 PM

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.

Screen Shot 2015-02-25 at 2.37.53 PM

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

Screen Shot 2013-03-07 at 8.17.25 AM
Doing critiques….

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.

*head desk*

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 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 March I will pick a winner for the monthly prize. Good luck!