Monday, August 31, 2009

Take it, and Like it!



Someone debating the validity of your Genius.

How dare they, you ask??

The greatest gift a writer can get (besides cash or liquor) is honest feedback on his/her work.

How many of you have been writing since you were in high school or earlier?

How many were told they were brilliant by English teachers and/or relatives?

And how many of were unpleasantly surprised later in life to find out that ... yeah, not so much?

Welcome to the life of a writer.

That twirly feeling in your stomach is the beginning of a new and wonderful thing called Self Awareness. It is this discomfiting understanding that your first drafts are crap that will set you apart from the other wannabes and make you shine. Trust me :). It's true!

I was that kid who was told by all the teachers that everything they write might as well be inked in unicorn snot and angel tears because it's so amazing, and so thought (of course) this was true. Embarrassing, I know.

I very clearly remember my first week in college. There was an online poetry critique group that you could submit to, so of course I sent my Pearls of Awesomeness over, expecting them to praise me, tell me how amazing I was, and then ask me to tear their lesser works apart for them.

I'll never forget what happened next. They gave ME criticism! My themes were vague. The endings of my sentences weren't snappy enough. I was wordy. I was wasting words... Needless to say, I almost had a heart attack.

"But... I'm brilliant! Everyone says so!" I thought, shaking my fist at the computer screen.

This was when I first wondered if maybe my gradeschool teachers were liar-pantses, and I had a lot of work to do after all.

Thank goodness for criticism!

Without it, we would never know our shortcomings and would have no clue how to recognize them on our own. Criticism is the mirror that tells us when we have spinach in our teeth.

There is a theory that goes something like this: Competence is inversely proportional to confidence.

Have you ever noticed how the people who are worst at something are the ones that think they're the best? Think karaoke. Think middle-school poetry. Think... William Hung from American Idol. This is absolutely true for writing as well. The people that don't think they have any room for improvement are the ones who suck the most. They suck, because they never realize they have room to grow, so they simply don't bother on improving themselves. These are also crazy people.

Let's face it. Even Shakespeare probably sucked at first. He and Christopher Marlow probably had a critique group and helped sharpen one another's skills.

I guess my point through all this rambling, is that learning to accept and even love constructive criticism has made me a vastly better writer. I learn more and more each day, and crave feedback that can shine a light on something I've yet to learn. Hooray for people who care for me enough to tell me the truth :). I love you all!

There is a great discussion over at author Nicola Morgan's blog about when to either let your WIP die, or when to give it CPR and revise. I'm quoted there talking a little bit about my own journey with LEGACY OF THE EMPRESS, which is very cool! If it weren't for the couple of rejections I received, I never would have gotten critiques, never would have revised, and wouldn't have this shiny, sparkly new version that I swear is 10X better than I ever thought it could be.

Criticism is a gift :).

Do you treat it that way?


Abby said...

Have you ever noticed how the people who are worst at something are the ones that think they're the best?

So, does that work in the reverse as well? On the days I think my writing is the suckiest on the planet, it's actually the awesomest? Wait, don't answer that. ;D

I agree with you. I LOVE criticism. Without it, my novel would be nowhere near ready to submit. And I have a tendency to believe the criticism more than the praise. Not necessarily because I think people are lying, but because I think people are just nice as a general rule, and sometimes that can overpower their criticism. Does that make sense?

So, yeah. Criticism is awesome, and it helps when you have awesome critter friends as well. :D

Rebecca Knight said...

I do actually think that it works in reverse! :P I know that tons of professional, best-selling authors are riddled with self doubt. I think once you learn to look for the flaws and improve, you're on your way to kicking ass :).

Also, I totally get that about the praise vs. criticism! I'm the same way :P.

Tess said...

So, so true. I'm grateful for honest critique. It hurts and I have to bite my tongue as it is happening - but, later, after chocolate and tissues, I'm grateful ;)

FictionGroupie said...

If competence is inversely proportional to confidence. I must totally kick ass. :p I live in a state of doubt.

But I agree, an honest critique is an invaluable gift. I try to remember that when I'm giving critiques as well. Cause sometimes, I'm like, this might hurt their feelings, but then I tell myself I'd want to know if I were in their shoes.

Lisa and Laura said...

Critiques always sting a little at first, but the best ones (the ones that are right) confirm those niggling little doubts you had.

An honest beta reader who really knows what they're talking about is worth their weight in gold. No joke.

christine said...

Oh yes, a well thought out crit is the most amazing thing ever. Even the random criticism can motivate a person to improve.

I think we need to be open to learning in everything we do...EVERYTHING.

I wrote about 3K today on the virues on effective coaching for a NF project of mine. The whole topic of facilitated learning was a major part of that 3K. And while I worked on it I realized that my crit partners are my writing coaches...they help me in very profound ways that I could never repay!

HEY - you just gave me a blog post to go---

Scott said...

Ah, the sharp, steely edge of the knife called . . . criticism.

Initial Reaction: How dare someone besmirch my brilliance! Hmmmph!

Second Reaction: How dare someone besmirch my brilliance!

Third Reaction: Dang, I think they're right . . . a tweak here or there might add a bit to the story.

My father was always right. I inherited that trait (though not as badly as my brother). Time has taught me patience.

Criticism, like a sharp knife, must be handled with care. One wrong move - slice - OMG, I'm bleeding, I'm a free bleeder, ya know, somebody call 9-1-1 . . . Quick.

I have learned to look at any criticism with my eyes wide open, as well as my mind. Sometimes, other people see things a bit more clearly. I need to pay attention to their clarity, because sometimes my own is a bit fogged up.

Great post.

Annie Louden said...

Criticism is the mirror that tells us when we have spinach in our teeth.

I liked this. Also the part about liar-pantses. :)

Nice post, and yes, we can't get better unless someone shows us what we're doing wrong.

Badass Geek said...

Criticism is a wonderful thing, but hard to adjust to if you've never had it.

Lynnette Labelle said...

I think we had the same teachers. LOL Actually, as a teacher myself, I've said those very things to young, aspiring writers. Here's the thing. Those kids were at a publishable level, but I saw potential in their natural talent. If anyone could become a published author out of the students I taught, it would be them. I think that's what our teachers were trying to tell us. They just didn't communicate very well.

Lynnette Labelle

TereLiz said...

Invaluable advice and a great post, Becca!

Rebecca Knight said...

Tess--I'd totally left out the "eat chocolate" part of taking criticism, so thank you! ;)

FictionGroupie--I feel that way, too, and have to think of the spinach in the teeth analogy. It's not mean to say it if you say it politely. But it can definitely be difficult.

LiLa--this is so true! Before a critique I'm always like "hmmm, that part seems a little off to me, but maybe I'm just crazy." Turns out, I'm always right about that :P. Bummer!

Christine--very cool! That's so true about crit buddies being our coaches.

Scott--"My father was always right. I inherited that trait." This made me laugh out loud. You're awesome :).

Annie--thanks! It's sad, but true.

Badass Geek--Amen. It is hard to adjust to. We have to remember to be gentle on first-timers.

Lynnette--Hmm, I think you may be right. I'd never thought of it that way :).

Tere--Thanks, dude! Also, thanks for being one of my awesome critters ;).

Etiquette Bitch said...

RK: Couldn't agree more. I'm still not published, but the most clueless writers I meet are the ones who hear constructive feedback + then say, "Okay, but I'm not changing it!"

One does have to consider the source -- I'm dubious about writing groups, but take heed from my editor + agent friends.

ps - side note - I also love shiny new books! They make me feel like it's Christmas, esp. when I have them shipped to me!

Etiquette Bitch said...

ps: on your theory on confidence being inversely proportional....etc., reminds me of a line from a Modest Mouse song: "If it takes sh**t to make bliss/Well, I feel pretty blissfully....."

Let's say I feel pretty blissfully a lot! :)

Rebecca Knight said...

Hahahaha, well said, Etiquette Bitch, and welcome! :D