Writerly Wednesday: Constructive Criticism
The one thing I worried about more than anything else (this is likely a lie) when putting myself out there is ‘what would people say about me?’
Sending my book off to my first readers is so hard! What if it’s trash?
I dreaded my first negative review. DREADED it. And then? I got it.
Starts out most excellent then apparently the author decided the plot needed thickening and devolved it into a typical jealousy filled bodice ripper.
Is that or is that not the best negative (2-star) review ever? I have used that as a marketing line. It is that good.
Bottom line – people are going to say things you don’t want to hear. How you handle it is up to you. I believed that I was gonna be the kind of person who would curl up in a ball and cry every time someone said something critical. And, I’m not gonna lie, my first book’s editing process hurt my soul.
My editor (who is not the same one I use now, although not because of this) told me things that I just knew were wrong. KNEW IT. (Spoiler: I was wrong.)
It hurt so much every time she told me the way I’d done something wasn’t the best way. I knee-jerked every comment on my first read-through.
And then, I took a step (or twenty) back and tried to look at it objectively. And I made changes – not only in The Cardinal Gate, but in my future writing. I am a better writer now because of the critique I got from my editor. (This holds true – I learn something new every time I go through edits.)
After that first time, which took forever for me to process because my knees were jerking all over the place, I developed a process. Whenever I get any criticism (I’m speaking specifically about my writing, but this applies to my whole life, too), if it makes me knee-jerk, I take my step (or twenty) back to think about it.
I need to look at what’s being said objectively and try to remove myself from the process as much as possible in order to make sure that I’m making the right choice. (Spoiler the second: this is much, much easier to do in regards to my writing than in my personal life or when arguing with idiots on the internet.)
It’s not always gonna be constructive. You’re going to get reviews from people who think a sex scene is a bodice ripper and think that’s a negative. You’re gonna get messages from people who think your cover model is too fat, who think that your cover model is unattractive, and who think the reason you chose such a fat, unattractive cover model is because you’re fat and unattractive. (Yes, these are all things, from more than one person…it’s mostly the Eleanor jabs – apparently she’s too “hippy” and “thick, but not in a good way” to be a believable love interest.) And that is going to piss you off. A lot of times, it’ll be presented as constructive. It isn’t. And you can’t let it get under your skin.
Save your energy, save your knee jerks, and save your own brain and sense of self-worth by determining who you’ll listen to and who you won’t. If the criticism that sears your soul comes from Joe in the Internet who claims to be an expert in [grammar, vampires, how thin a woman must be to be deemed attractive to vampires, EMPs, the proper way to announce gender identity, sexual preference, or ethnicity in a book, etc., ad nauseam], laugh and walk away. Joe doesn’t know you and Joe likely doesn’t know shit. Even if Joe is an expert on what fictional vampires (as opposed to the other kind) like in a woman, unless he knows you and your fictional vampire, he doesn’t get an opinion.
The ones you listen to are the ones you choose. My choices are my PSM, my partner, my beta readers, and my editor. Sometimes I ask opinions of other writers because I value their input, but I find it very easy (and very easy on my heart) to reject any unsolicited criticism. You don’t have to take what’s dished out if it’s not what you ordered.
So – know that it’s out there. Listen to the people you trust. Mock (quietly, not in their faces, probably) the randoms who think they know your life. And – if something makes your knees jerk, sit yourself down and figure out why before getting all mad about it. It might be valuable insight into who you are, or it might just be another idiot in the internet.