Thursday, May 19, 2011

If you can't stand the heat, you're not going to make it as a writer

In previous blogs, I've discussed the importance for writers of having a support system in place, either in the form of betas or a critique group or both. I also have friends who read what I write, but honestly, their value is more limited to telling me they like what I write which, while nice, isn't helpful in the how can I improve myself category of the writing process. Most friends don't want to offer criticism for fear of offending, and that's fine too. It also doesn't hurt to belong to online groups too, to find other like-minded people that you can bounce ideas off of, and do a back and forth sort of dialogue regarding your work, their work, and so on.

But go into it knowing this much - you may very well hear things that you don't want to hear about your work. I'm here to tell you, if you can't stand the heat, stay out of the kitchen!

I was in a situation recently where someone posted a WIP that was completely unedited and when I offered a couple of comments, I was accused of being mean. Probably because I didn't fall all over myself telling the person how wonderful it was. But isn't what you need when you join a critique group criticism? So why cry when you get it?

Face it, we none of us are perfect. That's why we have editors (who are also our punishments, but I'll save that for another blog). Wouldn't it be wonderful if every word that proceeded either from our pen or from our keystrokes was just the way we envision our story, with no changes needing to be made, best-seller material ready for an eager publisher to welcome with open arms and a huge advance?

Life does not work like that, though, and neither does writing. Writing requires a lot of thought, a lot of work, a lot of spit and polish, and hard examination - reading and re-reading, and going over. That's where the others come in, the crit partners/betas/idea bouncers - they help with that process by providing a fresh pair of knowledgeable eyes which will be able to see what your myopic too subjective eyes cannot always see.

No one likes to hear that what they've written needs to be fixed. You have to go into it, though, with the idea that your writing will need changes, whether for grammar or spelling or context, or plot, or getting the details right. How embarrassing if you decide to change your hero's name for whatever reason and don't discover til after publication that you missed it in a few spots, and now you've really confused your readers.

I find that overweening hubris is often - but not exclusively - the purview of the very young writer (and young doesn't necessarily refer to age, but to writing experience). I admit - been there, done that. I can remember a time when if you dared to suggest my work was less than perfect or needed something, I'd have a hissy. I got over that, and I learned to develop a thicker skin, and to appreciate the advice I was given. (FYI that doesn't necessarily extend to reviewers, but again, that's another topic, cause they aren't there to help you write, but to guide their readers).

So I'm mean for speaking the truth? Okay, I can leave with that. It doesn't make what I say any less truthful, and once you get past that youthful arrogance, maybe  you'll see it too. Or not, your choice.

Do you have to accept everything people tell you in terms of criticism? Of course not. Not everyone is right, and what they are offering are opinions, some of them more informed than others. Sometimes you have your own reasons for using the words you did, setting up your situation the way you did, etc. But sometimes other people are just right. I'm still learning to edit my own work, as well as the work of others. How? By doing. I take what people say to me and apply it to others. I'm learning to tighten my writing, cut out some of the fat and watch out for repetition (other than when I'm making a point). Sometimes it takes someone else to point out that  you have a tendency to abuse a word or phrase. Once you hear it, it's easier for you to see it. For example, in To The Max, it was of course and naturally, and as I did the edits, I saw that yes, I used those far too much. With a friend and fellow author, it's the phrase a bit (which I have banned from her writing lol)

You can make this process as difficult as having teeth pulled, and as painful, or you can look at it as a learning experience whose goal is to improve your writing. Frankly, I want to improve my writing, to be the best that I can be, so I leave my ego at the door. Now, having said that, some things are too much to take, such as suggestions that I change my main character (this in a sequel, no less, so he's an established character) or the suggestion that I change my writing style (seriously? if the publisher didn't like my style, I have to believe he wouldn't have selected my book to publish). So yeah, there's some of that grain of salt thing in there too.

The important thing is to be willing to listen, and to take the heat. Think of it as a trial by fire, one from which you'll emerge safely from on the other end - perhaps a little worse for wear, but whole and enlightened for the experience. If you offer criticism to someone, be nice about it - no need to get rude or snippy (save that for the reviewers). Show consideration for a fellow author, but also be truthful. Telling them what they want to hear isn't going to help them a bit.

Have you ever offered assistance to someone and gotten your head bitten off for it? I'd love to hear about!

Remember, there's a contest going on here - all you have to do is follow this blog and leave a comment with your contact information, and you're entered! The winner will receive a copy of one of the chapters from my ongoing series Captivations, to be selected by the winner!  Hurry and enter, contest ends Saturday!

♥ Julie


  1. Nice kitchen. I'll have tea please. I used to get upset at people crit when i first started out. Now i get cross if they DON'T pick things out that are wrong.

    I just got a reall horrible review for one of my books. Do I care? Well, sort of. No one likes to hear that a person hated the book your wrote. But will I lament over it for hours. Nope! It's only an opinion, not an unexploded bomb!! So I agree with julie. If you can't take the heat, work in soap factory. I've heard it's cooler in there.

  2. It is a nice kitchen, Mags, wish it was mine! Cuppa coming right up! I've learned to appreciate the value of hot tea over the years and have even come to enjoy it!

    I get bad reviews too. The ones that bother me are from people who admit they quit reading a few pages in! Seems a bit odd, but whatever. I just pass on to the next thing, no sense in worrying about it.

    Criticism just comes with the territory. If you're not being reviewed, you're not getting noticed!

    Thanks for stopping by, Mags, have a seat in my virtual kitchen. And thanks for the contest entry :)

  3. A great blog indeed.

    I'm part of ERWA where I've had several people critique me. Some being helpful, others being downright mean. Thats the thing, crit with consideration and respect.

    Put yourself in someone's spot and see how you would handle the comment you are baout to make that person.

    If you wouldnt like it, then change what you are about to say.

    I love hearing other authors telling me somethings wrong or out of place. One less thing my editor has to do and makes the story or book closer to perfect.

    Great blog Julie!

  4. Thanks, Rawiya! The more you can improve your writing, the better your chances of publication, right? And that's what most of us, if not all of us, strive for!

    Sure, it's hard to hear at first, but it gets easier. Just remember, it's not personal!

    Thanks for stopping by!

  5. Julie,

    I'm not a writer, but I'm an avid reader and yes I do write reports and other projects.
    I go to Law school and I swaney I have one of the toughest Law Professor's I've ever come acrossed.
    When I'm turning in briefs or other legal papers for him to go over I've left there so frustrated and have actually cried. I just wanted to smack him. He ripped my papers to streds. After doing a three page brief, they may be two paragraphs left.
    The funny thing about it I had another lawyer help me who was practicing.

    I went back to him, my friend who was a practicing attorney and he said; "I don't know what the hell your Professor wants. So really discouraged I'm ready to quit and give up. However I've come to far to quit. I only have four classes left to graduate.
    So what do you do. You sit back and really think about what your Professor is telling you, or in my case what he's not telling me. After I calm down and really think the Light bulb goes off and I sit down to write one of the best briefs ever.

    So we must take criticism with a stride and remember it's to help you improve not tear you down. It's to strengthen your writing process.

    Teresa K.

  6. Teresa K - you are so right! Just being able to know and admit that makes you a stronger person, one who will be able to deal with situations as they arise - which they will. Good luck on that law degree! Thanks for stopping by and entering my contest! :)

  7. Hi Julie - wish the kitchen was mine, too!

    You make an important point - critique is necessary to growth and vital to every serious author's work vitality and continued success. I've dumped crit partners faster than a hot brick when all they could say was "Wow! This is great!" If I needed that, I'd hire a few sycophants. No - I need a crit partner to tell me what didn't work.

    Now, that said, I've been critting a long time and there are ways to critique which will help encourage the young writer and help them actually hear the critique. If it feels like a blast from a double barrel, young writer will turn off and refuse to listen.

    To have the message received, the good with the bad always helps. Young writers tend towards hubris, as you say, but it's usually supported by a fragile ego, which need not be crushed (though it's somteimes tempting.)

  8. Hi Angel!

    I agree, you can couch your criticisms diplomatically, although with some young ones, they'll still go off like a Roman candle, no matter how you word it. Fragile egos need strengthening if they're to survive, and a lot of that is internal. But we veterans can help too. Mentoring a young writer (and I mean young in experience not necessarily years) is a very good thing. Giving back without expectation of recompense other than the joy of doing!

    Thanks for stopping by! Be sure to follow the blog and leave a contact email so you'll be entered in my contest!

  9. Editors, critiquers (which apparently isn't a real word LOL), even reviewers, are the people who can lead a writer towards a better 'product', because a book is a product, IF they're willing to listen. My advice, based on my vast experience of having one book published (and three accepted) so far *G* is get a beta reader you trust to be honest with you before submitting and listen to them. It'll make a world of difference. - E.

  10. Absolutely, Edward! Or more than one! Join a crit group - I love mine to death! They see things that I don't, and they aren't attached to some of the things that I think I am. In the film trade, it's known as "killing your darlings". Same thing for books. Also, you have to know how to edit yourself, don't expect others to do everything, or they'll tell you eventually not to bother them if you can't be bothered yourself!

    Thanks for stopping by, Edward, and for entering the contest!

  11. I don't know how I would handle the advice of a critique partner. I tend to be pretty sensitive about my art. On the other hand, I don't mind sharing it even if I know it's not great because it was the best I could do at the time. I will have to contemplate this one a bit more.

  12. Jen B - The trick is to find a crit partner that you both like and respect. I have two and I value their opinions highly.