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Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Dealing with Criticism

Please welcome our PAN author Kelly Gay.

I posted some of this on my blog last year, but wanted to freshin it up and talk more about criticism after a great conversation I had with another author at this year's RWA national convention. Criticism is something every writer must face no matter where they are in their career. And the best advice I've heard and use myself is: Be Prepared. Know *ahead of time* how you're going to approach negative feedback.

Criticism is your friend. Repeat after me. Criticism is your friend. I'm talking those constructive notes from CPs, judges, editors, agents . . . Most of them, even ones that might seem harsh (or are harsh) have something of value. The ones who slam you, offer nothing constructive or useful and seem to be taking their crappy day out on you -- those can go in the trash. Those only make you second guess yourself.

The notes you receive could be something you already know, deep down, needs to be addressed. It could be something you haven't thought of. And it could totally go against everything you believe in where your book is concerned. So what do I do when this happens?

I listen. To every single thing. Even if, at first, it totally doesn't 'ring' with me.

Here's how I prepare, my rule of thumb -- if anything at all (even something as small as one word) pulls a reader out of my story to write a note, it's potentially something that could pull *another* reader out of my story. So give every comment and note serious consideration. Try to figure out why that particular thing stuck out.

Often times, I'll get notes that are spot on and sometimes I know immediately a note doesn't jive with the story I want to tell. It could even make me bristle at first, but I have to take a moment and remember my rule -- there is a reason that particular thing caused the reader to stop reading, and I don't want another reader being pulled out of the story in the future.

In the end, I might not address the note the way the reader saw it, but I do give it time and thought, and usually I'll end up putting my own spin on things and amend the story in some way. And there are times when I don't, but that's only after I give it a lot of consideration, look at things from all angles, and talk to the person who gave the note (most often great things come from discussions like this).

While criticism can sometimes be debilitating and make you want to quit writing altogether, it can also be really helpful to your story. If it hurts, if it makes you angry or sad, allow yourself those feelings. Get it out. But don't wallow in them. Take a deep breath, take a step back, and reevaluate those notes or comments. Create your own rule. Decide in advance how you want to approach negative criticism. It helps to be prepared. :-)

Kelly is the author of THE BETTER PART OF DARKNESS, the first in a new urban fantasy series debuting from Pocket Books November 24, 2009.


Mardel said...

You have to take some of the criticsm with a grain of salt also. Everyone (i'm sure you know this) has such different tastes in reading materials, and styles. For instance when I'm reading a book written in the first person about a hunter, demon hunter, vampire slayer, you know-tough as nails people I (due to personal taste) think it detracts from the flos with the first person narrative reads like a college professor would write. On the other hand, when I'm reading third person, this doesn't bother me as much, because then it's as if you are hearing a master storyteller. Unless, of course the dialogue doesn't match the characters. That's probably one of the few things that would bother me about a book. But if the first person narrative is "stiff" and too professor-like to match the type of character (don't mean too sound snotty) it's enough to make me put the book down. But that is just personal taste. The book could be a very well-plotted book, with lots of wonderful twists and turns; but the narrative style can be a total turn-off for me, and could just be wonderful for a majority of others.

So, you have to take any criticism with a grain of salt also, along with being receptive to contructive criticism; it's good to remember that reading and enjoyment is subjective-just like enjoyment of different types of music and art. I consider writing another art form.

Mardel said...

I type too fast.
"detracts from the flos with the first" s/b detracts from the flow when the first..."

"don't mean too sound snotty" was supposed to read "I don't mean to sound too snotty"

Talk about interrupting the flow of words! Like I said, writing is an art form, one I don't have a talent for. :)

K. said...

LOL. :-)

Good point, Mardel. There have totally been times when, after I've given a note honest consideration, that I just had to take it with a grain of salt. Sometimes, you just know that a particular note isn't for you or your story.

And, yes, it is very subjective. I've gotten notes on the same subject that where total opposites -- both from agents. This was a long time ago, but one said my beginning was too long. The other said I went too fast and rushed the beginning.

So, really, in the end it comes down to absorbing the note, and then taking what you, as the writer, feels is the best track for your story.