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Criticism is part of our daily lives. Whether it’s about what we wear, what we watch, what we look like—there is someone out there to point fingers and offer unsolicited advice. Even on the advertisements we see, especially on Facebook, people have taken it upon themselves to let the model exactly how they feel about (usually) her appearance and what she looks like. In an atmosphere like this, its nearly impossible to avoid the harsh words of others. So, the aim is not to avoid it, but how to address it?
As a writer with entertainment words “out there” for all to see, criticism is a daily part of our lives. Amazon, Goodreads, and book review blogs are there to tell us what we’ve done right and what we’ve done wrong. To be honest, it is difficult to read how someone doesn’t like a story or a character near and dear to our hearts, but over my career as an author, I’ve picked up quite a few tips relevant for both the “author life” and real life. Read on to see how I cope with criticism.
Words which tell us our efforts are either not good enough or not appreciated are difficult to hear. However, the first thing to do what we perceive as harsh words is to do the following:
1. Listen and Analyze – Before shutting down in the face of words we might not want to hear, really listen to what the speaker is saying. Is the critique relevant? Finding little nuggets of advice in what may seem to be a personal attack is difficult, but often if we listen calmly and think about what is being said, we can see the validity behind it.
2. Don’t take it personally – Yes, it hurts. We created this project, whether it be an outfit, a story, or even a cake, and it is our little creation. Of course, it’s going to sting when someone points out something wrong with it. However, bite the bullet, swallow the pride and do #3.
3. Ask Questions – If the criticism is coming from a place of caring, i.e. the person delivering the message is doing so in a sincere effort to make us look better, then we should take the time to breathe and ask the person to elaborate. Perhaps the words seemed harsh at first glance, but when we give the person time to explain, we may see the value of their opinions.
4. Consider the Source – I touched on this a bit in #3. If the critique is coming from someone we could care less about, brush it off. Don’t let the harsh words of others who are not invested in your well-being to dampen your creative spirit.
5. Manage your reaction – This probably should have been both first and last because it’s so important. Many of us tend to beat ourselves up for past mistakes, past missteps, and things we simply can’t change. The same with criticism. Criticism is hurtful, let’s be real. No matter how hard we work, there will be something wrong with what we’ve done—we are not perfect. Therefore, if someone offers us some helpful hints on our work, take them. We shouldn’t apply them to what we’ve already done: we can’t change that, but we should use it going forward.
Above all, and this should be the greatest takeaway: don’t stop creating. Keep on keeping on. Criticism will not kill you, thus do not allow it to kill the creative spark and/or the drive to “do” within you. Remember, every single person walking this lovely Earth has a different way of looking at things. We, as artists, and as human beings, need to seek out people who will support us as well as gently help us to go in the right direction. This is how you thrive as an artist as well as a person!
Tell me, what are some ways you counter criticism? Do you ignore the person? Snap back? Does it have an effect on how you perceive yourself, or do you just brush it off and go? Let me know in the comments!
I have three little ones ranging in age from 12 to 15, and lucky for me, they all attend the same school. Every morning, we all pile into the great minivan and cruise to the bus stop, where we have odd conversations. I enjoy those times, because it gives me real insight into what and how my kids are thinking and also gives me a change to spout off a thread of wisdom or two. Over the years, I’ve gathered quite a bit of stories, so let me share some with you here.
I present to you….Tales from the Bus Stop.
Number 1 son: oldest son, 15
Littlest: 12 (also plays trumpet….important later).
Number 1 son: (terrible Russian accent) In Russia, road forks you.
Daughter: That is the dumbest thing I ever heard.
(Meanwhile, I’m laughing)
No. 1 son: Do not dispute Mother Russia.
Daughter: Only Africa is a mother, stupid. Haven’t you heard of the motherland?
No. 1 Son: Mother Russia will PUTIN you in gulag.
Littlest son: Don’t you mean goulash?
Trumpet Playing Son: Our band teacher told us about Wynton Marsalis today.
Me: Oh yeah? I met him.
:::::shocked silence::::: then, “You did?”
Me (all cool and casual and ish): Oh, yeah, he played the Schubert Theatre in New Haven. Met him after the concert.
Littlest: Wow. My band teacher says he’s the greatest trumpet player in the world.
Me: He might want to get in line behind Louis Armstrong, Dizzy Gillespie and maybe Miles Davis, but okay….
Then, I thought about it. Not only did I tell a “story from the past”, I referenced dead musicians.
I….am at that “hey look, an old person’s telling a story” stage.
My daughter was in a bad mood yesterday.
Number One Son made a joke and she snapped back something fierce.
Unperturbed, as Pisces tend to be, he says:
“Excuse me, Miss Pistol, didn’t know you were loaded.”
Nothing but gems here. I had to write them down so I’ll be able to tease them with it when they get older. Seriously, though, the conversations they have are often hilarious. I look forward to sharing more with you!
I’ve been writing professionally for about seven years. The one thing I’ve noticed about my writing and my production of published books is that I’m a slow writer. Now, don’t take that to mean I put in a comma in the morning and remove it in the afternoon, no. It’s just that my stories come together very slowly. Sure, I may have an awesome idea for a book, but to be honest, it takes years for some books to come to fruition.
I wrote my first published book, Kitty Wishes, in a week. It’s cute enough book, but it’s not satisfying to me. I feel I could have done a lot better. But hey, it was my first book and it was a learning process.
Another of my books, Loving Among the Dead, was basically written in 2012, but fussed over and revamped until it was published in 2014. It was one of my favorite books to write and I really connected with the characters. The sequel, well, not so much. We….don’t talk about that much around here.
My quest was always to write faster; to produce more books. According to the “experts”, more books meant more money and more recognition. So, because I learn by example, I started reading some of Amazon’s Top 100 books.
I learned something all right. Many of the characters from these books were hollow paper doll, animated only just enough to string the plot together. For those I managed to finish—and there weren’t very many—they left me cold and bored and feeling like I had just read someone’s second draft outline.
But still, I persevered, purchasing plotting books and outlining books and how to plot quickly and this class and that webinar. I even joined a few Facebook groups.
Then, while I was reading a blog of writing tips it hit me like a bolt from the blue. The words “character driven plot” had bounced around in my head for a few years now, and I really never totally understood what that meant. But in reading this blog I finally got it.
It’s the WHY.
Why are characters different? Why is Columbus different from Tallahassee in “Zombieland”? Why is John McClane different from that sleazy colleague of his wife’s (who tried and ultimately failed to “negotiate” with Hans Gruber? For that matter, why did Hans even entertain that guy’s mess, only to (spoiler alert) to kill him? (Yes, I’ve watched Die Hard again for the fiftieth time.)
Me to myself: Character, stupid.
The choices the character makes in the story makes the plot go where it’s going to go. And cardboard characters won’t cut it.
This was why some of these popular romance books left me high and dry. There was no…emotion, no impetus, no REASON behind the characters’ personalities. They went here and did this, went there and did that. Just…cuz. Oh, and the instalove is soooo overplayed. I’ve toyed with that a little in some of my stories, and I just can’t sell it. (No shade thrown to those who enjoy and/or write those types of stories….it’s just not for me – I don’t judge someone else’s hustle….)
In looking over some of my unpublished stories, it seems I understood this innately some time ago and ignored it in favor of chasing plot.
For example: I’d written a scene where a woman goes into a convenience store. Her ex-boyfriend happens to be there and he starts begging her to take him back and how much he loves her and all that jazz. Suddenly, two armed robbers come into the store. The heroine turns to look at them, then by the time she turns back to her ex, he’s gone, hiding behind a rack of snacks.
WHY did he do that? Easy….he’s a coward. But why is he a coward? Is he a rich guy used to getting anything he wants with little effort? Was he caught in a robbery in the past and this is natural reaction? Does he know criminals and he knows they’re looking for him?
Backstory is important. Not only does it round out characters, but it gives you, the author, a clue to what they’re going to do next.
In reference to the jerk hiding behind the Cheetoes, will he stay there? Will he have a change of heart and protect her? Or is trauma from that past even keep him there, hating himself for being such a coward? If he wants her back so badly, perhaps he’ll overcome the fear and save her. Who knows? It depends on how I’ve built the character and his specific backstory.
I say all that to say, inciting incident, dark night of the soul, rising action, all that story structure stuff does me no good…if I don’t know the character. It’s my stories where I focus more on building my characters rather than building my plot are the ones I like the most and the ones, I hope, offer the readers the most emotional experiences.
Following this, I’ve vowed never to purchase another book on plotting ever in life. (Given the pile on my bookshelves, I won’t have to!) Instead I’ll spend my time studying characters and how they form and/or change within a story. (If they change at all…)
And it’s not only from bad to good either – Take Michael Corleone from The Godfather. He insists “that’s my family, not me”, but during the course of the movie he goes from clean cut military hero to heir apparent. Same thing with Breaking Bad. Walter White snags our sympathy as a poor schlub who cooks meth to provide his family with some money after he’s dead from cancer, and basically turns into a ruthless, driven….killer.
But that’s a post for another day. For right now, I’m finally glad I have my finger fully on the pulse of the importance of characters.
And that’s my “the more you know” moment of the week!
I am not a cook. It is only rarely that I enjoy putting together a meal, and that’s when I get inspired by a new recipe or stumbled upon an old favorite while leafing through a cookbook. That being said, I’m not a total flop in the kitchen – I can throw together a pretty good holiday dinner. It’s just the everyday of cooking that I find a little tedious.
That being said, I have recently acquired an appliance that has made my cooking life that much easier. It’s not a new recipe book, nor is it a live-in cook, or a meal delivery service.
It’s an electric pressure cooker. Somehow these magical appliances have flown below my radar for the past few years. If you had asked me about a pressure cooker, I would immediately recall a scary, hissing pot sitting on the back of my mother’s stove, with a little hat dancing on top. On occasion, my mom would tip the little hat and a plume of angry steam would stream out. When I asked her why she did that, she said it was to keep the pressure fron building up. From then on, I was REALLY scared of that durn pot, thinking if my mom didn’t keep an eye on it, it would explode all ovr the place, spattering the kitchen with ham hocks and collard greens.
Thus was my childhood experience with pressure cookers. I wanted nothing to do with them.
One day, I spied either an article or a little ad popped up about something called an Instant Pot. With this miracle pot, one could cook rice in 3 minutes, cook ribs/meat in a hour and most importantly, cook grits in 2 minutes.
I.Was.Floored. What was this magic pot and how could I get my hot little hands on one? I must have this!! No more watching the stove, making sure the rice doesn’t burn. No more long hours of waiting for roasts to get done. I don’t even have to wait until the meat defrosts! And weekend breakfasts were a cinch without standing over the stove stirring grits.
I say all that to say, if you haven’t yet experienced the lovely efficiency and ease of an electric pressure cooker, borrow one or buy one and see for yourself. Take it from me, a woman who hates to cook, it will change your kitchen life for the better. I truly love my electric pressure cooker!
What’s the one appliance that makes your cooking life easier?