Writing is not a profession for the faint of heart. Sure, you wrote a paragraph or two about how the end of The Walking Dead should have been, or an alternate version of Breaking Bad’s nursing home scene (I’m still sick sick sick over that) , but when you REALLY take the plunge, you’ll know.
The Degraded Life of a Writer
Let’s look at the downward spiral you will take. First, you have to complete a story, a task in and of itself. Many different endings will present themselves to you, if you’re lucky to get that far. Otherwise, you’ll dilly dally around the middle, adding in a character, or three, perhaps a death or some kind of natural disaster to get you through the classic “center of story” slump. Or, you’ll shilly shally around the beginning, crafting that perfect first word, sentence, paragraph, chapter, over and over again. Whatever way you choose, you’re doomed. DOOMED. (Can you hear Hector Salamanca’s bell?)
Second, once the piece is finished (again, if you get that far), you either give it to a beta reader or an editor. Prepare to be humiliated. Not that your beta/editor is doing it on purpose (usually), far from it. They are there to help. But about your lovely golden-y words, your figures of speech and witty conversations between your perfect, perfect, characters? They’re going to be cut, slashed and twisted. Shall I tell you why? When you sit in front of a blank screen and fill it with words, you are the wittiest, smartest, creativest (not a real word) person in the world. In fact, I feel exactly that way now as I type this. No one can write a blog post like I can! Bwuahahahaha! Bow to my wit and abjectly funny sentences.
Two Types of Criticism
This is where we come to the criticism part. There are two types and sometimes, it’s hard to tell them apart. In the previous paragraph, I speak about a beta reader or editor cutting and slashing your words so they are more cohesive and make sense. If you’ve selected your partners in crime carefully, they have nothing except positive thoughts, daisy, and hearts in their souls for you. They want you to do well. And while you weep at your precious words and sentences writhing on the floor, deep in your trembling heart, you know it’s for the best.
That’s constructive criticism. And if you get someone who is willing to read your stuff and give you clear-eyed and on point critique? Tie them up in the basement and never let them go. Well, maybe not the basement. Add an extra bedroom. These people are precious, and will you tell you like it is. We writers CRAVE this.
Then, there’s the other kind of criticism. This type if from people who don’t really know your voice, don’t know/understand your background and either don’t want to “get” you or don’t care if you succeed or not. These are the people who will read your stuff, then want you to change the name of a character because “they don’t like it”. Or, they don’t like both characters being in the same profession. Note: If a person gives a valid REASON as to why these things rng hollow in your writing, then that’s a different story (see what I did there?).
Now, none of this is as obvious as “I don’t like your writing”. It’s a more insidious form of criticism. It’s designed to tear you and your choices down, under the guise of “critique”. You want to know if your story resonated with people, not if one being an elementary school teacher and the other being a professor raises someone hackles. If it doesn’t make a difference in the story, then what of it?
Even better when they say “this story reminds me of xxxx”. Well, NATCH! There’s only so many stories to write, so many plots to twist, so many character traits to combine. Though the idea may be similar, the story is YOUR story and YOUR story only.
Dealing with Criticism
So, after all this chitter chatter, how are you to deal with this?
Keep your emotions in check. After all, even with the meanest (in your eyes) criticism, something good may be lurking in the wings. Don’t take it personally.
Ignore it and find another beta/editor. Not all beta/editors are created alike. Find someone who walks a balance between understanding what’s “popular” and understanding your way of creating. Sometimes they dovetail, sometimes they don’t.
Ask questions. Nothing stops someone in their critique tracks than asking the reasons behind a particular criticism. Sometimes you get something you can use, sometimes….yeah, you guessed it, you don’t. If you hear “I don’t like so and so’s name”. You ask, “Why don’t you like it? What effect does that have on the story?” If they can’t answer the second question to your satisfaction, then shine that ish on.
Be respectful and thank them. Even if you think what they said was more fit for a farm field than your ears, listen calmly and thank them for their feedback (after you’ve asked some probing questions). This is where your acting skills come into play!
All it all, it’s not SO tough being a writer. You get to wear what you want and if you’re like me, use writing time as an excuse to write the movie and TV shows you wish someone would write. For reals, tho, right?
Keep your head up and pen to paper. Until next time.