Wednesday, 29 September 2010

Criticism: Can You Take It?

Whenever any of us choose to submit our writing, albeit to friends, family or to a publisher, we are opening ourselves up to potential criticism.  Goes with the territory.  So I suppose you learn to grow a thick skin pretty quick.

How do you deal with negative comments/reviews?  Do you take them on board and weigh them carefully or do you write them off with a 'it's their loss' attitude and consign them to the bin?  Do they cut?  Do they hurt?  Do they spur you on?  Do they boil you into a rage?

I've been really lucky as far as my acceptance/rejection ratio is concerned, but I've also had plenty of negative comments.  Because a lot of my writing is in the vernacular, replete with slang and swearing and stuff, I've often been accused of 'displaying the hallmarks of one who cannot write'.  That was one of mine.  I got that a lot.  My favourite comment, even rising head and shoulders above the fantastic comments, was from an octogenarian from the Salvation Army.  After reading one of the chapters of Abide With Me, he accused me of attempting to 'single-handedly destroy the English language.'  Fantastic.

So, what's your favourite criticism?  What is the single critical remark that has stuck with you?

13 comments:

  1. Many times I get told "no one talks/ thinks/ acts" like that, and invariably,it's one of the things that I say/ think / or do. Apparently, I'm "no one," ;-) I take it in stride and once I get done grumbling, I realize that people do base their criteria for what is believable in fiction off how most people act and review the writing for possible removal, revision, or not.

    Far more frequently, my friends and family are worse than useless... "that's nice," they say. And that's it. =/

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  2. "The story was overly long for the plot it described, and the characters were not that interesting to us. Parts of the story struck us as overwrought"

    That was from the 3rd story I ever submitted when I first started out lol. I just shrugged and still thought it was great in my tiny mind. Two years on I open up that from the dark archives and cringe. I reckon I might give it a going over if I get the time.

    Criticism really doesn't bother me, I don't throw things at the screen or tantrum. But nowadays I definitely do listen to comments etc, especially if it's someone you know is an able writer. Reckon it's the only way to get better.

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  3. I've had that too, Clair, that 'no-one' thing, mostly in the way people talk. 'No-one talks like that'. But they do. I do. Or someone I know does. As long as my children don't.

    And I'm pretty lucky where my family is concerned. Apart from my sister always wanting a happy ending - something I am constantly unable to provide for her (sorry, Lou, but you know how it is :) - she is great at telling it me straight. As are the rest of my family. Friends as well are quite happy to tell me something doesn't work. Good friends.

    To here the truth from one's fellow writers online is gold, but to watch someone as they're reading, to hear them laugh at just the right points, see their face blanche in fear or their eyes water over at something poignant - you can't beat that.

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  4. Blimey. Talk about giving it you straight, Lee. But what a great critique. You're right, it's that sort of stuff we learn from. Choose to learn or not. But, you're right, as you go on, you begin to be able to value the comments from those you deem able. For me, I realised, they weren't judging me, they were judging my writing, and that made it a whole lot easier to take.

    I think the only way to learn, and you alluded to it in your post, Lee, is to retain and foster that sense of humility. The humility I have had the pleasure of coming across in pretty much every single writer I've met in the noir/crime online scene these last few months.

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  5. My favorite criticism was, "That's a pretty good story, now cut it in half.

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  6. Blimey, Naomi, that's a nightmare one to get isn't it. What did you do with that? It's a bit like saying, 'Apart from half of everything you say and everything you do, I really like you.'

    Nightmare :)

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  7. I deal with it the same way as I deal with everything. Ignore it until it goes away!

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  8. After being married twenty years, I found out pretty early on that prescribed course of action didn't necessarily yield the most favourable results . . .

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  9. Naomi you and I share the same best advice. Mine came as "Look at the best paragraph in your story or novel. You know, the one you're proudest of. Admire it, pet it, hold it to your heart. Then, draw a big red X right through the middle of it because it's over written." I never forgot that and for me at least it still resonates.

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  10. For me, seeking criticism is like going to the dentist: I don't want to do it, but I know I have to. I went through a phase of receiving encouraging rejections. As I observed at the time, I'd far rather have had a grudging acceptance. Other than a handful of short stories, I haven't submitted anything for a few years now (life got in the way). But I'll be throwing my hat in the ring again soon: posting off parcels of hope, and getting back... who knows? Anything could happen! If nothing else, perhaps I'll get something witty (or deeply scathing) that I can share here!

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  11. Hi AJ. Sort of like the old kill your darlings thing, isn't it. So true. In the end, the more I do this writing lark, it seems the writer having tightly honed editing skills is almost as important having the ability to write well. It seems we have to be writer, editor, proof reader, and publicist, sometimes squeezing it all into those stolen moments throughout the day and night. Not easy.

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  12. Hi Julie. Seems there's no such thing as a grudging acceptance. With the multitude of writers seeking publication, publishers can afford to be very choosy.

    Can't wait to read some more of your stuff, Julie. And send out everything to everywhere. It's really addictive when you get in the habit. And if you're into witty and scathing rejections, have you ever gone on to the Query Shark Blog. It's run by Janet Reed, a New York Agent. People send her queries of their books and, for the most part, she rips them to shreds. But she is brilliant. I learnt so much from reading that site. The add thing is

    http://queryshark.blogspot.com/

    I had the query up for Abide With Me up a while ago, if you fancy a look :

    http://queryshark.blogspot.com/2009/07/123.html

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  13. What a great site! You did well, too - congrats, man! :)

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