Nobody wants to hear that the book they worked on for months, maybe years has flaws. A book is an author’s baby. They’ve nurtured it, helped it to grow and develop, and polished their prose until it sparkled. So what do you do when someone trashes something you put your heart and soul in?
In the beginning of my writing career, I entered a contest and got feedback that said: cardboard characters. Needless to say—even while I didn’t know exactly what that meant—I was devastated. It felt especially painful because this was a contest known for it’s helpful feedback. Was that critique helpful in any way to my writing? Not a bit. Was it true of my writing at that time? Possibly. Could the judge have phrased things differently? Absolutely. But I didn’t know that then. I just thought I was the worst writer on the planet. And I did what all wounded writers do—no I didn’t drink myself into oblivion ☺--I called on my trusted writer friends for support. And of course they agreed that the judge was a complete jerk because well that’s what writer friends are for.
Fast forward fifteen plus years and I’ve learned a lot about writing and about criticism. Writing is an art that you have to work at every day even while knowing that you’ll never quite be where you want to be. This thought was further confirmed in an interview I listened to with Lee Child—and in case you were living on another planet the last ten years or so—he is the author of the best selling Jack Reacher series. The same guy who sold the rights to two of his books to Tom Cruise to be made into movies. Yes, that guy. Anyway, he said—and I might add this sort of depressed me—that all writers are insecure, and he continues to be insecure about his work. If a guy who is known throughout the world, whose books appeal to both men and women alike, who writes stories that I love, who is making more money than I could imagine, is insecure about his talents, what hope is there for little old me?
That’s when I stopped my pity party and had a reality check. Being vulnerable and insecure is an integral part of being a writer. But in order to succeed you have to put your best self out there and overcome those fears and move on.
In reading reviews or critiques, what should you listen to and what should you discard? I recently came across a quote from Neil Gaiman: "When people tell you something's wrong or doesn't work for them, they are almost always right. When they tell you exactly what they think is wrong and how to fix it, they are almost always wrong." The first sentence is for the people who review your work and say, “I’m not sure I understand the motivation of your character or why that character reacted the way they do.” Now you, as a writer, have a springboard for action. The person who labels your work as wrong and re-writes it for you, is not doing you any favors.
To bring this subject full circle, let’s exam my original example and the judge’s comments about my characters. What she said didn’t help me as a writer. But if she had conveyed her thoughts differently like: Describe for me how your character talks—a slow southern drawl, the clipped cadence of someone from New York; or tell me what they’re
wearing—are they confortable in what they are in, or is it constricting; tell me about them through their body language—that old show don’t tell stuff. Now that would have been seeds I could have planted to grow as a writer.
Take every criticism you receive with a grain of salt and know that not everyone—no matter how famous you become—will love your book. Know you can never please everyone and use that as your mantra to steel yourself. And remember even NYT best selling authors receive scathing reviews and have lived to tell the tale and write and sell books. Also know that a lot of them don’t read reviews because they realize how it can derail the fragile process of writing.
So if reading reviews messes with your muse, or sidetracks your writing, I encourage you to avoid them like the plague.
Wendy lives in the Chicago area. She has a Masters in Social Work and worked in the child welfare field for twelve years before she decided to pursue her dream of writing.
Between teaching college classes, trying to get her morbidly obese cat to slim down and tempering the will of her five-year-old granddaughter, who's determined to become a witch when she turns six so she can fly on her broom to see the Eiffel Tower and put hexes on people--not necessarily in that order--somehow Wendy still manages to fit in writing. She spends the remainder of her days inflicting mayhem on her hero and heroine until they beg for mercy.
She has written three books in the Hard Targets trilogy, Hard to Kill, Hard to Trust and Hard to Stop. In addition, she has two books through Entangled Publishing, The Millionaire’s Deception, and Bad to the Bone, two self-published books, The Christmas Curse and Accused, and two interracial romances, Fractured and Mama Said.