Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Handling Criticism

This is something every writer has to learn how to do. Is it easy? NO!

When you put your creative passion into a piece of writing, it becomes "your baby." If it is a short story or long novel, those characters and setting become a part of you and are born out of you. It is like painting a piece of your soul with words and leaving it bare and exposed for all the world to step on. And they do.

Back in April I was even on a panel at Rainbow Con in Tampa where the subject was How to Handle Criticism. I'm not sure I remember every little thing I hear or talked about, but I do know that criticism hits people differently and how we handle it says a lot about us to the world.

When a writer is new and inexperienced, like maybe I was when When Love Is Not Enough came out, the desire is to see 5 star reviews. (Every writer wants 5 star reviews.) But when the 1 stars show up and the reviewer mentions specific things that you THOUGHT you explained well in the story, it is VERY easy to get swept up in second guessing everything and feeling like a failure. You may want to write to a reviewer and apologize for not explaining the scene well enough or tell them what you really meant when they took a passage completely wrong. These are the mind and body's natural responses to an "attack" on your "Baby."

Can you do these things? Sure. There is nothing wrong in and of itself to write a note to a reviewer or blogger or whatever, but be mindful of what you say. Be kind. For one, the reader, whether a professional reviewer or not, cannot see inside your head. They also do not possess your memories and experiences or upbringing. Every reader comes at a novel with their own prejudices, pains, history, and pretense. And if they took a scene or conversation between characters differently than you intended, it COULD be them, not you. Just because people don't like a particular character, doesn't mean you failed in writing him/her well. Maybe the quirks in your mind were endearing, but to the reader they were a turn off. Not your fault. We are all attracted to different things and turned off by different things. Your job as a writer is to deliver the very best story you can give.

Does this happen in the first try? For some, yes, but for most--rarely! Shaping a magnificent story takes time and experience. More often then not, writers change over time and their writing evolves. Though, I should say, GOOD WRITERS SHOULD.  Some people are the way they are and don't seem to change. It is what it is. But if you have a successful career with the voice and talent you have, then why change what ain't broken? Right?

People in general are always changing. The world around us changes and normally those who adapt survive longer than those who don't.

What you need to do is to be passionate about what you are doing. If you don't like it, then you need to try to change it. Painters who get stuck in one mode get bored. Musicians reach for that next difficulty level to wow their listeners. And writers need to push boundaries of creative technique so they aren't lulling the readers into a sleepy coma. But again, if your cookie-cutter novels make you a living and you love it, then why change for fear of loosing that good thing.

For people like me who are not content with one standard format, I say PUSH BOUNDARIES!

As far as talking to bloggers and reviewers, keep in mind, they have their opinions the same as you have yours. We are all different. If you write a letter, be kind. Ask questions. Don't be defensive. And if you say something like, "Wow, I never thought about that scene like that. I meant _____, because I experienced _____ in the past and that is where this scene came from." You rationalize it, you explain, and if you get no response… LEAVE IT BE!


Arguing, especially on Goodreads, or on THEIR OWN BLOG, is rude and will not do well for your reputation. On the other hand, being kind and gracious as you state your case can go a long way in the future.

On the panel I was on, they discussed this in reference to talking to editors. The consensus was that you should be able to tell your editors what you think. BUT, never be mean. Be kind. Sometimes, there is a clash of personalities and you may be given a different editor for the next project. If you don't ask for fear of approaching them, you will never know. Don't be afraid, just speak your mind in kindness. DON'T BURN BRIDGES!

The worst part about criticism is internalizing it. It is way to easy to let EVERY LITTLE COMMENT hurt you personally. As a parent, I know that I want everyone to love my children like I do. Realistically, that isn't possible. There will always be someone who just doesn't like my son, or daughter, or other daughter. In comparison, my novel is "My BABY." I want to whole world to love my story and my characters with the same passion that I do. Realistically, that is impossible! Too many readers out there with too many differing opinions and personalities to like ALL THE SAME THINGS AS I DO!  Not going to happen.

So when those big old 1 star reviews roll in and people everywhere BASH your favorite characters and  post things about "how you can't write and you are better off changing careers," remember a couple things:

1. They could have had a bad day and took out ALL their frustration on YOU. It happens.

2. If it is your editor, they COULD have read twelve other books that week and yours was last right before the weekend. Long work weeks can make cranky people. (For all of us.)

3. Maybe they lived some of the things you wrote about and you pushed their buttons. Anger and pain come out in different ways. Your 1 star review and lashing might be because you wrote the story SO WELL you hurt the reader. Stranger things have happened.

4. Maybe you didn't write the best story you could? Maybe you really DO NEED a refresher course on grammar and sentence structure and characterization. Well then, DO IT! Go take a class somewhere. Everyone can use some sharpening up. If you do nothing to better yourself, then you will never know if it is YOUR skills (or lack thereof) or the reader's oversensitivity.

5. Or maybe they have a different background than you and what you wrote seemed completely unbelievable. They say reality is stranger than fiction. Well, for some, fiction is stranger than any reality they have been through. If readers can't connect on some level, then they most likely will not like it. But , yay for writers, there are billions of readers out there to come around and love us in time.

6. Sometimes, people just have nothing better to do than bash others. This also happens. Take the hits. Smile. And walk away. Don't let them steal your joy because they hated what you wrote.

I cannot please everyone. Believe me, I have tried. There will always be someone who hates what I do, or doesn't even try to understand it. I write gay romance. If you don't know, homosexuality is NOT openly accepted everywhere in the world, and writing gay literature is almost as bad, to some, as BEING gay. This is changing, and some places are accepting, but not everywhere. Not yet. 

I have said this before. I voted for gay marriage. I support the Human Rights Campaign, and if NOH8 was in town, you'd see me lined up to get my photo taken by Adam Bouska. (Or WITH him. He's so cute!)  

I write what I write because I want to change the world. I want people to live in peace and not die from hatred and despair. I want suicide over bullying and harassment to disappear. I want kids to know they are loved for who they are. I want parents to stop throwing kids out because they are LGBT and just LOVE them because they are children and all children need love!

I say START by loving people.

Where that ties in with criticism is when you are the subject of it, let it roll off. DON'T ingest it! Try to make a difference in your world, wherever you are, by showing kindness to people who don't (In your opinion) deserve it. And like the picture says… DON'T LET THE WORLD CHANGE YOUR SMILE!



Coming SOON!!!

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