So, did you do it? Did you start the new school year?
We did. My kids started back this week and though the weather hasn't quite figured it out, FALL IS COMING.
That means next week's word war is the last showdown of the summer here at Go Teen Writers! Just like the previous two, it'll run Monday through Friday, and is meant to be a fun, come-and-go kind of event where we can encourage each other as we write.
You should write with us! Inigo would.
As we near the end of our summer panels, I'm curious about your response to today's question. It's a topic every single one of us will address, again and again, throughout our career.
How has your response to criticism evolved?
I have more perspective now than I did when I first started writing. It’s so easy to take everything personal and there are lots of mean people out there to make even the most confident writer gun-shy. But the truth is, we need a critical eye and if we can find it in beta readers and agents and editors who genuinely care about us and our careers, we’re blessed. Considerate critique will make us better and will prepare us to deal with the more mean-spirited reviewers out there.
And while I know those things to be true, it's still painful to hear negative things about my stories. These days, I'm able to filter through the feedback for the stuff that will make me better, but my stomach clenches every time I send my story out to be read--even by friends. In fact, even good feedback can mess me up. I get lost in turns of phrase and what someone DIDN'T say about my book. It just goes to show how screwed up it is to write for other people's approval. If you're able to continue writing after receiving criticism, you just might make it out there.
When I was a teen writer, I used to print out chapters of my book and give them to my friends “for their honest opinion.” But what I truly meant was, “Please read this and tell me that you think it’s great, and that I’m great, and that I’m totally going to be a famous author!”
One time when I did this, a friend read the first few lines, rolled her eyes and called my book romantic garbage, only not in G-rated language. We then wrote angry notes back and forth to each other in which she told me that she didn’t think I had the talent to be an author. I spent a ridiculous amount of time trying to convince that her my work was original and creative, which was stupid for a lot of reasons.
When I couldn’t convince her of my talent, I vowed that I would prove her wrong some day, and that I would never show anyone my work ever again.
This was my first tussle with criticism. It was a deep wound that took years to heal, but I’m very grateful for it now.
While I did eventually start showing people my writing, I was much smarter about who I chose and my own motivations. I wait until I have done several rounds of edits, and I wait until I truly want to know what someone else thinks of it.
The other thing I’ll point out is that growing defensive when someone criticizes our writing is as normal as breathing. We all do it. I kept trying to tell my friend all the reasons she was wrong, and that was a waste of time. Glennon Doyle Melton says it this way in her fabulous article Three Rules for Surviving a Creative Life, “Art is a big girl. Bigger than we are. So for eight years, I have never spent my limited time or energy defending a piece of my writing. Even when my work is misunderstood, even when I’ve felt attacked, even when I wanted to fire back at somebody so bad that my fingers ached and I had to take deep breaths—I didn’t sit down and argue.”
I have a long way to go still, but I’m getting better at not trying to be my art’s lawyer or armed guard.
It probably hasn’t evolved enough. I don’t set out to look at reviews anymore. But people constantly tag me to come and read the reviews they wrote of my books, and my publisher will email me professional reviews from Publisher’s Weekly or Library Journal, so it’s impossible not to read those. I have learned to read criticism with a critical eye. I can tell right away if someone has an agenda, and those reviews I pretty much ignore. I scan for both positive and negative information and try and quickly discern what, if anything, I need to take from it. And I try and focus on the person behind the review. Life is all about relationships, so I try to comment or like those reviews in which people sought me out. And if someone tagged me and wrote a mean review, I ignore it. Everyone has the right to free speech, and people use that well. But there is no law that says we need to stand on a bow and let people pelt us with tomatoes. We can turn our backs and walk away with our heads held high. And we can also choose not to engage, because it does no good at all to argue with a reviewer or try and defend ourselves. The best we can do in those situations is to be silent.
Now it's your turn. Tell us, how do you respond to criticism? Has your response evolved throughout your journey?