Dec 13, 2011

Embracing the Critique Grinch

Let me count the ways the Critique Grinch makes a grab for our writerly confidence:

  • An unkind comment is made on your blog. The writer accuses you of being inaccurate and requests that, from now on, only 'real writers' write posts.
  • A critiquer rips apart your first draft, then uses one of your writing weaknesses as the subject of her next blog post.
  • An agent sends a form reject for the MS she's had for two months and gives zero reasons for rejection.
  • A friend/parent/relative gets a puzzled look whenever you mention your writing and wonders why you don't take up crafting instead because "at least then you'd have something useful when you're finished."
  • You read a fabulous blog post on setting and realize with dismay you've completely forgotten to add one element of it in the MS you just sent off to your no. 1 agent.

Whether it comes from a stranger, a beta, a professional, someone who's supposed to love you, or YOU, there are so many ways we can lose our joy of writing. Blogger Alex Cavanaugh has even started a blog hop  called the 'Insecure Writers Group' that meets monthly to shore up the crumbling walls of confidence.  It's no secret writer-folk are synonymous with needy-folk, because we need praise, help, companionship, encouragement. Writing is so solitary and ephemeral. It's very easy to get sucked into the vortex of despair.

This is especially true for the newbies. At the heart of rejecting criticism (whether it's justified or not) is the false belief that real, professional writers are above the common mistakes, whether it be punctuation,  spelling, paragraph development or story arc. 

If only!

As someone who was a professional writer for many years, I learned two things:

1. Criticism is necessary. The harshest criticism is often the best to help us grow. It's like really powerful fertilizer that can burn but also produces fabulous results when used properly.

2. The difference between a 'real' writer and a hobbyist is twofold - a real writer seeks criticism, both to get better and because he/she needs the writing to be shared. And a real writer can't stop. Not really. There may be a hiatus here or there but the need to write seeps through life like water seeps through sand. It's a compulsion, a weird personality tic that many would trade in a moment for, say, a gift for languages, organization, crafting, anything else that appears to be more useful.

So if you're like me and you can't stop, try looking forward to criticism. Don't be a masochist about it and don't be scared either. Words are powerful but in the end, they're just words. You get to choose which ones you let sink into your brain and which ones bounce off.


Lisa L. Regan said...

The Grinch sounds awful! Just awful. Take it all in stride though because your book is amazing and it's going to be published. This was a great post and I related to pretty much every single thing in it. And I think you're right: a "real" writer is one who cannot stop. I'm right there with you. Bah to people who think we should take up crafting. LOL.

Cassie Mae said...

I thrive on constructive criticism, words that can only make me better. The examples you provided though help me realize the ones I need to discard. It's hard sometimes, but thank heavens for the writer mind. When you can get back up and type all the emotions out, whether it's in a current wip or in an email to a friend or confidant, or in a journal. Writing always makes me feel better about the criticism.

Great post :) Thanks Melodie!

Carrie Butler said...

"The harshest criticism is often the best to help us grow. It's like really powerful fertilizer that can burn but also produces fabulous results when used properly."

And in turn, some of the harsh criticism/fertilizer we face is really just a pile of shi... er, manure! *grins* Sorry, I had to. It was right there!

Ahem. Anyway, great post, Melodie! You're right. The "real" writers are the ones who can't stop. :)

Cortney Pearson said...

I love that last line, it definitely is our choice which criticisms we take and which ones we let bounce off. Though it's still not easy to take it sometimes!! :)

E.R. King said...

This is very clever of you! I saw the picture and thought, "I've met a Critique Grinch." Haven't we all? It took me the longest time to discern what to ignore about a critique and what to apply to my writing. Like you pointed out, not all criticism is bad!

Sarah Pearson said...

Some scary scenarios there! You're right, we need to learn to trust ourselves and not throw out the baby with the bathwater.

Trisha Leaver said...

Fantastic post. I think the Grinch has a way of sneaking up on all of use, new or established authors. But you are absolutely right, pick and choose the comments we take to heart, because in the end, it is our story to weave, our set of characters, our voice.

Nancy Thompson said...

My very first experience with a CP was awful. He was just plain mean for the sake of being mean, but that didn't mean he wasn't right or that his point was off base. I cried for like 3 days afterwards, but then I realized he had something, even though he was a dick saying it the way he did.

So I rewrote that part then sent it off to Lisa Regan, who is both a genius and the perfect CP. She's critical, but constructively. She made me think, and real hard, too. And she made my book a million times better.

It's often difficult to hear criticism, but it can take you places you never thought possible, and turn you into a real writer!

Melodie Wright said...

Thank you, Lisa! Bah to people who push crafting on non-crafty types!

Cassie & Carrie: you're right. Harshness hurts but w/ a little distance, it helps. Too much harshness burns.

Cortney & Emily: it's never easy to swallow persistent criticism, esp, when they're right. It is a process to realize what's right for your MS and what to throw out.

Sarah and Trisha: You're both right; it all comes down to trusting ourselves at the same time we absorb criticism.

Nancy: Agreed. Lisa IS an awesome critter. I so owe her right now...

Rachel Morgan said...

I know criticism is a good thing... and I do look forward to feedback from people so that I can make my writing/storyline better... But there are still occasions when my first reaction is to be defensive!

Deana said...

While that critisism can pull at our heart strings, man it can be helpful! I guess it's just figuring out what is constructive and what isn't.
Great post!