Last post, we talked about the gentle art of giving criticism. Receiving it is a whole different ball game — and it doesn’t matter who gives it. Number one thing to remember is that criticism will always sting … but it doesn’t have to destroy your self-esteem.
Here’s how it works. When you write first-draft, you’re getting your story down. That’s all.
Typically, the average writer does a lot of “telling” rather than showing at this stage, and if you share first-draft material with people you will almost inevitably receive criticism on everything from “telling not showing” to “head-hopping” to “spelling mistakes”.
If you can stand receiving criticism at the first-draft stage, you’ve just saved yourself weeks of revision time. You can use the comments you’ve received as a guide to what to tackle.
And here’s a tip: Think of criticism not as “criticism”, but as feedback — because that is what it is.
If you’re the sort of writer who is crushed to the point of extinction by people not unconditionally loving your work, don’t share first-draft material.
(There’s another even-more-important reason not to ask people to read your first-draft material: Unless you’re dealing with a conceptual editor that you’ve hired on your own, it’s actually disrespectful to force beta readers to read material that is not as polished as you can make it. And they won’t want to beta-read for you again!)
Why a Revision Checklist can Cut Down on Criticism
To avoid the sort of criticism that makes you cringe and give up writing, either share only small portions of your book or share only short stories with other writers — not Aunt Maisie or your best friend, Jill — or revise your novel or story before sharing, going through a “checklist”.
Using a revision structure or a checklist makes this process a lot less painful. You won’t get “lost” in the revisions and end up endlessly editing one paragraph for days until you’ve killed any spark of life in it. If you use a structure and/or revision checklist, you will feel like you know what you’re doing–and what you’re looking out for.
Here’s my basic revision checklist:
- Head-hopping — Switching POVs (points-of-view)inadvertently
- Telling not showing — Big clues: passive voice; “had”s and “felt”s
- Foreshadowing — Do you need to insert foreshadowing events? Are you missing any?
- Voice consistency — Does each character have a distinct, recognizable “voice”?
- Plot holes — Fill them in
- Scenes — Does each one advance the story? What changes in this scene?
And only then do you worry about the mechanics: Spelling, punctuation, grammar
Once you’ve revised your novel or story, taking care of the above, you’re ready to seek beta readers or send the little beast out to an editor or two. Even then, you will often get ruthless and not particularly gentle criticism, so don’t be disappointed if that happens. Let it smart for a day or so, don’t respond defensively or angrily, then assess each point and decide “do I agree with this? Would it, in fact, make my story better?” A good portion of professional or knowledgeable critique points will in fact do just that.
All Writers Receive Criticism
The bottom line is that all writers have to deal with criticism: Some exciting and helpful; some hurtful and unjust. And not all people will love your book. If you aim to please everyone, your book will become the ultimate wimp of books, so just tell your story, get it out … and make sure you are prepared for criticism. Even famous authors get ruthless criticism from agents, beta readers and editors. Well, maybe not top earners like J. K. Rowling and Suzanne Collins at this point in their careers — but look how disappointing, dark and off-course their final books the Harry Potter and Hunger Games series turned out to be.
It’s guaranteed: A writer who doesn’t allow criticism and refuses the advice of editors produces self-indulgent, unbalanced and often seriously bloated stories. No matter how famous they might be.
Thickening Your Skin: Try Writing Short-short Fiction and Join a Supportive Group
A great way dip your toe in the pool of writer’s groups, giving and receiving feedback: Join Holly Lisle’s free How to Write Flash Fiction that Doesn’t Suck. It’s a three-week course. You can work at your own pace, and you’ll be given access to her Flash Fiction forum, where you can post your under-a-thousand word stories (we aim for 500 words but no one rips your heart out if you go a little longer) and receive feedback from writers who care.
Holly Lisle has written over thirty published novels; most of them in the genres of science fiction and fantasy. She is that rare bird, an author who has had success in traditional print publishing as well as ePublishing, and who also understands the world of marketing and copywriting. Check out her novels as well as her books on writing … and when her paid courses open up, which they do occasionally, jump on the chance to join. Her “How to Think Sideways” course has been life-changing for me as a writer, and one of my other favorites — also causing frequent writing epiphanies and excitement — is “How to Write Page-Turning Scenes”.
Next post, I’ll introduce to another writer whose books and website are equally inspirational, but I’m off to do some writing for myself, right now.