The Sting of Criticism

As writers, we all have a strong connection with what we write. Anything we create comes with bits and pieces of us. Every word, every sentence taking the reader on a journey we conceived by crafting a story is humbling and rewarding. It’s impossible to separate the author from the work and vice versa. That’s not a bad thing. It’s quite the opposite.

Think about it.

As an author, if you aren’t emotionally invested in the story as you’re writing it, how can you expect the reader to be? It’s as simple as that. And, because so much of ourselves is in our work, criticism can sting. A lot.

After all, we’ve taken this idea and built it into a story by pruning, editing, and polishing it until we’ve felt brave enough to unleash it upon the world. The reason for setting it free upon the readers of the world doesn’t matter. Maybe we enjoy writing for our self-satisfaction. Perhaps we’re hoping for a publishing credit. It doesn’t matter. In the end, it’s all the same.

When we let someone else into our world, the one we’ve created from thin air, the one we breathed life into, it can be a little scary. Their opinion can shake our confidence and wake up the self-doubt lurking in every author’s mind.

And that’s where a lot of writers struggle.

About five years ago, I started to focus on my writing. I had soured on the publishing industry and, why not? I had a best-selling novel through Northwest Publishing twenty years prior. I was on the bestseller lists with Stephen King’s Green Mile and Danielle Steele’s Lightning. I’d thought I’d made it. The owners of Northwest had embezzled millions and stolen from hundreds of authors. Inmeshed in a class-action lawsuit, I’d had enough.

I didn’t write for close to fifteen years. It was too painful. But, the itch came back. The idea factory wouldn’t let me sleep. And while I was recovering from the first of multiple neck surgeries, I cracked the laptop open and started again.

I began putting myself out there. I started submitting short stories to magazines and novels to publishers and literary agents alike. The treadmill of submissions, as any author can tell you, can be a daunting one. A proven track record doesn’t always mean a lot in this business.

I received a particularly harsh rejection letter for a short story entitled ‘Slippage’. It suggested I pick up a book on style and take a class on form and substance and that I should take the story out of my rotation of pieces to submit.

I took it hard. I loved the story, a first-person tale set in the late 19th century about an obscure artist and the things he could create with his hands. There wasn’t anything constructive in the rejection at all, nothing I could build on. What was I supposed to take from that? Self-doubt started to snowball as more rejections for other stories began to roll in.

It would’ve been easy to drown in self-doubt. I went over the rejections and realized these were just opinions. Everybody has one. And while I took the criticism they contained personally, I didn’t let it stop me. Some were positive and others negative. It’s important to realize who is giving the criticism. If it’s someone who doesn’t tend to like the genre you’re writing in, they might not be able to relate well to your story as well as someone who loves it. If it’s a family member, they might tell you everything you’ve ever written is genius. Most likely, you’re not a genius. They are just trying to be supportive.

I learned to take every opinion with a grain of salt. As a writer, you have to realize it’s impossible to write something everyone will love. You can create something some people will love, but that’s not the most important thing to keep in mind. You have to write something you love because when you do, it shines through the work.

In the end, the most important critic is in you. You have to have faith in what you write and confidence in your ability to tell a good story. Don’t let the negative reviews or criticism detract you from putting words on paper. Stay the course and keep writing. You’ll improve with every story, every paragraph, and every word you write.

Never give up.

Always remember, write ON!

Do I Need to Read in Order to Write

Well, the obvious answer is no. You can certainly write without reading a single word, but I don’t recommend it. There is something to be said about ‘research’ when you write. And no, I’m not talking about research into a topic you’re writing about. I’m talking about ‘research’ as in reading other authors and recognizing their differences in style, delivery, and voice.

If you’ve been writing for a while, then you probably have found your voice and your style. You’ve learned what works and what doesn’t in your writing. Is dialog a weakness or a strength? Are your characters well-rounded or flat? Does your setting add anything to what is happening? Our writing always gravitates toward our strengths.

Well, believe it or not, so does our reading.

Most writers read what they write. That might sound stupid but think about it. Romance novelists tend to read more romance than anything else. Horror writers read more horror than anything else. Why is that? It’s a level of comfort. We want to see how other people are doing it. How do they write their dialog and how do they describe certain aspects of the story. How do they paint the landscape in a way to draw us in from the first sentence?

It’s research people.

We are doing ‘research’ every time we pick up a book and read it. The beauty of it, at least for me, is I get to enjoy a new book at the same time I’m researching. I’m enjoying a new world and escaping with the author. The other bonus? When I read, it always inspires me to write. I get the itchy fingers, and the need to get some words down on paper is overpowering. So, while you might not need to read to write, it is strongly recommended. You might not even realize you’re doing it, but you are subconsciously taking notes on the author’s work. And when your fingers are flying across the keys, or madly scratching a pen across paper, or even banging it out on a dusty manual typewriter, those notes, those thoughts, those memories of what you’ve read will come to life. You can incorporate the things you liked about what you’ve read and avoid what you didn’t.

So, in short, while it’s not a requirement to read to write, it is highly recommended.

I think it’s time to do a little research, don’t you?

Happy reading, and always remember to Write ON!