Thursday, 19 July 2012

This time it's personal

If you want to be a writer when you grow up, there are a lot of things people will tell you;
  • You won’t make any money
  • It’s really, really hard work
  • You need to widen your vocabulary
  • Read more!
  • You’ll need a thick skin.
It’s the last of these I want to concentrate on today.  I have spent what feels like my whole life trying to develop this thick skin thing (does anyone know if there’s a cream?).  My mum is always telling me that I take everything personally and I am continually trying to distance myself and quieten the voices of paranoia.

Two of the worst things any writer must accept in order to be any kind of success are rejection and criticism.  Rejection I can take, for some reason, but criticism just leaves my heart pounding, my eyes welling up and a despondent feeling of failure which can last days, if not weeks.

I haven’t always been like this.  In my good periods I have been able to take criticism and use it as writers should.
Every writer should be able to take criticism – it makes you a better writer.

The rules of criticism are;

  • To stay calm and polite (which I know I can do because I’ve put it on enough job applications)
  • To only use the criticisms that truly speak to you – if someone tells you that something isn’t right about your work and it strikes a cord, you think yes, that’s true, then use that criticism and improve your work.  If you feel in your gut that the person is wrong then ignore them.  Simple.

Criticism can take many guises; as reviews, feedback or through conversation.  I haven’t suffered a review yet and I avoid conversations (due to a mechanical failure of rule 1) but I have received a lot of feedback.

When I completed my novel Silver (which, by the way, might be undergoing a name change due to a person innocently pointing out an already published novel of the same name about werewolves.  Typical) to the extent that I didn’t know where to go with it next, I uploaded it to Authonomy.  No one read past chapter one (because I never read past anyone else’s chapter one) but I received a lot of feedback and criticism.

I printed it all out and went through it, piece by piece.  I crossed out the criticisms that I didn’t agree with and starred the ones I did so that I could make the appropriate changes.  Then I copied and pasted the positive pieces of feedback and printed that out as a confidence boost.

So now I need to find a way of coping with criticism full time, no matter what sort of stupid quarter life/30s/mid-life crisis I’m going through.  Not only criticism, but the vulnerability of putting myself out into the world and leaving myself open to such criticism.

Unfortunately there aren’t any good tips to offer.  Believe me, I’ve checked.  All Google could give me were the usual – criticism makes you a better writer, listen and try to stay positive, blah blah blah.

The important point to remember is that all writing is subjective.  For every person who enjoys your writing, there will be those who don’t.  That’s one of the reasons for rejection and it is a major reason for criticism.  Therefore do not take it personally!  I really must drill this into my mind.

And it is a matter of the mind.  If I just convince myself not to take criticism personally, maybe I will succeed in this mad writing world.  I don’t take rejection personally, in fact I see rejection as evidence that I am a writer.  Surely criticism is the same?
All professional writers receive criticism.  My writing has been criticised; therefore I am a writer.

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