Being an author is like being in charge of your own personal insane asylum.

- Graycie Harmon

Friday, May 28, 2010

Thick Skins Are Important

This is actually a post about the writing process. Shock. Horror.

Anyway, the point is that thick skins are really, really important. The thing ever writer must remember is that their work is not perfect. It is not infallible. And, most importantly, there is always, always room for improvement. This post came upon me this morning when I received back honest criticisms for my titular short story The Dying God that is to be included in my anthology.

I was very proud of this short story. It was very dear to me (more so than the others, in any case). I loved the characters. I thought the storyline was awesome. This story was the bomb! Turns out, not so much. There were glaring plot holes and character inconsistencies that no one else picked up.... or at least wanted to tell me about.

My friend did however, and he pointed them out to me. At first, I found it quite affronting. I won't lie. The defensive poisoned dragon in me reared its head for a moment. Then I told myself that I had asked him for the critiques, and I had told him to be honest, and not to spare me my feelings. I believed I used the line 'if it's utter crap, then say so.'

Yeah, if you don't want a reality check, don't use that line.

I should note that in no way did he say my story was crap, in fact, it was a fairly positive critique but for the plot hole and character issues. After I got in control of my immediate (and ingrained) defensive reaction (now why can't I do that all the time?), I re-read the critiques and, you know what? He was absolutely right. The plot hole he mentioned is pretty odd. I should change that. Oh, and that inconsistency with the way the main character behaves, that needs to be changed too.

Moral of the story? If you want to be the best writer you can, you must, must, must be open to criticism, and to use that criticism to your advantage. If you can't do that, forget being a writer.

Understand this: a critique is more than correcting spelling and grammar, and it is absolutely vital if you want your story and your craft to be the best it possibly can.

That is to say, you need a thick skin. There are really only three things you can do when faced with a critique that is unexpectedly severe. You can:
a) despair, curl up into a foetal position and never face the world again,
b) argue the point (and never improve), get into a screaming match, call the critic names and lose a good friend, or,
c) take a deep breath, think about what was said and be honest with yourself.

Options a and b are actually the easier ones. Trust me!

There are several ways to develop a thick skin. You can:
a) ignore the world and charge forward regardless, horns lowered, heeding not the slightest sting from any critic... uh, bee....
b) win an Oscar for best actor by smiling and laughing at the world while inside and in private you're a mess of tears and suicidal thoughts.
c) be humble. Accept that you are not perfect, your writing is not perfect, and that there is room for improvement whether you're Steven King or a little no-name beginner trying to get published (read here: me).

Option a has its uses, to a point. If you charge forward without listening to what's being said about your craft, you're never going to improve, and you'll be charging forward to nowhere for a very, very long time. However, if someone is just being plain mean, it is best to ignore them, charging passed their petty complaints buffalo style.

Option b is the one I practice the most often in life (less the suicidal thoughts), truth be told, but not really for my writing. Though, I'm sure it will come in handy if ever I read a review by a really, really unimpressed reader.

Option c is by far the best way to cope, and I used it this morning when I received my friend's critiques. By humbling myself and not getting all angry-defensive like I usually get (I'll provide a list of my character faults one day), I am better able to accept, and cope, with the critique. By accepting the critique for what it was (an honest review of my work), I am able to take in the suggestions, understand that they were, in fact, extremely valid, and implement changes, thus making my story the best thing it can be.

So instead of slapping this guy in the face, I owe him one giant hug (next time I see you, M.F.)! He is helping me become a better writer.


Pop Champagne said...

I agree! It's hard to take critiques sometimes but most times it's for the better.

S.M. Carrière said...

It is indeed. Learning to take critiques well is a skill few people master.

I'm still struggling with it myself!

Ah, well, I've a long way to go with this whole self-improvement schtick.