One of the things writers fear most is exactly the thing they should most embrace. Criticism. I don’t mean people telling you, “This is really good,” or, “This sucks.”
While someone telling you something is good feels nice inside, by itself it isn’t helpful. And the latter is every writer’s worst fear (when it comes to writing). But I don’t mean criticism in that way. I mean constructive criticism. I already talked about beta readers in the post Music, Beta Readers, and Other Stuff, so I won’t go into that a whole lot here.
The purpose of this post is to encourage writers to make use of people who will give rich feedback, even if they don’t love what you’ve shown them. Realizing and accepting this will help:
You won’t write something that everyone loves, but you won’t write something that everyone hates either.
I shared my working manuscript with several people. One of them reads all the time, but primarily romance novels. If you didn’t know, I wrote a sci-fi novel. There is a small romantic element, but it’s a faaaaaar cry from straight up romance. So when she didn’t really like the book all that much, but she was able to give me some good notes to fix the parts that weren’t as strong as they could be, I wasn’t upset about it. I happily took in all the criticism she doled out. It’s the only way to get better!
So you can’t look at your writing as a failure just because someone, or even a few people, said it “didn’t do it” for them. Look at it as a chance to get information that’ll help you strengthen what’s already there. Say thanks for reading, and ask, “What was it specifically about the story or the characters that you didn’t like?” Don’t be afraid to share. Someone might tell you you’re a talentless ass-hat, but here’s another bit of wisdom for shy writers:
If you come across a reader who is mean about your work, they’re probably just an A-hole. Move on.
Ignore anything mean, hateful, etc. Honestly, you probably won’t get that anyway. The things you’re afraid you might hear are almost always much, much worse than what you’ll actually hear. But no matter what, find meaning in any comment, whether it’s praise or not. If someone tells you the beginning is boring, find stuff to cut out. Maybe add a chase scene at the beginning or something. If someone tells you that they don’t like a character, lean into it. I have two characters in my book that aren’t very likable. They cause conflict and tension, which are good things when you’re telling a story. I added scenes and story lines specifically for the character Dylan after hearing a few people say, “I really don’t like Dylan.” One person even said, “I hope you kill him at the end.” Rather than trying to make him more likable, I decided to use him the same way pro wrestling uses bad guys to create support for the good guy.
Check your ego at the door when you ask for feedback.
I’m almost done going through my editor’s notes. I thought my stuff was good before my editor got a hold of it, but, man… I can’t say enough about JoAnn and Twin Tweaks Editing. So far, out of the 200-some pages I’ve reread, there are only 3 or 4 pages that didn’t have any suggestions. I even found 2 pages IN A ROW that didn’t have any suggestions on it. But every other page was filled with notes. She tossed out tons of filler words (I didn’t realize how often I use the word just.) Deleted stray commas. She caught things like–and this one killed me–I had two different spellings for one character’s last name. I could’ve felt like an idiot for overlooking all that stuff, but instead I decided to look at it like, Hey, this book is gonna be SO MUCH better now! Even my wife looked and asked, “Do all writers get that many suggestions on their manuscripts?”
I don’t know. Maybe. Maybe not. I don’t really care that much.
I’m just glad I have a great editor who took the time to say good things about the good stuff, offer suggestions for the
bad not so good stuff, and took the time to research and fact check things like how wide a road is. Seriously. I wrote a scene where two boys have to cross the street and I said the distance from sidewalk to sidewalk was almost 100 feet. I didn’t put much thought into it. She came back with this note:
So I checked, and most road lanes are 9′-12′ across. So if this road has 3 or 4 lanes, plus the space between the road and the sidewalk being 4′ at the most, this road would probably be between 55′-80′.
So there you have it–writers don’t crank out awesomeness at all times. To even approach awesomeness, we need to be able to look not just our writing in its metaphorical face, but we need to look into the actual faces of people we trust to give us the feedback we need. Get feedback and then, no matter what, keep moving forward instead of giving yourself forehead slaps for your errors. Make friends with criticism, don’t run from it. Use it, get better because of it, and keep writing!