How do you handle cricitism? And do you think we learn that from childhood?
I had a pal once, years ago, who thought she was just wonderful She was so confident! Whatever she did, she felt, was just the BEST.(emphasis hers :-)) But in reality, she was just--mediocre. I mean, fine, but no great shakes. Still, you couldn't tell HER that! She'd never believe it. If anyone criticized her, or suggested she do something differently, she'd just smile and say, how interesting! and go on her merry way.
I had to wonder about this shining shield she seem to have. So I asked her, once, how her parents treated her as a kid.
Did they praise you every day? I asked.
Oh, yes, she said. They always told me I was wonderful.
Mine didn't. Really, rarely. If ever. There was ALWAYS ALWAYS something I could have done better. And I think that's had a huge effect on me.
ANd now, I'm used to hearing "criticism" every day as news director types look at my scripts. Over the years, I've learned that smart, savvy, intelligent "criticism" is the best thing that can happen.
ROBERTA: How interesting Hank:)--no I mean it. I think my urge to improve my writing is stronger than my dislike of criticism--and I hope it stays that way for a long time. I'm not saying I LIKE all the feedback, but I've gotten much better at two things. First, not arguing immediately:). Think it over, figure out what may be true and even if it isn't, what is the reader stumbling over? Second, choosing who I ask to read my stuff. I want readers who are truly honest, but in a kind way. No matter how many books we have published, our little writer egos are so fragile...
As to the childhood question, my parents were not the shining shield kind. They thought we kids were terrific bottom line, but by no means perfect, so I guess that fits pretty well with how I turned out. I think kids might need unconditional love, but not unconditional praise. Encouragement for trying, but help them evaluate realistically how their efforts worked out.
ROSEMARY: Doesn't everyone's mother think they're wonderful? Mine certainly did. I don't know that she armed me with a shining shield, but she did make me think I could do anything - and I still think I can do most things if I work hard (although pitching for the Yankees and dancing with Baryshnikov have recently fallen off the list.)
Sticking to writing..I have no critique partners and no early readers. Sometimes I wish I did, but I can't see myself critiquing someone else's writing so that probably wouldn't work. It's all so subjective. For good or ill I haven't gotten much pre-publication feedback on my first three books. I just go into my little girl-cave and write. Then I send it off.
My last editor made very few suggestions, but she was right about almost all of them. I have a brand spanking new editor for my next book and we'll see what kind of comments I get on this manuscript.
JAN: I think the more professional you become at something, the more you want constructive criticism, and the better you get at balancing criticism with your own mission statement. We had a woman in our writers group a long time ago who wouldn't just accept criticism, she'd gallop off with it. Constantly changing direction, depending on whoever gave her the criticism. That's just as bad as not listening to any of it.
My mother was pretty much equal parts child adoration and criticism, and I'm talking high levels of both. But I actually don't think that has anything to do with how I handle criticism. I think accepting criticism is basically about having confidence, some of which is learned a long the way and much of which is inborn.. It's a nature vs nuture thing. And until I had two children myself, I thought confidence had to do with nurture. Now, seeing one child born confident and the other born sensitive, I'm firmly in the nature camp. The package is there at birth.
HALLIE: What an interesting discussion. My parents thought we all walked on water but they also had a way of rubbing our noses in our OTHER sisters’ accomplishments. Which is one reason why I went off and did my own thing for a long time before trying to do theirs.
I can’t write without readers. I need other people’s perspectives to save me from myself.
Hey, Ro, I also have a new editor. She's wonderful. I just finished going through her comments and revising the manuscript (“Come and Find Me” 4/11 Wm. Morrow).
She suggested edits in almost every paragraph, and gave me 15 pages (!) of substantive comments, numbered 1 to 287.
Sample: "Let’s see a beat here where Diana realizes she should back off."
Sample: "I’d make this more personal; does she have a flash of regret?"
Sample: "Let's make this active."
HANK: Oh, Hallie, that sounds wonderful!
HALLIE: I've never had an editor give me this level of critique, but I'm thrilled. I don’t make every change, but virtually everything gets dealt with, one way or another. And it’s so great to have someone else really engaged in the manuscript. Going through her comments MAKES me really look at the manuscript, line by line, scene by scene, plot point by plot point--which is very hard at this point in the writing process when I can practically recite it word for word.
RHYS: I can't say I love criticism, but I do appreciate good editing. I think that a manuscript needs to be examined by fresh eyes, because often we're blind to our own shortcomings--do I use this word too often? Have I used this device before?Do I make this character sound petty or shallow? My books are read by three people before they go to the publisher and they all contribute something to the fine tuning.
My editors also make good suggestions, but the important thing for me is that they are enthusiastic about my work. Actually I'm still insecure about my writing. You'd think after so many books that I'd have gotten the hang of it by now, but I still don't really believe it's okay until someone else tells me. I keep expecting someone to say, "well the other books might have been fine, but this one falls short." So I hold my breath until the editor tells me she loves it.
HANK: Me, too. Rhys. I just asked someone to read something, and as I told Jonathan: She could tell me it's the bst thing she ever read. Or she could tell me it stinks. And I will believe either one.
So--can you take it? And how do you handle it?
And be sure to come back all this week for more--tomorrow, advice from a pros. Wednesday, an author with a cheesy debut. Thursday, how to get your ms. critiqued! And Friday--of course, something completely different.