07 April 2012

My Mammoth Skin is Thicker Than Your Alligator Skin

If you follow the blogosphere, twitter, or a number of writing websites, I’m sure that you’ve heard of multiple writers who may have damaged any chance they had to publish with a traditional house. Their reactions to reviews on various websites made many members of the writing community watch the train wreck in progress.
Before you think I’m going to specifically focus on any one reaction, let me ease your fears. This will cover a little of the same ground as a previous post, but its important to review. My discussion today centers on how a writer needs to deal with things like critiques, reviews, and the opinions of others. I think I just stated a Bit Important Thought there, so let me rephrase it to punctuate my point.
Critiques, Reviews, and Editors offer opinions on our writing.
While some of those opinions can affect whether the writing sells or not, it is just one or two people’s opinion. The prose may flow fine. Your dialogue might hold witty lines. That one person just didn’t find it to their liking.
Does this mean the story or novel belongs in the middle of a bonfire or a fireplace?
Um, no.
In other posts, I’ve stated that writing is a very personal endeavor. Releasing that writing to another is like letting the baby bird fly from the nest. If you’re pushing for publication through traditional channels, however, others will need to check that baby bird’s feathers. This means that we must steel ourselves for that dreaded “Sorry, kid, it’s just not your time” response. Consider that J. K. Rowling received twelve rejections before she sold Harry Potter. Emily Dickenson also received twelve before her first sale. Nabakov ran into the denial block six times before he sold Lolita. Stephen King even suffered though more than 50 rejections before any editor would accept his writing. Personal experience points to 31 rejections before I made my first sale and I’m still receiving them.
Such hallowed grounds, the realm of rejection.
Ah, but the steeling doesn’t end there. For that fledging may have received acceptance by an agent or editor, but the world at large hasn’t had its say yet. Your story or book awaits the word of the critic at large, they of the varied tastes and expectations.
This means that you may have comments from others that don’t match those of the critique partners, the agents, the editors. You’re about to have an opinion with no attachment to you in any way. It may not be pretty. One star reviews, harsh words about your plot, your characters, your word choice.
Again, more opinions.
With all these opinions flying around, what is a writer to do? While my advice is simple to say, it’s not as simple to do.
Hold your tongue.
Find what the common thread is from these running opinions.
Thank them for their time.
Do not feed the troll by giving a negative reaction. I’m going to pull a little from my movie buff background here. Kevin Costner starred in “For Love of the Game,” and he had a very important line for all careers, I think. I’ll paraphrase it as best I can here.
"You can go out there and give them a sound bite, do a little dance. Or you can walk by with your head held high and the next time we come here, we’ll work the wall together.”
What did he mean? He meant that you don’t lose your pride over one mistake. It may be a goofball, totally unworthy step for you, but it happens. Everyone makes mistakes. Don’t fulfill the role of jester. Keep your heart intact. Come back to try again. And again.
We writers can do the same thing. Armed with the knowledge of the common thread of opinion, you can go back to your present work in progress and find ways to improve from the common thread. Sometimes, you’ll find the problems they refer to in the comments, sometimes you won’t. It won’t be easy. If you have critique partners, when the work in progress goes to them, ask them to look specifically for the items from the common thread. They might see something that you don’t.
But what if there is no common thread? Well, find the top three frequent complaints. Frequently reviewers poke at plot, characters, and ability to hold their attention. The more comments you receive, the better prepared you become to improve your writing, if it really does need it.
Just remember that the writer’s skin must rival that of any mythical beast to survive outside our own little nest. Once the hatchling has left the nest, you can’t call her back

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