Tag Archives: criticism

Critical

I don’t mind most aspects of the editing process, but there is one thing that really bothers me: when I’m editing my own work, I become extremely critical of other people’s.

In a way, it makes no sense. These are published books I’m finding fault with, so obviously they’re doing a lot of things right. Most things, even. Who am I to criticize? Me, way down here. Hi.

And I’m not- at least, not where anyone else can see. It’s not that I’m huffing and puffing and throwing books against the wall (usually), then taking to the internet to rail about how I could do so much better. Not at all. I have so much respect for the work that people put into their stories, that their editors do to make it the best it can be, yadda yadda.

All I’m saying is that when I’m editing my own work, it makes it very difficult for me to enjoy other people’s, because I’m subconsciously analyzing everything, evaluating it the way I’m evaluating my own work, spotting the things I would consider fixing if the story was mine, things that work and things that don’t. And it’s really, really annoying.

Right now I’m reading a book I got for Christmas, and of course I’m not going to mention the name of it here. It’s an interesting book- fresh take on the vampire thing, I think (I’m only a few chapters in), where they’re monsters and not love interests. Yay! I should be enjoying it, but it’s hard when my brain won’t just shut up about “uh-huh, jumping right into the main conflict,” or “yep, slipping backstory in there, very smooth.” And that’s when things are going well. I got to page 53-ish and found out (because it’s actually stated outright) that one character is on a mission to save the world, and another is THE KEY TO SAVING ALL MANKIND OMG, and I wanted to put it down and read something else.*

Are those bad things in and of themselves? I guess not. It certainly sets the stakes high, doesn’t it? Now it should matter to me whether this guy succeeds at winning over the special girl who doesn’t know she’s special. But I was disappointed, and that’s probably not fair. Is the “savior of the world” thing overdone? Yes, but that’s no reason to think that a new take on it can’t be exciting. But all I can think is “well THAT was clumsy… Try to save the world, please, but don’t tell me you’re doing it!” If it was a library book, I’d probably have quit. Again, unfair, but I’ve done it before.

And the little things, like a character frequently saying things like “I felt the wind blow my hair” rather than just telling me that the wind blew her hair (obviously you feel it…). Things that I can see people picking on if I wrote it, and that I therefore try to be careful not to overuse. But when I’m reading, I’d like to be able to not notice that, to just see the wind blowing her hair (and/or her feeling it).

At least this one’s not overdoing the adverbs. I recently put another (very popular) book down because the writing style bothered me, and that was a big part of it. Effective when used sparingly, irritating when every time he grinned it was wolfishly, and every time she hurried is was quickly.

I read so much about what works and what doesn’t in writing and why that I pick it out in everything I read. My life has become a high school English class, and it’s driving me insane.

I wish I could let it go when I step away from the computer. I know my work is as bad as or worse than anything these people do, and that I’m probably doing a lot of the things I’m so critical of. My writing certainly has flaws that I’m blind to. I don’t mean to be critical. I just want my brain to shut up and enjoy the effing story already.

Does anyone else have this problem, or are you able to compartmentalize, to leave work at the office, so to speak?

*I’m still hoping that it turns out he’s wrong, that she can’t save the world through her powers and they’ll have to struggle together to find another way. How fun would that be?!


The Five stages of Critique

I’ve been blessed with a critique partner. A good one, too. I have no real idea who she is, but she’s beyond helpful. She’s finding little problems I hadn’t even thought to think of before (like asking how many people a single duck will actually feed), passages where I might be trying to fit just a wee bit too much backstory into a scene, and typos that I somehow missed on my first dozen read-throughs.

She gives me positive comments, too- kind of the sugar that helps that bitter, bitter medicine go down. Those I can take. They make me feel happy and warm and fuzzy and kittens and butterflies and rainbows and unicorn farts.

The negative “helpful” ones, though… I might not react so well to those.

This is normal, right? Surely I’m not the only one who reads a comment and goes through the five stages of Critique:

1. Denial

“No. What the hell is she even talking about? Did she READ what was on the page? There’s nothing wrong with that passage.”

“Nope, nope, nope.”

*major WTF facial expressions*

2. Anger

*snarling, bared teeth, increased heart rate*

“Who does she think she is? How dare she attack my precious work like this?”

“Wrong, wrong, WRONG. This is all her, she’s being too nit-picky. This was a BAD IDEA.”

*more snarling and growling and gnashing of teeth*

3. Bargaining

*trembling and/or deep breaths*

“OK. Well, it wouldn’t be so much of a problem if she’d just read what happens 5 chapters from now… maybe if I send that next part she’ll see it differently.”

“It can’t be that big a problem. No, if I just shift around three or four words over here, maybe that will fix this glaring plot hole that she claims to have found.”

*reaching for alcohol and beaucoup de emo music*

4. Depression

“Oh my god I SUUUUCK! I’m the worst writer in all of the history of all of the things! I can’t fix this.”

“I’m going to have to give up. Look at all those notes… I bet all of them are negative. I can’t fix this.”

“I’m a failure. I’ll never get this right. I’m not good enough to fix this. This whole thing was a mistake. I can’t handle this.”

“In case I didn’t say this quite loudly enough before… I SUUUUUUUCK!!!”

5. Acceptance

“Ugh. Let me look at that again. Huh. Well, maybe that does repeat something I said earlier, just a little. And I guess using the word ‘generally’ does weaken that sentence. I’m gonna politely disagree and leave this one alone, but maaaaybe she has a point about these pronouns being confusing…”

*deep breaths*

“One thing at a time…”

*go back to first note*

“Eh, this isn’t so bad. I can do this. It’s going to be so much better when I’m done.”

Maaaaybe I don’t go through all of these over every comment I read. That would be crazy, right? Yeah. But as a whole, reading over whatever chunk of writing just went in front of the judge… well, I may have exaggerated just a wee bit, but this happens.

Tell me it gets better. It must; I can already feel my skin getting thicker. And what I take away from this whole thing is this:

The “I can do this”

The “this isn’t as big a deal as I thought it was. She’s only finding minor issues, here. This is not the end of the world”

The “you know what? This story friggin’ rocks. But I can still make it better in a lot of tiny ways.

And I come away with a massive dose of gratitude, and a new-found appreciation for a critique partner who should be very thankful that she’s a complete stranger who doesn’t actually have to witness the horrible faces I just made at my computer screen.

EDIT: You know, I really should be happy. Not one of my readers has actually mentioned a glaring plot hole (yet), or hated any characters they’re not supposed to hate. People even enjoy reading this. I can only assume that my partner will find bigger things to point out some time, but I can honestly say that I think this book is good. And I should be proud of that.

But I’m still terrified of sending the next chapters. :/


What Gets Me Through

It’s not hard to find an inspirational quotation any time you want one. Googling “inspirational quotes” returns almost 45 million options to click through. (I probably just added another one. Oops).  Why? Because we need encouragement. We need advice. We need to know that we’re not alone, that other people have faced obstacles and returned to share their wisdom.

Are they all useful? No. Many are so vague as to be meaningless, and others are only useful at the right time. Take this one:

 “Pay no attention to what the critics say; there has never been a statue erected to a critic.”
— Jean Sibelius

OK, first of all: sick burn, Jean Sibelius. High five, right here. This is an extremely encouraging bit of advice for anyone who’s feeling like they’re being kicked around by the critics, the “haters” (does that even mean anything anymore?), the Philistines who just can’t appreciate true art, dammit.

That said, if I ignored the critics all of the time, I’d never improve. If someone told me that a character’s motivation was unclear or that I had something hanging out of my nose and I just told them to shove off and go be statue-less somewhere else, I’d be stuck with a story that was less than it could be and… well, with something hanging out of my nose. Do we really need worse consequences than that?

I collect quotes- funny ones, inspirational ones, ones that tell me to go out to kick some ass and others that tell me to let go of the things that don’t really matter. In the right context, they all help me get through the day. Today is a day that requires getting through; I had a migraine yesterday, and though the pain is gone, the stupid lingers like some kind of brain-fog. (See?) I’ve had another friend agree to critique my book, and a complete stranger waiting to do the same, and it makes me more nervous than it should.

That’s right: just anticipating criticism makes me think I’m bound for failure. I’m going to go slap my skin with wet shoelaces until it gets a bit thicker; in the meantime, I’ll leave you with a few pieces from my collection. Here’s hoping you find something to get you through the day, too.

“You must want to enough. Enough to take all the rejections, enough to pay the price of disappointment and discouragement while you are learning. Like any other artist you must learn your craft– then you can add all the genius you like.”  —Phyllis A. Whitney

“Use what talent you possess: the woods would be very silent if no birds sang except those who sang best.”  -Henry Van Dyke

“The worst thing you write is better than the best thing you didn’t write” -Unknown

“But he who dare not grasp the thorn should never crave the rose.” -Anne Bronte

“People say I don’t take criticism well, but I say, what the hell do they know?”      Groucho Marx

“You must stay drunk on writing so reality cannot destroy you.” -Ray Bradbury

(Please feel free to add your own favourites in the comments!)


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