This was going to be a retrospective blog post of my first year as a (self) published author. But events have changed that. Instead I’d like to blog today about dedication.
Recently, my novel, The Library of Lost Books, received it first really bad review. I mean really bad. The reviewer did make some points I thought weren’t quite fair, but he/she also made some pretty salient points. And perhaps that’s why it really stung.
But I’m not letting it phase me. I’ve got to stay focused, plugged in and writing. It’s just like old man Epictetus said (Discourses, Book III, Chapter XXV):
…even if we have renounced the contest, no one restrains us from renewing it, nor need we wait for another four years for the return of another Olympiad; but recollecting and recovering yourself, and returning with the same zeal, you may renew it immediately; and even if you should again yield, you may again begin; and if you once get the victory, you become like one who has never yielded.
There was a time when I would let such feedback stop me. I would stop writing that week. Reassess. Rethink things. One week of introspection would become two. Finally, I would try writing again. After the break, I would be rusty naturally, the writing would be worse, stilted. It wouldn’t flow. I would review what I had written that day before getting 1,000 words up on the screen. More self-criticism would seep in and I would stop writing for the day. Then, it would be three weeks in a row without writing. I might jumpstart my psyche out of it again on week 3, but probably not. Instead I would go into a writing pause of months, maybe even years.
When I get bad criticism now, I take it in cautiously. The process goes something like this:
1. Read the criticism.
2. Determine whether the criticism is Destructive or Constructive. Destructive criticism has tell-tale signs. It involves personal attacks and/or highly emotive language. Such as: “This writer is clearly ignorant of the subject matter and the weak characterization and cliché plot twists only make matters worse.” Honestly, there’s really not much I can do with that, even if I wanted to. Constructive criticism sounds more like this: “the plotting was weak,” “I lost interest near the end,” or “there were too many typographical errors.” This is fine and I can use it to improve my work.
3. If it’s destructive criticism, I stop reading it and try to forget about it. There’s no point in dwelling on or responding to negative attacks.
4. If it’s constructive criticism I think about it. I analyze what they’ve said and determine whether they have a point. Sometimes, they do.
5. I pay attention to whether multiple readers have the same criticism. This always gives their thoughts weight. For example, in The Library of Lost Books, a number of people said that the middle was slow and broke the plot arch. The fact that three different readers said this without being prompted, tends to make me think they were right and that I could have incorporated that section into the plot arch better or at least reduced its length.
6. If the constructive critics have a salient point, I try to incorporate that into my writing. That is IF I feel that it jells with where I want to go as an artist. I’m not going to start writing like James Joyce (who I really don’t care for) just because someone thinks that it would improve my work. But, in the future I do intend to make sure the midpoint of my novel carries the action and tension forward, so that I don’t lose readers’ interest.
I like to think I’ve developed a more mature reaction to negative criticism. Most importantly, I don’t let it derail or stop my writing routine. I just show up to work and write each Sunday as much as I can. And more and more, I am able to separate the wheat from the chaff, the constructive criticism from the destructive, and incorporate that back into my writing.
It took a lot of writing and sharing with friends and strangers and listening to what they had to say to get here. Sometimes, it hurt. I can’t claim it didn’t. But now I’m used to it. And I can usually figure out if criticism is coming from a bad, dark place or a good place. I let the dark stuff roll off my back and I learn from the good criticism. It’s that sort of response that is slowly helping me become a better writer.
Until next time…keep reading, keep writing,
PS. There is a happy ending to this story. I stayed focused. I did my editing and pre-writing on Sunday just like I planned and didn’t let negative voices derail me.