Tag Archives: Critics

How Much Should We Listen to the Critics

The only impeccable writers are the ones who never wrote. – William Hazlitt

Opening yourself up for criticism is never easy. Publishing and promoting your work knowing that reviews are not only inevitable but essential is a real challenge. Submitting work for critique, even knowing that those you’ve submitted your work to have your improvement as a writer in mind, is still close to standing naked in a crowd on the vulnerability scale.  Sometimes even admitting to people that you write can be difficult.

Despite the risk of bad reviews, harsh critiques or out and out ridicule, we can never get to where we want to be, accomplish what we want to accomplish or be the people we want to be if we don’t give it a try. By trying we will always open ourselves for criticism.

When I think about criticism though, I love to look at some of the success stories. I like them partly because it’s encouraging to see someone succeed, but also because usually those successes come after being met with resistance or flat out failures.

I recently watched the movie, Walk the Line, with Joaquin Phoenix as Johnny Cash. The movie takes us along his early years, showing some of his early success and struggles. Watching the beginning, where he could have given up and taken an every day job instead of pursuing his singing career, I wondered what might have happened if he hadn’t pushed for an audition? Or what if he just took the first negative feedback as the truth about his ability? Or worse, what if he never tried in the first place? We could have missed out on a lot of great music.

There’re tons of these stories, but I can’t help seeing what a loss it would be if we never had work from authors who accepted negative reviews or literary rejections.

  •  Dr. Suess was told in one rejection letter that his work was “too different from other juveniles on the market to warrant its selling.”
  • Beatrix Potter met with a great deal of rejection before becoming one of the best selling children’s authors of all time.
  • Louis L’Amour  was said to have received around 200 rejection letters before a publisher was willing to publish his work.
  • F Scott Fitzgerald was told his The Great Gatsby was “an absurd story as romance, melodrama, or record of New York high life”
  • Louisa May Alcott was told to “stick to teaching”.

Now it is true all of these authors then went on to great success, but you do have to wonder what would have happened if the would have let the words of others hold them back. Also what if, like so many of us, they became their own worst critic and let that self doubt defeat them? Given their ultimate success, you have to believe they had a strong belief in themselves that helped them keep trying.

Looking at these stories we can remind ourselves that no matter what level of success (or failure) we might ultimately achieve, we can never have a possibility of success without believing in ourselves. Whatever feedback we get can be accepted and considered in order to make us better, but our foundation should be built on a belief in our abilities and commitment to success.

What do you think? How do you deal with criticism and/or rejection? What do you think is required to keep pushing on to success? Please do share in the comments.

Thanks and have a great week!

~CJS

 

Sometimes You Just Gotta Let It Out

A few weeks ago, I explained that my writing background is in journalism. While I am genuinely working to develop my creative side of writing, I find my roots, at least on a technical level, are still firmly rooted in my journalistic education. Face it, after 30 years of working to perfect any trade, it is hard to execute an about-face or even a deviation in one’s path.

So, setting aside my emerging creative aspirations and focusing this week on my anal, journalistic side, I want to address a couple of issues – “pet peeves,” you can call them – that I have in the hopes, that by jotting them down on paper (or a blog), I can shake them off and, perhaps, get them out of my system so I can move on. By the way, can I even use the word “anal?”

My rant is not about creative writing, but is directed mostly at professional journalism and, specifically, news broadcasters, although print reporters are not entirely innocent either.

Try this on for size: “The tornado completely destroyed the high school.” With all the storms in our area, this type of phrase has been used lately, either out of carelessness or perhaps toward exploiting the dramatic effect. But, as I was taught and had beaten into to me by my teachers, that if a building is “destroyed,” would it not be by definition “complete” and total? If it is not “complete,” then it would be “damaged,” since “destruction” is already all or nothing.

You see, journalism is about using language effectively and efficiently, meaning that redundancies on the professional level, as I was taught, are not tolerated.

Another example comes from the news of a recent tornado in Oklahoma where it was reported that “a warehouse had been totally leveled.” Again, if a building is leveled, would it not be “total?”

Then there is the word “unique,” which is also abused constantly by broadcasters and just about everyone else these days. According to Merriam-Webster, “unique” primarily means: “being the only one.” I say “primarily,” because the word has been abused with terms such as, “very unique” so commonly that their dictionary has a sidebar dedicated to the debate of how some people accept the term. After all, if an item or person is unique, how could adding the word “very” make it any more of one of a kind.

There are other examples in contemporary journalism that I could discuss, such as how the word “literally,” which has come to be overused and abused; or how the small word “very,” as referred to above, is frequently added for emphasis where it is not needed.

So there, call me “anal” but at least I got my rant and a couple of my pet peeves out in the open.

 

Rewrite, Rework and Lessons Learned

Rewrite

Several years ago, I began writing a story with a roundabout target of 50,000 words to 60,000 words. At this point, the plot and storyline don’t really matter, but the experience and its revealing lesson I think will be of tremendous help to me and perhaps other writers. In fact, this particular lesson is not over because it is going to still be quite a while until I will be ready to have my Twisted writing colleagues critique even the first few chapters.

I have, however, had a few people look at the first chapter or two of the original version – what I had thought was the final draft. Their consensus, though, was that the beginning was weak. So, I looked over the first couple of paragraphs, reworking them three or four times, but saw, at best, little to no improvement.

It tuned out that I had missed their point, which has caused some frustration, but I think it will be well worth it in the end.

Originally, I had liked the beginning as an intro to the protagonist and for creating the setting of the story. But, it was not until somewhat later when I realized it was not just the first couple of paragraphs that were the problem, but the whole beginning. Basically, that was when the learning experience started, as I had misunderstood what they were trying to convey.

As I look over the story now, these few years later and drawing from other critiques, the opening chapters, I realize, fail to spark any true interest and, like a car with a flat tire, it falls short of getting to the plot and pulling in the reader. Additionally, even though I had been generally satisfied with the background and character development, the plot, itself, was, indeed, rather weak.

Since then, I have liberated the story from my files and began to review it for a rewrite – to rework the beginning and strengthen the plot.   My thinking was to take the story and basically insert new sections, as a contractor would refurbish a building, and then shore up the links to ensure continuity.

That line of thinking, at least in this case, has not been working for me. So, I have decided on an alternate approach of coming from the opposite direction. I figure that by sticking with the same story idea, but adding some life to the plot, starting with a whole new beginning, I can write a much improved version, based on all the alleged wisdom I have gained since starting this story. Of course, I will still use much of what I have already written, like constructing a new building with some of the old walls. So, instead of writing between existing sections, as I first mentioned above, I will attempt to add as many of the original sections that will fit to the new version.

This rework is going to take some more time than originally conceived and I will have to discard at least a few of the sections, if not whole chapters, but I am already envisioning a much better and engaging draft. But then, who knows what other ideas I am destined to come up with and lessons I will learn toward improving this and future stories.

 

“Popular” Writing versus “Good” Writing

 

angry crowd

The success of ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ got me to thinking about popular writing versus good writing. Not that they can’t be one in the same, of course. Often they are. It’s just that, well…often they’re not.

Now, I haven’t read the book, so I can’t give an opinion on it. A lot of people I know have, however. Read it, that is. Not one of them liked it. As a matter of fact, several couldn’t get through it. These are people who, in my humble opinion have some pretty good tastes in literature. And most professional book critics seem to have torn it apart.

And with ‘Fifty Shades,’ not only has it become a runaway best seller, they went and made it into a flick which is doing very well in the theaters. On top of that, there’s a sequel planned, I understand. The writer of ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ is obviously very rich at the moment and probably isn’t caring very much about what the critics think. And why should she (Or is it a “he”) care, anyway. She’s giving the public what they want and they’re eating it up. And copy-cats have sprung up. One is called ‘Fifty Shades of Blue.’ The author is I.B. Naughty. Ya’ gotta love that one!

So, as a new writer, I can’t help but wonder how much I really need to work to try and turn out a successful book. I can’t help wondering if I’m trying too hard. Maybe I didn’t need to take three years to write ‘Jenny.’ Maybe I could have slapped a few hard core sex scenes in there and not worried so much about the story. If that’s what the public wants, why not give it to them? After all, there’s nothing wrong with sex. Right? It’s good. I’m not a Puritan, I’m all for it

But how would I feel about it, even if the book sold well? Roll around in my money and not care whether or not I’m considered a “serious” author? Or guilty that I had sold out? Hmmm…money would buy a lot of pretty things. And my wife really wants a house on the beach… (Sigh!).

There’s always a pen name, of course. Yeah…that would work. I.B. Naughty seems to have been taken. But I’m sure I can come up with something. How about Hugh R. Hornee? That’s not bad. I could write as Hugh and watch the money pour in while I satisfy the literary part of me by writing my “serious” book. I’m weak, though. I’m afraid that if I did that and started to see thousands of dollars rolling in from Hornee’s work I’d kick the “serious” work to the curb. Hell, if Hugh R. Hornee’s novels just bought me a yacht, screw Joe Bucemi and his high-falootin ways!

But, what if you can’t have it both ways? What if it was time to make a deal with the Devil? He gives you two options. You can write a trashy book that critics are practically laughing over, but sells a million copies and gets you a multi-million dollar movie deal. Or you can write one that is generally regarded as one of the most beautifully written pieces of literature ever seen by human eyes. The trouble is, hardly anyone will read it and you will barely make enough money on it to pay your electric bill. Ironically, it will become popular ten years after you’re dead.

Hmmm…again. Would I start to think of all those pretty words, or all those pretty things and that house on the beach? I would have to make sure my wife wasn’t in the room while I was making my decision. I know which one she would pick.

 

 

The Rule Of Three

the sentence

Yes…everybody is a critic. But you have to have a thick skin. Especially if you are a new writer, like me. I don’t have enough experience under my belt to tell somebody that they don’t know what the hell they’re talking about. “What do you mean, I can’t write? I have one short story published!” doesn’t sound all that impressive. And besides, they might be right!

But just because Saint Peter tells me that I should change that love scene in chapter six, should I run home and rewrite? If it means the difference between getting into and NOT getting into Heaven, I probably should. But I don’t really have to worry about that, just yet. So how do I know who I should listen to and who I should just give a nod of my head and a polite smile?

For this puzzling dilemma our twisted little writing group uses the rule of three. It’s simple. If only one person has a problem with your main character exposing himself to a group of nuns in the opening paragraph, don’t get all bent out of shape and delete it. But if at least three readers say it that they don’t think it should be there, you might want to take a good look at it. I’m just using this scene as an example, of course. I actually can’t imagine anyone having a problem with it. As a matter of fact, the more I think about it the more I love the idea of one of my characters exposing himself to a group of nuns. Maybe not in the first paragraph, but very soon after that. I know there’s that whole Saint Peter’s thing to worry about but I’m a, “cross that bridge when I come to it,” kind of guy.

In the end, though, it’s still up to the writer to decide whether he or she wants to change something. After all, it’s your baby and you’re going to love it no matter what. But if you want the rest of the world to come over and pinch its little cheeks you might want to think about changing that diaper.

And really, don’t we all want other people to feel as warm and fuzzy about what we’ve written as we do? I know I do. I want them to enjoy it. And yes, I want them to buy it, too. Now the question is, will they buy a novel where the main character exposes himself to a group of nuns? In the first paragraph? I’ve just got to work this scene into a story.