Tag Archives: writing topics

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

 

Just The Tip of The Iceberg

I write on the principle of the iceberg… 7/8ths of it underwater for every part that shows. – Ernest Hemingway

This past weekend my family and I went to an arts fest held at a local museum that included free admission to a lovely new exhibit travelling from the National Galleries of Scotland. We listened to music, saw some dancing and watched a battle with swords and shields that was probably my three boys’ favorite part. I was most excited for the exhibit so I brought the boys while I was able to walk through and look at the art. My oldest made more of an attempt to seem interested than most of the boys we had with us, and though he wasn’t that impressed, he asked me what I liked so much about looking at the paintings. I had to think about how to answer.

How to you explain art appreciation simply and quickly while in a crowded exhibit full of people huddled up in front of a Picasso? I told him there’s a lot that can be studied, the color, the brush strokes, the mood created, but what I love is how the picture makes me feel. There may be layers of things going on in the painting in front of me, but inevitably I’ll be drawn to small details, or will just be moved by the overall impact of the painting.  I think his response was “Hmmm” and then he drifted off back to his friend. Such a parenting win – haha!

I left, though, thinking more about it, and of course thinking more about it as a writer.

When we read we do the same thing as when we look at art. Usually we don’t read to appreciate the word choice or the writer’s ability to plot, we read for the impact the story or essay or poem has upon us. As a writer, it’s our job to lay the groundwork, as artfully as we are able, for the reader to fill in the blanks and carry it away to another place.

I submitted the beginning of a short story to my critique group this week, and what I loved to hear from one of the group was that she could see her own experience in the story. While it wouldn’t be exactly like what the reader had experienced, it was enough to pull up her own experience to color in where the writing stops.

So how much do we give? I like Hemingway’s quote above about the iceberg, and how what we show in the story is only a piece of what is going on, so that the reader can find or provide the rest of  the “iceberg”. Hemingway’s “Hills Like White Elephants” is a classic example of his particular style of showing us a story that has hidden depths beneath. What seems to be a simple conversation tackles the much bigger concept of abortion.

I’m still learning how to build a story that gives you just enough to make you go a little further, thinking more about it, or that has an emotional impact that takes you somewhere else.

Hawthorne tells us “Easy reading is damn hard writing.” It’ll take a lot of writing with effort to get something that manages to show a little but give a lot, but it’s definitely something I’m aiming toward.

What about you? Do you agree with Hemingway – show a bit of the iceberg? What stories or poems do you think do this well? Or do you think there’s the danger of not giving enough? Feel free to tell me about it in the comments.

Thanks for dropping by. Have a great week!

~CJS

Inspirational Landscapes

The Rocky Mountains, Landers Peak by Albert Bierstadt

“The Rocky Mountains, Landers Peak” by Albert Bierstadt

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about writing from experience and basically, about “what you know.” I had been advised to use that method many years ago, when I was just starting out. In any case, believe it or not, that philosophy has worked remarkably well for me, as far selecting and crafting topics. Whether or not it has made me a good writer is a whole different question.

Another great source for topics and general inspiration for coming up with writing topics and plots, however, has been landscape paintings. Generally, landscapes, in particular, offer a snapshot in time and of a place with a wide view of a handful of events, even if it is just a couple of people in a wagon rambling down a dirt road. Any of these events in the painting, at least for me, can trigger an idea or plot for a story.

Beyond the two people in the wagon, for instance, consider what is in the background. Are there mountains? Think about what could be happening in those mountains and how does it connect to or affect the people in the wagon. Is there a forest off to the side? Think about what devious scheme someone hiding in there may be concocting and are the two wagon people linked to it.

Take the example above from Albert Bierstadt’s “The Rocky Mountains, Lander’s Peak” and reflect on the plot possibilities based on the activity in the foreground, the mountains towering all around or perhaps just on the lake and waterfall in between. What are the people doing and who are they? How did they get there? And, if they are in lost or in trouble, why?

With the internet, you do not even need to visit a museum these days to view landscapes, although I much prefer a face-to-face as the best way to “become one” with a painting, especially with all the detail typically weaved into a larger piece of work. I could go through a list of favorites, but generally I am drawn to American and European landscapes from the 18th and 19th centuries.

They tend to transport me out of reality, at least for the few minutes I may be looking at it, allowing my mind to be released to create a plot based on the subject, as well as the background of the painting. As the imagination is set free, I find the possibilities for plots and scenes tend to flow unencumbered. I won’t apply the cliché that the possibilities are endless, but it really is not that difficult to conjure up at least a few story possibilities from just a single landscape.