Thursday, January 12, 2012

"Suggestions: stop writing."

I have been lucky enough to have access to writing workshops since high school - I took classes for about six years straight! So as you can imagine, I've gotten all kinds of different feedback. I've met people who are amazing at constructive criticism. Those people could tear my story or poem apart, but they were so specific about their problems and suggestions, I never had trouble figuring out where they were coming from. And most importantly, they were always polite. Real constructive criticism doesn't discourage me - it energizes me to get back to work and make my writing better.

Not all critiques are like that, of course.

There's feedback that has stuck in my mind if just for how much it made me want to crawl under my desk. Some days, out of the blue, the worst ones will just pop into my head. I think the one that hit me hardest was the one scribbled on the back of a screenplay I wrote for a class. I will be the first to admit that it was not a good script at all, but I still almost choked when I read the verdict:

What was good: nothing.
What was bad: everything.
Suggestions: stop writing.

Ughhh. My stomach still goes into knots thinking about it!

It hurt like hell at the time, but the more I looked around, the more I realized that all my favorite authors had one of these: the critique equivalent of a punch to the stomach. It may not have taught me anything about my subpar screenplay, but it did teach me that I didn't have to take everyone's word as truth. Once of the hardest things to do as a writer is look at all the feedback you get and figure out what to take away from it. If someone tells me to "stop writing," there's nothing to take away from that. I'm obviously not going to stop. So la dee dah.

I wanted to post this here today to encourage those of you who might be down on yourself, whether it's because of feedback that stung, or the little voice of self-doubt in the back of your head, which can be even harsher. It hurts, and you're not weak or thin-skinned for that. We're all going through this process of trial and error together, and sometimes it's important for me to let myself feel discouraged. But pursuing this dream of mine is an adventure. If adventures were easy, we wouldn't have anything to write about.

And besides: there's no better revenge than success.

9 comments:

  1. This post is good and you should feel good. Lazy critiques like that can hurt, but are ultimately valueless and something one shouldn't dwell on at all.

    Keep being the best shonen hero, Becky.

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    1. EXACTLY. <3 Except that I am not the best, because YOU ARE.

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  2. Man, that's terrible. I've received some pretty curt criticisms, too. But the worst one for me was a long-winded one about why my middle grade wasn't as good as Harry Potter. *eyeroll* I love that you drew on criticisms of your favorite authors for strength. Remember that Mark Twain wanted to whack Jane Austen with her own rib and Stephen King told the world Stephenie Meyer had no talent. I can't imagine EVER telling somebody to "stop writing." On the contrary, my advice to someone I see as a beginner is: write MORE and read more. And I get the same advice from agents and others who see me as a beginner. :)

    Great line: "there's no better revenge than success." So true. Gayle Forman also just had an awesome guest post about not letting bitterness stop you from achieving your goals. I'm getting a lot of great advice from the blogosphere lately. Thanks for this!

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    1. Thank you, Katrina! I just dug up Gayle's post - seriously inspiring. If I were in her situation, I don't know what I would have done, but she came out on the other side even more successful for it. I'll have to keep this on hand for a rainy day.

      I can only imagine how frustrating that critique was! Why do so many people compare all MG/YA to Harry Potter? We're not really trying to write Harry Potter, here. Talk about unhelpful.

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  3. This was a great post. Thanks for the reinforcement. I put myself through more self-demonization than any critic ever could. My feeling about all art is that it is in the eye of the beholder. Some of the most beautiful pieces weren't AP perfect, grammatically strung together properly, but they moved me. Imagine my surprise to find there is another Rebecca Mahoney - Writer! I too am Rebecca Mahoney - writer. And have a blog as well. You can find me at: http://www.examiningmyunexaminedlife.blogspot. Best of luck to you Rebecca Mahoney (yeah, and me too!)

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    1. Nice to meet you, Rebecca Mahoney! :D Thanks for stopping by, and best of luck to you!

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  4. A critique which cannot use Nathan Bransford's (author & blogger) sandwich rule (say what's good, say what needs work, and offer positive advice) is a poor critique.

    Not all writers or those who critique writing are created equal. AND it's only one person's opinion.

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    1. That is my general guideline for when I critique as well - I'd never heard it called "the sandwich rule" before, but I'm going to start using that now! Thanks so much for stopping by and commenting.

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