Monday, June 11, 2012

How to Take a Licking and Keep on Ticking

I'd love to tell you how to take critiques, comments, judges' remarks, beta-readers' notes, and other feedback in the right spirit. Gracefully. With aplomb. (A curtsey might be over the top, but you get the idea.)

We authors need to know how to do this. Because, honestly? I think the animal behaviorists missed a trick. There's Fight, there's Flight, and then there's Cringe.

I do that. I get creepy-crawly sensations up my arms, the back of my neck tingles, and I just want to hide. And that's even with nice comments!

If I have any advice at all it would be not to respond right away. Because after Cringe comes Oh, Yeah?!, also known as Get Defensive. And that's rarely an author's best side.

This past weekend was Critique Central around here. I got back the judges' scores and remarks on my first-ever screenplay; an online friend had extensive, helpful comments on Blackjack & Moonlight, and a short story I wrote had to be turned around following the editor's corrections.

The easiest are the line edits. That's someone actually trying to make your work better. Assess all the proposed changes, make as many as you can and then accommodate the rest. Thank your editor; she's worked hard to improve your work, which in turns makes you look better as a writer. Send her flowers, if that's possible. Or chocolate.

Next easiest: the comments by a friend on a completed manuscript. Everything my friend said was right. I just didn't agree with all of it.

Wait. What?

Yes, I think it's possible for an author to acknowledge good advice while still seeing valid reasons not to take it. My friend is right: Blackjack & Moonlight would benefit from more conflict. But not without a major rewrite, and as it's just had a major rewrite, I suspect I don't have the energy right now to do a second one. Plus, I am willing to sacrifice conflict to keep other qualities that I like as much.

Still, Blackjack is the third book in what we're calling "The Blackjack Quartet" (because Jack "Blackjack" McIntyre appears in all four books). Our current plan is to start publishing the quartet in the fall, so I won't be prepping Blackjack & Moonlight for release until 2013. Maybe then I'll know how to address the changes my friend has suggested.

That's because I know I'm still learning how to write. What was hard a year ago is now much easier, so it stands to reason that what seems hard now might be doable next spring.

Finally, the judges' scores and remarks. This is tougher because it's my first screenplay. That should make it easier because I know I'm a newbie, but paradoxically, I'm more nervous about facing my faults in this situation. I think that actually fits with my thoughts about my friend's advice. When we're faced with evidence of our failings as writers, that's just hard. But it gets easier as we demonstrate to ourselves that we are learning and improving.

I may never write another screenplay, so these comments could be the only feedback I get. I want to approach them as constructive advice on how to improve, and not a terminal diagnosis from a professional. (One judge is a producer, the other is one of those industry insiders that has lots of different titles.)

I think I can get there...with time.

Which makes it suitable that I picked the old Timex watch slogan for the title of this post. Give feedback time to find that part of you that believes you're doing okay, that you're learning and improving, and that you want to be a better writer. And that you're grateful to be strapped to an arrow, sent through a glass pane, and dunked in some water. Don't worry; you'll survive. (John Cameron Swayze is very reassuring on this point...)


  1. You have the best attitude ever. Critique is your friend. I learn more about writing from rejections than I do from acceptance.

    And sometimes the criticism is valid but not right for your book. It's okay to say no.

    I'm looking forward to when your writing is out there and we can see the fruits of your labors.

  2. Thanks, Lori, for the kind words. If my attitude seems sensible now, well, it didn't used to be. But thank goodness with advanced age can come real wisdom.

    Ross and I are planning to start publishing my work at Harmony Road Press this fall. Trust me, you'll hear all about it as that point nears. I'll strive to stay just this side of obnoxiously self-promoting.


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