And The Most Important Character is…
I’ve been writing for dozens of years and most of those have been undertaken in earnest. I started pursuing publishing at age 12 and 15 and then again at 26. Since then, I’ve freelanced, edited, judged in contests, and of course, written my fair share of short stories, essays, flash fiction, and novels. In all, I have over 25 writing years in.
What I also did (and still do) over those years was critique other writers and have my own writing critiqued. In the early days, I don’t mind saying that my prose was filled with the typical new writer issues. It was unsophisticated: the characters lacked depth, the dialogue was flat and boring, and there was no sparkle to the prose. I had no idea how to move the plot along, I couldn’t keep track of more than two characters in dialogue, and I spent far too much time writing things that had nothing to do with the story.
OK. So maybe some of that is still true: I’m always learning, and that’s the point of my post today. I keep learning. I’m not afraid to hear when something doesn’t work. I have a pretty thick skin when it comes to negative reviews because I’ve spent a good many hours reading critiques of my work. Many, many times the critiques were not glowing. They could even be harsh depending on who was delivering the news. Sometimes, I felt sick to my stomach from reading a critique.
I had to learn to take the good comments AND the bad. I had to develop a distance from my writing in order to hear about the things that needed fixing.
And so I forged on. I discovered that usually after a tough critique that if I thought about the words, I’d realize it was hard to take because the information was true in some sense. Often, the critter would write something that resonated with me because I KNEW even when I wrote it that it wouldn’t work but kept it anyway.
Then I would go about fixing what needed fixing.
I’m a writer and that means rewriting. It means hearing hard-to-take information about my work in order to improve. It means realizing that the story comes first, not my ego.
Why am I writing all this? Certainly not to defend any review I’ve received lately: While I love great reviews, I don’t fret over the bad ones anymore unless I know I have some work to do because of them. We ALL get bad reviews at one time or another. It’s part of the game.
No. I’m writing about critique and reviews because I’m worried about some newbie indies.
I’m excited about indie work, really. But I know of some real newbie writers who are raring to put their stuff live digitally because they can. I worry that newbie writers will not put in the character-building time of critique and revision that they need to, to produce good prose, and–more importantly–to survive harsh criticism. Because it’s going to come. Like I said, we ALL receive bad reviews and harsh criticism at some point.
It’s how we deal with it that makes us newbie or veteran, I think. Our responses to the responses we receive are a mark of our own character. And many of us indies have spent the time behind the scenes developing that strangely plastic skin that allows truth to enter and pain to bounce off, (well, somewhat) and crafting that first-person character that is ourselves just as carefully as we craft the people that populate our work.
I wonder and worry about how many fledgling authors will scoot out to the web, jamming their new, untested, still-young prose onto Kindle, or Nook, or Kobo, because they can, and end up receiving harsh reviews that they aren’t prepared to receive.
And then never write again.
I beg of you newbies: please don’t do this to yourself. I’m not afraid of competition. I’m not trying to come off as superior and megalomaniacal or imply that I’m a better writer than you; Hell, I make plenty of writerly mistakes.
But I’m a fairly well seasoned, and I can take it when I’m told about the many mistakes in my prose.
It’s great to be an indie these days; we have a lot of venues open to us that weren’t open before, we have control over things we didn’t before, our stories can be the length they want to be.
But if you’ve never had your work critiqued privately, please reconsider before you publish it publicly.
From a veteran to any newbie who will listen: it’s not just your stories’ characters that need building, it’s your writer’s character and there’s no shortcut to that.
Then go grab a free copy of God in the Machine (a short story): it’s free today only on Amazon
AND: spread the word!
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