Thursday, March 22, 2007

You Know You Want It!

Yesterday ... I think it was yesterday ...

Anyway, there was a conversation about criticism. People talked about where they get it, how they deal with it and whether they even want it.

Since many of you are writers, I thought I'd toss out how I handle the whole criticism thing. Maybe this list will help your process or not. So here we go.

1. Trust your sources. The only criticism I trust comes from my husband, my friends, Jen & Dana, my agent and my editor.

However in the beginning, when I didn't have an editor and agent, my husband and Jen read my work. They told me what I needed to hear and believe me, that's very different from what I wanted to hear! So my point is to be careful as to whom you give your work. Be picky but most of all, learn to trust yourself so you know what is constructive and what isn't; what suggestions make your work stronger, versus making into what that person wants it to be.

2. Take in critiques when you're ready. When I get a revision letter from my agent or editor, I don't open it right away. If I'm in the middle of writing a new story (and depending on the timing of the revisions), I hold off on reading the letter until the new story is done. And then I go through my ritual. I make a cup of tea, close the door to my office, print out the letter and then read it over and over again.

3. Digesting the suggestions. I don't always take every single suggestion. With Switchcraft, my editor suggesting removing a supporting character all together. But I really felt that this character (her name is Arlene) allowed us to see one of the heroes in his most vulnerable moments. So I kept Arlene but I also kept in mind the spirit of my editor's suggestion. I only used Arlene in very specific scenes and my editor didn't make a peep.

4. Sometimes you need a little tough love. About six months ago, my agent had to shake me up a little. She told me that my writing wasn't up to my usual standards and dude, it hurt! But she was right, damn it. It shook me up, made me sit up straight and pay attention to what I was doing. So when I sent the revised proposal to her, she told me that I was back.

5. Tame the inner beast. Nothing, not one word of my very worst reviews could top the criticism that comes from me. My inner critic is a beast. It knows where and when I'm most vulnerable and lay me up for days. But I've learned to silence the beast, or throw a bone over my shoulder and run!

Meditation and my Buddhist studies have helped me in this way. Especially the idea that what we tell ourselves isn't always the truth. When I get down on my writing, I have to remind the beast that if I were that bad, then how is it possible that I have three books in the stores right now? I know it sounds cheesy but the book that changed my thinking in this area is The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz.

So there you have it. How do you manage criticism? Does it keep you on your toes, or knock you on your ass?



Erica Orloff said...

This was an AWESOME post, Mary. Just totally awesome. I have a hard time with criticism, mostly because I go out of my way to not be critical and to be gracious (comes from my Buddhist studies, too). So sometimes it's painful when people word things bluntly, or there seems to be an agenda.

But when I trust the source . . . then I take the little pang of hurt, sit with it a bit, then do as you say. I absorb it, get better, move on.


Unknown said...

Hi Erica:

Thanks so much! I'm glad the post was useful.

How was your trip to New York?


Dana Diamond said...

I loved this too.

And I really loved that bit about waiting 'til you're ready.

I didn't realize, but I kinda do the same thing by telling you to wait a week...or more. ;)

Have a good one!

:) d