Wednesday, June 8, 2016

You Need Thick Skin

A step into the irreverent today. Have you ever heard the song "Always Look on the Bright Side of Life?" (You can click below to listen if you haven't, or if you have and want to hear it again.) Like the topic of this post, the movie it is from is somewhat controversial, a movie people either loved or hated because of the subject matter.

As an author, one of the things they tell you is that you have to have a thick skin. Reading is subjective. There are several best sellers that I haven't loved, but I don't bash them simply because they aren't "my cup of tea."

The most important part of writing is to make sure you get the mechanics right. If your grammar is poor or it is riddled with mistakes, most people won't spend the time reading it. Even when its perfect, you should be prepared for negative feedback, because not everyone is going to like what you've written.

While I was writing one of my books, I was between critique groups, so I tried the RWA groups. I wanted to incorporate some of the places I've visited into the story--Scotland and Fort Lauderdale. One of the early critiquers took exception to my descriptions of Scotland. She was British (I would say English rather than Scottish, but I can't remember now) and she said before I attempted to write about a place, I should visit first. I was shocked! I HAD been there. I wrote those places that inspired me, but she went on to tell me my main character surely would want to visit the mall in Manchester. AHEM. My character had a short stop in Manchester, and no reason to visit the mall. I immediately called a friend of mine who lives across the ocean and asked what I'd gotten wrong. We talked about landmarks and notable sights, and as a result, I actually included some things that I hadn't seen when I was there.

A second critique group told me I might want to give up on writing. They suggested I use more flowery prose, all those ugly adverbs that I've always been taught to avoid. And that was after I had two novels published (which I didn't hesitate to point out to that person). If I didn't have the other two books under my belt, I very well might have called it a day and thrown in the proverbial writing towel. That's when I stopped looking for an RWA group to fit in with.

Further down the road, during one of my early attempts to hire an editor, I was somewhat surprised when she sent back comments like, "Cameron isn't a girl's name. You should change it." Hello? Have you ever heard of Cameron Diaz? Oh yeah, and then there's Cinda. "What kind of a name is Cinda? Your readers won't relate to it." And that's when I severed ties with that editor. If the worst thing she could pick apart in my writing was the names of my characters, she wasn't helping. That editor is fairly well respected in the industry, she has written some books on the craft, but after my experience with her, I'd never buy one of them.

Despite these criticisms, I continued on my journey. It isn't about finding someone who blindly agrees with you because they don't want to hurt your feelings. I have had some very blunt feedback on my writing, but that feedback was constructive. Not condemnation for the names I'd chosen for my characters or criticism that I didn't travel someone else's road.

Can you imagine telling someone they should give up writing?

Without a doubt, writing is a craft that must be finely honed. I don't always get it right on the first draft, but my method is to get the story down first, and then look for what's missing or what I've gotten wrong. Even still, when I hand the finished product in to my editor, she'll often find more things wrong, what's still missing or what should be corrected, and I trust her. Constructive criticism from someone who knows the industry. Once it's pointed out, I can see it clearly and correct it.

Unlike "Cameron isn't a girl's name."

If you're an aspiring writer, keep at it. Like anything else, practice makes perfect. The longer you're at it, the more automatic it becomes. Silly mistakes, like using that for who, correct themselves. The word "just" jumps out at you the minute you type it (although there are still many instances that sneak through). And if someone criticizes your work, consider the validity of their comments. All criticism should be considered. Criticism can hurt, but sometimes it might make your work better.


  1. Anyone who thinks they can slap out a novel over the weekend and publish it on Tuesday has no clue. But readers read through their own filters. "Too much about the relationship." "Should have more about the relationship." "Not as good as the other books." "Best one yet."
    You'll never "win" so you learn to find people you trust, and then temper their opinions with your own experiences.

    1. Isn't that the truth! and in the end, a "good" editor is FAR more valuable than random critiquers. I must have done something right, I got great reviews on the final product, even if I did have a girl named Cameron and a strange name like Cinda!