Obviously, you need to hone your craft and develop your skills, and there are certainly a multitude of styles and genres to choose from. But the one thing you definitely have to be is open. Open to the idea your work might need to improve.
But you can’t be honest about what you need to do with your writing if you worry about what other people think of you. What they think of your writing is another matter. But tying up your self-worth with the stories you produce is not helpful.
The work is the work, and you are you.
The enemy of honesty is insecurity. We all know the feeling of doubting ourselves and suspecting our efforts are not very good. And the manifestation of that can be anything from running away and crying, to getting defensive and belligerent.
It’s very difficult to look at your own work and appraise it objectively. And when others do it for you, it’s very difficult to be objective about that too. But whether or not you’re judgement is correct in how you view things yourself, or how you view the opinions of others, you have to at the very least be open to criticism.
The problem is, you can’t help feeling shitty when someone throws negativity your way. The instinctive response is to avoid it. To find a safe, comfortable environment where that doesn’t happen. Which would be fine if you could stay in that cocoon forever. But you can’t. Like keeping a child in a controlled environment away from germs and disease, all you’re doing is making sure the first time that child goes out into the world they’re going to die a horrible death.
In order to be able to deal with difficult situations, you have to expose yourself to them. The cruellest and most unfair critics are the ones who are most helpful in the early stages of becoming a writer. Not because they help improve your writing, but because they help toughen you up as a writer. And it’s painful. Really painful. Your own personal Fight Club. But like most things, it’s scariest when you’ve never experienced it.
Personally I’ve been critiqued by all sorts of writers at various stages of ability (mine and theirs). I’d say comments come down to two basic types.
Stuff I agree with.
Stuff I don’t agree with.
Both types can be presented in various ways: friendly and couched in platitudes, or blunt and lacking tact. It makes no difference to me. If I don’t agree, I ignore it. If I do agree, I feel lucky to have found something I can use. The tone used in either case is irrelevant. Only I can choose to make changes in my writing, no one has any power to force my hand.
I know I’m making it sound easier than it is. If someone starts dismissing all your ideas as amateurish and hackneyed, it will hurt. We all have feelings. Even me. But I’ve received over a thousand critiques on Critique Circle. Over 700 on Authonomy. Hundreds more on The Cult (now called LitReactor), Litopia and Writing.com. At this point the only thing I look for in feedback is if there’s anything I can use to make my story better. Encouragement and insults are just extra words I have to dig through.
Some of the nicest, most flattering comments have been the most useless. Some of the most vicious have helped me pinpoint exactly where things get dull.
You have to remember, when someone dislikes you (for whatever reason) they will generally attack where you’re weakest. Their reasoning may be fucked up, but the fact they chose a particular element in your story as their target probably means they’ve identified a weak link. Which is very helpful.
Don’t want to give them the satisfaction of being right? Don’t tell them.
And it’s also worth remembering that just as insecurity can make you behave regrettably or overreact to things not really so important, the person reading your work suffers from the same things. Poor bastard probably has his own problems.
So, if you are concerned about exposing yourself to ridicule and abuse, it’s a valid concern. The first five hundred horrible comments may sting a bit. But the 501st time's the charm.
If you found this post useful, please give it a retweet. Comments (even stinging ones) are always welcome. Cheers.
If you're curious about what my writing looks like you can see a sample from my current WIP on Authonomy here.