Sunday, 28 August 2016

Responding to criticism

There was a #storycrafter question from @writerology about negative feedback and how you/we/I handle it when it gets you/us/me down.

The simple answer from me was: it doesn't.

Herein lies the long answer.

*Of course* negative feedback about my writing doesn't get me down, how could it?

Let's look at some areas of criticism and see how they work.

1) spelling and grammar - the only possible response is "thanks for these corrections!" People get paid just to do this very thing. Someone notices I frequently make a mistake and take the time to point it out to me? That's brilliant! Over the years I've had the difference between practice and practise explained, syntax for sentences ending .) or )., and various other bits.

2) plot holes, confusing segues - the whole universe is in my head. I know every detail of every player, every place, every tool. If I don't know it, it doesn't exist. This can be very hard to get down on paper and, when you're writing a novel, you may leave entire scenes undescribed because your brain is filling in the blanks. Think of that experiment where you find your blind spot by drawing a blob on paper and moving it in and out of focus until the blob disappears, or those sentences with every word jumbled that you can still read because your brain corrects what it sees to what it thinks it should see. The only way I'll know this has happened is if someone else tells me. So thank you.

3) flow - particular fault of mine. Pacing correctly is *hard*. Again, I know everything: I know what's coming, what's happened off page, how people are developing. I don't always correctly choose what shouldn't be there, but other people can tell me what's disrupting the story for them. I can't tell myself. It has to be external.

4) character development - I know how people should feel about the characters and what they're going through. If they don't, that's entirely my fault and I've written it wrong. Not necessarily badly, just incorrectly for the message I want to convey. People are all going to react differently anyway, so this is a very fuzzy target to aim for and if someone cares enough about a character to get emotionally involved in the feedback they're giving, that's my job more than 50% done! All I need to do is *change* an emotional response, not create one.

5) poor language choices. Admit it, we all take shortcuts at times, to speed through a scene and get onto the one we *really* want to write. We all have speech patterns that make their way into our writing. If that's what's been caught then I'm nothing but grateful. If I think it's OK writing and someone criticises it, then I have to assume it's lazy writing and consider how else it could be done. If I think it's good and someone else thinks it's terrible then I need specific guidance and this is where I'll ask for detail. But none of those are reasons to be hurt or down. I haven't failed, I've either knowingly or unknowingly taken a short cut and criticism is the price you pay for that.

6) resolution - a satisfying ending is so important to me. It's a huge challenge to put together a story where nothing is wasted or extraneous, and nothing is left incomplete. Even in a series I feel like each book should have an end, with the promise of stories untold, not stories unfinished. This is very, very difficult and as with points 2&3 it's very hard to achieve this when you're also trying to filter through an entire universe. You might slip up, someone tells you, you're golden.

All of these things should be caught in editing and pre-publication. If it makes it to print, it's not all on me. If I ever get readers and they come to me to say any of the above then, well, I have to be a bit irritated, but at the end of the day I still *can't be down* about it because every single reading experience is about the reader. Every single one. And if the reader has a legitimate criticism/ complaint that is not peculiar to them, then my writing is at fault. If that reader didn't get the right stuff from the story but 90% or more of the readers did, then my job has been done well.

Final caveat, if someone says some variant of "I don't like this." then that is also OK. You cannot write something that creates emotion, challenges perception or build conflict and have everyone like it. If people don't like it, but do not criticise the writing or content then I have done my job perfectly.

Of course people will criticise the writing though, so I recommend allocating yourself a margin of allowable error that you feel is OK to slip up on. :-)


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