If today’s guest’s name sounds familiar, it IS! She created the purple-haired tough librarian illustration for August’s First Sunday Short Fiction. Tracy is someone all of you writer friends should know. Tracy Jorgensen’s blog, Belief Suspenders, is basically “mythbusters for writers”. She tests out things like breaking a bottle to use as a weapon in a fight, and cutting her hair with a knife, and captures it all on video to help you write your novel! I offer my services on her blog with some information about the bloom time of common plants. When you finish reading her post, you might want to check it out. And now, here is Tracy.
Crybabies and love? What? Oh yes, this is real. I’m a blogging expert y’know. (Note: Some statements I make are not meant to be taken as factual. This is one of them.) As a blogging expert, I can totally make those two topics work. Just watch.
I am a major crybaby when it comes to criticism. Of course I do it off screen, in my closet, with a blanket over my head, and while eating chocolate. It’s not a pretty picture, but it is something I can talk about with some authority.
Let’s look at an example of my crybabiness (that’s a word now), and afterwards we’ll discuss what this has to do with love and you all. Or you can just skip to the bullet points at the end. I do that sometimes too.
A STORY OF CRYBABINESS
I put my stuff out there and got a few good suggestions, but then I got my negative feedback.
So my harsher critics were not saying anything to be mean, but boy did I cry. What? My characters aren’t likable? You don’t super love my omniscient-view-point prologue? How could this be? Don’t you love my super ironic voice and over the top characters that seem like they’re from another time? (Note: I’m summarizing reviews I got that gave me a big head.)
Yeah, no they didn’t. I was such a crybaby. Especially since I’d read their work, and I really respected these people as writers.
The point: I had TOO MUCH love for my own writing. I crashed and burned hard. To the point that I gave up on writing. I was crap. My writing was crap. I had no idea what I was doing or why I said crap so much. I was a sham. An insult to the term “writer.” How dare I even try to put my work up alongside these people? It was clear to me I had no idea what I was doing or how to even fix the stuff that was wrong.
So then now there was NOT ENOUGH love. I thought I was this guy: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c9fc-crEFDw
And I don’t mean the one talking sense and violence.
You DO need to love your writing. But you also need to not be so in love with it that you can’t take critiques, especially ones that will actually help and make your writing better.
People love bullet points. I don’t know why, but I can do some too if that helps you. I call them my 10 steps for proper MS love.
- Establish your goals. Think about what you want for your story. Goals are tied to editing. If your focus is your story, then you want to be able to express it the best way possible even if it means losing that prologue you love so much. If it’s on characters, then you might be more willing to sacrifice a major plot point. If you just want to get published, then everything should be on the table and you should learn the “rules” very well.
- Know the rules. Okay this is partly so you can self-edit and partly so you can ignore suggestions on grammar and punctuation that are just wrong. I’ve seen it. It could just be a UK vs. US thing. Be aware of these things. But more than that, knowing the rules can help you see when it’s a style suggestion and when it’s a you-need-to-fix-this suggestion.
- Get Reviews. You have your goals and your rules, now you have to get your work out there. Get as many opinions as you can handle. Find people who know their stuff if you can. Check Writer’s Groups and forums for writers for people who will trade with you. Be sure to give good feedback (as much as you can, which should be a lot since you already learned the rules).
- Stop crying. It’s okay to cry. But at some point you have to stop, and go do the writing. I won’t tell you to suck it up or just get a tougher skin. It might not happen for you. If you can do that, great. If not then take your moment to cry, but you do have to stop at some point. At some point you have to stay, I’m still good. I can still do this. My voice still has value. It’s just going to take a bit more work than I thought.
- Your writing is not you. Yeah, obvious I know. But as a writer you put a lot of yourself out there in any story. You have to. But when people say something negative about how you wrote it, it is not about you. Take a deep breath. Look to see what merit it has on how you’ve presented your story. If it actually gets you and your point across better (say with proper grammar) then put it out there.
- Don’t Inhale. So maybe your reviews went the opposite direction. They were all fabulous. You’re the next Hemmingway or Stoker or Dahl. Whoever. Don’t inhale all that praise. Be grateful for their opinion. Be glad you have those great parts. But don’t let them blind you to the parts that need work. Just keep them in mind when the crying starts again. (Or is that just me?)
- Review your review. Take a look at it from a standpoint away from your novel. Not as the person being critiqued but as a critiquer. Weird, I know. What is their review focused on? If it’s their PREFERENCES then remember good or bad it’s just that and it probably won’t help you out much other than attacking or building up your ego. If it’s STRUCTURE/CLARITY/BELIEVABILITY/GRAMMAR etc. then maybe you do need to work on something. That reviewer knows how to give a good review. Even if you disagree (and you can) at least they’re going at it from the right angle.
- Don’t forget the point. I disagree with the idea that PhDs should tell you what your story is about or if you want to send a message, use e-mail. I think that’s a load of crap (pardon the language). Even if it is subconscious those people still had something to say or they never would have said it. They had a point. All writing should have a point. Even if it’s to entertain, which is valid. If your writing doesn’t convey your message, you need to rework it. If the suggestions you get don’t work towards this point, forget them. You have a story to tell. Tell it. Don’t let naysayers or even ego-boosters get in the way of that. Don’t forget the goals you set for yourself in #1.
- Make Changes. Take the advice you needed and revise. Simple enough.
- Repeat steps 7-9. Do it again and again until you know it’s the best MS evers. Or at least the best you can do. Then send it out and go work on something else.
Simple enough, right? Good. Share the love and keep your pants on!
Tracy is a writer and artist on the lookout for a book deal. In the meantime, she accepts questions for her Belief Suspenders videos, makes people laugh, chases a small child and runs a small business with her husband at Past Primitive.