Inviting Criticism: But I thought it was perfect

Inviting Criticism: But I thought it was perfect

Writing is all about feelings: your own, the character’s, and the reader’s. All this emotion is messy and it takes courage to deal with it. And then, once you have written the story and been as true as you can be to your own beliefs, respected the reader, and tried to portray honest emotion, there is another aspect of writing that requires emotional courage: the difficult task of accepting criticism.

But, you say, it’s perfect. Well, it only is perfect for a moment in time. Once you’ve completed your rewrites, it’s time you invited criticism. You take a deep breath and  send it out to chosen readers. Those readers can be your spouse, children, mother, neighbor, an English teacher, a writing mentor, or editors. The job of these readers is to criticize. If you call it “feedback,” you might find it easier to accept, but I doubt it. Criticism is criticism.

Dealing with criticism

You might not be prepared for the fact that everyone believes they have the right, and sometimes the duty, to criticize your writing. You will be told that you have not been clear enough, subtle enough, bold enough, or delicate enough. Or you have been too bold, too simple, too complex, too “mass-market,” or too “literary.” You will be accused of corrupting the young and not being realistic enough–all this about the same book! You may sometimes feel like the poor sod at the county fair who sticks his head through the hole allowing anyone who wishes to throw pies at him.

Children aren’t as critical as adults, but buyers of children’s books are usually adults, and they have measuring sticks that are highly individual and often arbitrary. Criticism of your book can be off the mark, based on irrelevant criteria–or it can be dead on.

Then there are those who feel they can totally obliterate your book if it doesn’t reflect their particular view of the world, be it religious, social, or political. If you write outside the view of such people, they may try to ban your book. Luckily, efforts to ban books usually result in greater distribution and bigger sales. I got twenty-five letters from a class of students, obviously under the direction of their teacher, to complain about the morals of my protagonist. I was thrilled that the whole class read the book.

If you receive a bad review or your editor has marked up every page with withering comments, wait two days before talking to anyone about it–except of course those loved ones who receive your angst. Don’t call the editor. Definitely don’t call the reviewer. Wait. It truly helps enormously to wait. In two days or whatever your particular time table is for cooling down, you will find that the editor did have some good ideas and you will be better able to judge what changes will help your story  and what will not. Although, you may be grateful that the criticism was helpful and kept you from putting out a book with an obvious mistake in it, it still stretches a writer’s civility and patience to accept criticism and not respond like a snapping terrier.