Tag Archives: criticism

Zombies, Chainsaws, and Your Friendly Neighborhood Editor

If you are a regular reader of this blog, you may have noticed I’ve been talking a lot about zombies lately. If you’re not a regular reader of this blog, um…what’s your problem? Get with the program, man.

You may have asked yourself, “Why is it that Albert has chosen this time to bombard us with pointless facts about fictional monsters?”

To which I say, “Pointless? POINTLESS!? You won’t think its very pointless when they’re ripping your guts out now will you?! Of all the ungrateful…”

No, wait. Sorry, got a little carried away there.

What I actually meant to say was that I am working on putting the finishing touches on an upcoming novella called, “A Prairie Home Apocalypse or: What the Dog Saw,” a story about a dog who faces the zombie apocalypse. I’m hoping to attract readers to the site who might have an interest in that kind of thing. (If you think the title sounds a little familiar, you’re not going crazy; the story was originally conceived as a shorter work which is available here for anyone who’s interested.)

I’ve been working on this thing for a while, first writing, then editing and polishing. And finally that moment came when…I had to let it out. I had to let someone else read it.

And not just anyone else, but someone who was going to look at my story and try to find something wrong with it. Someone who would rip it to shreds with a red pen. Someone who would attack its weak points and slash at anything that didn’t quite work. Someone who was going to take a chainsaw and carve up my precious baby in a spray of blood and shredded flesh.

In other words, an editor.

It wasn’t easy letting go. But I knew it had to be done. So I gritted my teeth, repeated Chuck Wendig’s “Do Better, Suck Less” mantra to myself twenty times, and hit that send button.

And then I realized I had forgotten to, you know, actually attach the document to the email, so I had to go through the whole process again.

When I finally got my story back…I was afraid open it. What awful things must this person have said about my work? But finally I did manage to take just a little peek. And then, maybe another page, and another and another, and…

Before I knew it I had blown through every page of that manuscript, checking changes and reading notes.

And let me tell you something. It was fun.

See, I had been spending all this time thinking that reading those edits would be a horrible experience. I thought for sure that those changes would be a blow to my ego. Because really, none of us like to be criticized. None of us like to hear, “This passage right here just doesn’t work.”

But I’m here to tell you it doesn’t all have to be negative. Not if you approach it the right way; not if you have the right editor.

In fact there’s something almost magical about looking at a change and thinking Yes! That does work better that way! Ha!

You need that extra pair of eyes. Someone who knows what to look for.

It’s not because you’re a horrible writer.

It’s because you’re way too close. Even after you’ve let it sit for months. Even after you’ve gone over and over it yourself until you’ve started to become nauseated by your own words.

It can be better.

So let go of that fear. Stop worrying about your ego. It isn’t important anyway.

What’s important is the story. In the end, it’s the only thing that matters.

The Jacqueline Howett Guide to Becoming a Better Buzzard

A week or so back (I honestly can’t remember; time’s fun when you’re having flies) everyone, and I mean everyone in the writing community was talking about Jacqueline Howett and her angry tirade on the Books and Pals Blog review of her book The Greek Seaman (no I’m not doing any puns. All the good ones have been used up anyway.)

It was like the rotting corpse of some animal bringing the buzzards far and wide to feast upon its stinking goodness. And before you go off mad, I’m one of those buzzards too. It’s not an insult. They’re an important necessary part of our ecological system. Fascinating creatures. For instance, did you know that the buzzard’s head lacks feathers because-

[Tangent Alert! Tangent Alert! Tangent Alert!]

Okay, okay! Keep your britches on! Anyway. The Great Jacqueline Howett Meltdown got me to thinking: Jacqueline Howett is a person.

Which hopefully everyone knows. I mean no one thinks she’s some kind of alien robot sent to sow discord on the internet or anything like that. But sometimes even though we know we don’t really know.

There’s something about distance that keeps us from seeing other people as real people. I still remember the moment when as a child we were driving down the road and I looked out at all the other cars and realized that each and every one of those people had a life every bit as real and full and complex as mine. But I also realized it was easy for us to ignore that fact because each of us was encapsulated in our own little climate controlled pod on wheels with the radio on, drowning out the our thoughts, letting us think we were the only real people in the world.

The internet is a lot like that too. Each of us sitting here at our own glowing screen interacting with others, but not really grasping the fullness of the truth that all those other words represent living, breathing, hoping individuals just like us.

I’m not here to defend Ms. Howett. I’m just here to remind you that she’s a person. She is more than the sum of her words.

Writing a book, even a bad one full of mistakes and errors is a lot of work. If you don’t believe me you should try it some time. And especially that first book…that sucker is like pulling teeth and giving birth at the same time.

Worst. Dentist appointment. Ever.

And when you’re finally done you print it all out and look at it in all of its grandeur and you think, “This is possibly the greatest thing I have ever done.” And you know what? For most of it, it probably is the greatest thing we’ve ever done.

And then someone comes along and shoots it full of holes.

It’s easy to make that person into the enemy. Because that criticism can hurt, especially at first. It doesn’t matter if it’s right or not. It doesn’t matter if the person giving the criticism is trying to help. It still takes a knife and shoves it right through our ego.

Like I said already, I’m not here to defend Ms. Howett. What she did was wrong on any number of levels.

But the next time something like this happens, think before you flame. Remember that the one on the other end of your criticism is a person too. It doesn’t mean you have to censor yourself. But maybe stop and think: “Would I be willing to say this to their face?”

Always remember to “speak the truth in love.”

Dr. Critico’s 100% Effective Skin Thickening Ointment

Once upon a time I wrote a book called Ella Eris and the Pirates of Redemption.  I wrote this book because I got fed up with reading bad stories and thinking “I can do better than this.”  I spent nearly a year of my life writing and rewriting and polishing that baby until it gleamed.

Finally when I thought it was done I sent it off to the publishers and waited for the money to start rolling in.  But to my shock and dismay what started rolling in instead were form letters saying, “Thank you for your submission but your story does not fit our needs at this time, etc.”

As you can imagine I was crushed.  Luckily, not crushed so badly that I didn’t keep writing, but those rejections were all stinging blows to my young writer’s ego.  Still, I entertained myself with the notion that perhaps the agents hadn’t given my work a far shake, maybe they hadn’t really even read it.

So a few years later when I stumbled upon that wonderful digital repository of books called manybooks.net, I thought to myself, “Aha, here is a chance for me to show to myself and the world that my story does indeed have merit.”  I uploaded my book and waited for the rave reviews to come rolling in.

Only when the reviews came rolling in, they weren’t raving at all.  Instead they were critical.  They talked about spelling errors and misplaced commas and a whole host of terrible things.  I couldn’t believe it. I had spent long hours editing that book, reading and rereading, scouring my work for errors, doing my best to make it as perfect as I could.

But clearly none of that meant anything.  The reviewers had had their say.  So I changed course.  I thought that since I hadn’t experienced success with my work that maybe it was the type of book I had written that had caused me all the trouble. Maybe I just wasn’t cut out to write fantasy.  So I turned my attention to other kinds of fiction, and swore I’d never give fantasy another backwards glance again.

Until today that is.  Today I exchanged a series of emails with a friend and through the course of the conversation I mentioned my book and how badly it had been reviewed on manybooks.  My friend took a look at the reviews and wrote back with a strange message.  “They’re not actually all that bad.”

But I knew different.  I had read them for myself. They were written by people who hated my work, and now by extension they hated me too. People who would sooner see me drop off the face of the earth than see me write another book like that one.  At least that was how I remembered it.  But I started to wonder.  Could it be true?  Could the reviews that I thought were hateful and humiliating actually have something good to say?  I had been avoiding visiting that book’s page for months, but now I steeled myself for the worst and went to have a look.

And my friend was right.  The reviews weren’t as bad as I thought.  True, they had complaints, and they did mention some spelling and punctuation errors, but on the other hand, one of the reviewers said she had read through my book in three straight hours in spite of those problems.  If that isn’t a compliment I don’t know what is.

And it was then that I realized how stupid I had been (this happens to me on average about twice a day).  I had looked at what the critics had to say and only focussed on the negative parts of the reviews.  I assumed that what they were telling me was that my book was terrible.  But in reality the message was, “This book needs some more work.”

Why couldn’t I see it at the time?  I think part of the problem was that I had invested so much time into the book already that I had come to believe that there were no further changes I could make.  If it wasn’t good enough by then, I thought it would never be good enough.  But the truth is, I got fatigued with the whole project and gave up on it before it was really done.

So what do I do about it?  I go back and make it right.  I’ve had five years of writing and editing experience since I finished Ella Eris and the Pirates of Redemption, and while I’m still not published yet, I’ve come a long way in my journey as a writer.  Maybe, just maybe, I can apply what I’ve learned to my first book and make it into something worth noticing.  It’s worth a shot at any rate.

What does any of this have to do with you dear reader?  Just this.  Criticism can be hard to take.  You will invest months and possibly years of your time into your baby story, and when you finally release it out into the world someone will say something negative about.

This will happen to you.  The only way to avoid it, is to hoard all your work in a safe and never let it see a unfamiliar pair of eyes.  And when it does happen it will hurt.  It will feel like they’re attacking you personally, or that they’re saying you’re a terrible writer.

But maybe they’re just trying to help.  Maybe they’re saying, “This story was okay, but here’s how it could have been better.”

At that point you can take one look at the negatives and lock yourself in a room with a box of tissues and a bucket of ice cream, or you can come to grips with the idea that maybe your baby wasn’t quite as perfect as you hoped.  So perk yourself up, put on your ego armor and take another look at the criticism in a new light.  At first it might look like the end of the world, but in reality it may be the start of a whole new one.

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The unnamed, but oh-so-helpful friend in today’s post was Manon Eileen, who has wonderfully helpful blog about psychology and how to do it right in fiction.  On the menu today is a discussion of Multiple Personality Disorders. Go and check it out.