Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Roll With The Punches

Someone tweeted me recently and asked me to review their work. I had already messaged them privately and stated that I did not want to put my comments on a public forum and that 140 characters was just not enough. When they tweeted me again I replied that I thought their writing was bad. Their reply was only one word: "Ouch".

My initial reaction was that I could have been a whole lot worse, I could have been rude, I could have let rip but what good would that do? None what so ever. I like to try to encourage writers of any level to keep writing. I think writing is such an important method of communication be it within you in the form of writing therapy or communication to a reader.

I have been thinking about this all day long, partly because I feel bad because I have been on the receiving end of comments like that often enough. However, I have partly been thinking about it because I kept asking myself if I could have done it better, handled it better, been nicer?

 My current piece of work that came back from the publishers was savaged, it was ripped to pieces and then force fed me via email. It hurt. I went "ouch". I closed the email and a couple of days later I was skyping with a friend of mine who is a screen writer and whose opinion and writing I value. I told him that I had been savaged and he just said "Aaaahhh" and nodded sagely. "Writing," he went on, "that is worth savaging is a good thing because bad writing is either pandered to and the writer is patted on the head, or they are simply fired."

I went away feeling heartened that I have been critiqued so harshly. It will make the finished product more robust and more polished. It will make the reader have a better and more pleasurable experience from perusing my work. It does not matter what genre I write in (I write in many) if I cannot communicate smoothly and with some level of sophistication to my audience, then what they hell am I doing? More to the point why are they reading it? There are so many blogs and papers out there that readers can afford to be choosy so it is up to me as a writer to make my product as polished as possible.

The person has said that their family like their work. Well, here's the crunch, so do mine. They even like the stuff that is rubbish. God bless them. I think it is something to do with them loving me and only saying nice things because they are proud of me. This makes me all squishy inside and puts a soppy smile on my face. However, it does not improve my writing! If I want honest feedback I will send it to my editor, or someone who's work I value who can critique it in the knowledge that they have nothing to gain by being nice to me. They will spot the flaws that I have overlooked. This usually happens in emails because more can be written and it can be discrete. I can go away and digest this information in private and then put it into action. I actively seek out people who will tear holes in my work, so that I can make it stronger.

I have been writing for years and with this comes a certain level of confidence in my work. I look back at some of my earlier stuff and sometimes I nod my head and think that I have done well, other times I cringe and wonder why people paid me money for that. It is a learning curve, one that I will never leave. I recently started writing erotica so I could learn more, to throw myself into a new challenge and to see if I could survive. What this has done is allowed me to develop a thick skin; to be able to roll with the punches, deal with the trolls and the bad reviews and (here is the crucial bit) pick myself up and learn from it.

Could I have been nicer to that poor writer? I have no solution. In writing this piece I was hoping to find some solace but it alludes me. I do feel that I may have done them a favour by being honest. Being honest is not about pandering to egos and being nice, nor is it about being cruel like Simon Cowell. It is about expressing my opinion and being aware that it may not be the same as the person next to me.

So to that writer, I really hope that you are reading this. I really hope that I have not disheartened you. I want you to go back to your computer and cast an eye over your work and find out why I said what I did. BUT I want you to get back in the saddle and keep writing too, learn from it, grow, expand, become better.


  1. Don't feel upset or disheartened - authors should send work to their proofreaders or alpha readers for an honest opinion.

    Around eighteen months ago, I wrote a story for NaNoWriMo 2011: I thought it was clever, a family torn apart by secrets by flicking between all the different characters. It had everything, gambling, adultery, a 16 year old son who ran off with the Russian au pair from the end of the road to Gretna Green, and the 18 year old daughter who was secretly pregnant. I thought the storyline was great and I didn't send it to a single proofreader, it was fine as I editted it.

    It wasn't. It had so many typographical and grammatical errors, it was embarrassing. Every comment said the same thing: shame about the English. I was mortified, and was even more mortified that it started to climb the iTunes charts. It got to the very top of the UK free iTunes chart. I had never felt a greater fraud, and unpublished it.

    I wasn't proud of my work; I should have been, but wasn't. If I had it proof-read and some guidance on it, I would probably be very proud of it now. I learned a lesson: honest feedback is to make my work better. People give up their time and help me progress in my writing.

    Sure, some of the criticism can be cutting, but they are not attacking me, but my work.

    So don't feel bad; we all need to have our over-inflated egos punctured a little from time to time. Or else, we might up like EL James.

  2. I have 2 blogs. My naughty one that you have read (Lyric's Tale) and my mommy one. Oddly enough I put more into my erotica one, why? Well because it is a side I hid for so long, that I felt shame about. If one read my mommy blog, I write there as well, definitely not in a niche as such because I run the gamut. But my erotica is my baby, my life breath, I am my own worst critic when it comes to it, always thinking I could have worded that different or this part needs to come out. I want the person to close their eyes and be there, in the mix. I love your writing, especially when you tap into the things here that we oft don't admit we think about, even if it is in passing..

  3. Always an interesting conundrum! I have more experience of this as an artist than as a writer, but good critique is worth having and alas harder to find these days than ever. People either want to make you feel good about what you have done ('My family say it's great' is a much heard refrain among the amateur artist!) or in the case of the internet are able to dismiss and denigrate with impunity. Literary editors have always been famously harsh and negative criticism is always hard to bear for anyone. As you have pointed out the ability to take criticism, good and bad is essential to the artist who wishes to truly progress and develop. To take it objectively, apply it, analyse it and accept or deny it based on it's incisiveness and merit. Bad criticism from someone whose opinion or taste you do not respect is an endorsement. Often an impartial view can highlight aspects of a work that could be improved or resolved, given with the luxury of overwiew without the burden of personal attachment and full absorption in the work. Having been a reluctant critic on occasion, I have found that there are positive ways to present rigorous criticism, without being personal or dismissive and good criticism should involve some dialogue, the critic offering possible avenues of resolution and the artist exploring them. And as pointed out, the worst reaction is always indifference so any other response is a success and the truth is that you'll learn more from a savaging than a ringing endorsement!

  4. Sometimes, because I write erotica, men who wish to attract me and arouse me, will write me some of their own. Often, it is pure rubbish with horrible usage of words that make you laugh instead of wet. So when these men ask me if I liked their work. If it aroused me, it is so hard for me to find the nicest way possible to say, no, it didn't, but I appreciate the effort. Sure, I could be nice and lie and just say that I enjoyed it and it did make me aroused, but then, that gets you the same results as faking an orgasm. The other person is lead to believe that what they are doing pleases and arouses you and they'll just keep doing it.

    xo mina