Saturday, 19 October 2013

Criticism - Taking it Constructively and Growing a Thick Skin.

It's one thing to write yourself the ultimate novel... you know, that story that has lingered in your head for years, being seen and available only to the minds eye. It's a whole other thing to then go and share your treasured masterpiece with the world... a world that we know can be downright harsh and critical at times... what's the answer? Keep said masterpiece to yourself and hide it away so that nobody can judge... or perhaps grow yourself a very thick skin.

Obviously you want to get it out there, for people other than yourself to enjoy, right? So i guess you're going to be needing that skin thickener.

Truth be told criticism isn't always that bad. Sometimes it can be absolutely spot on and when listened to, give us a chance to grow and better our work.
This has happened to me, numerous times with my book Journey of Destiny.
I didn't just publish it when I first felt that it was ready... I took it to trusted friends and asked them to read it and give me their HONEST feedback.
Yes... it did sting a little bit but each of my readers gave me something to think about, something to improve on, something to better.
What I wanted (and I'm sure you want this too) was to put out the BEST version of my book after much editing and improvement.

You get to a point in your novel, where you are blinded by certain elements and can't see what might actually be staring you in the face. You yourself see the story so clearly in your head that when you read back your story, your mind automatically fills in the blanks... and its awesome!.. for you... but what about your readers?... What do they see? or what do they miss because you haven't written it in quite the right way. Problem is you yourself can't answer this question.

But when your readers do answer the question... how do you react? Like a raving loon? That anyone should insult your writing in such a way! Do they not know how hard you have worked? The nights you spent countless hours hard at the computer perfecting your story?

Perhaps you smile and nod sweetly, then as soon as their back is turned, melt into a flurry of tears and with great drama declare that it's all over and you are not the writer you once thought you were?

Lets face the music... there will be critics and there will be burning comments. Think of the greatest book you ever read... look it up on amazon and read the reviews... they won't all be 5 star and more than a handful may be more than a bit nasty. Now that is for the greatest book you ever read... could yours be so much better? You work hard to make it so but even so bad reviews are likely to come and thats life... zip on that thick skin right!

So knowing that there will be reviews that will make you feel pretty small, you do what you can, now... before you release your book to the masses.

Allow a number of people to read your book (other than editors) and comment honestly... Suck it up and allow it to happen. Ask friends who are outspoken and always willing to tell you what they really think (you know the ones) or look into Beta readers (even better - they don't know you so won't feel the need to spare your feelings)... whichever way you go, you are looking for honesty and their true perception and evaluation of your book... be prepared for what they find.

Listen to their advice for improvement... Remember you wanted their comments, so let them speak openly and without fear of reprisal, loss of friendship or you freaking out on them. Their points may be very valid... they may pick up on things you completely missed or they may suggest ways that the story could be better. Listen to them and take it all in... above all NO tears and NO freaking!

Take in the bad points as well as the good... This is what you were looking for... holes, issues with writing or story development and stand out problems. What they didn't like may just be personal preference but it may also be that there is some serious problems to address... don't you want to find these out now? Before you publish? Personally I like the good 'ol nitpicker myself.

Take in the good points as well as the bad... Let yourself absorb what they really liked about the story. It's helpful to know what areas you have excelled in and what has captured the reader's imagination. Enjoy what they tell you they got into and be happy... it's not all bad.

Give great consideration to what you are told but do not make them rulers over your story... You asked them to read to get another persons point of view and now that you have you need to make up your own mind what you will do with it. You have to consider how valid what they tell you is... determine what is really a problem and what comes down to personal taste. This is YOUR story, you dictate what happens to your characters and what they would or wouldn't do in certain situations, DON'T start changing the plot or the personalities to suit your readers, be true to yourself... but perhaps if they don't like something or they haven't quite connected with your lead character it is because you haven't written it well enough... rewrite and give them something more. Add more to the story to gain more interest or take out something that takes away from the true spirit of the story or is perhaps irrelevant.  

Brainstorm ways to improve and get back on that horse and keep riding... I have done this before... been bowled over by a lot of information and things to consider that I have been left feeling overwhelmed. I could not continue on until I sat down and had myself a massive brainstorming session, giving great heed and consideration to what I had been told. What I came up with was a realisation that information I was keeping from the reader until the second book needed to be included and experienced by the reader in the first book... this was not my friends suggestion... because how could she have known that I was holding back a piece of the puzzle but thanks to her honesty I was able to realise the importance of this information and write it into the story... frankly I cant believe I had kept it from my readers in the first place but I am so happy i was prompted to write it in... because I know it made the story far better. That's what you have to do...ride it out until you get it just...right.

I'll be the first to admit that it is disheartening finding out your story is less then perfect... but being given the revelation, you are kind of given a gift... one that will help you grow and develop your book. It will get you one step closer to publishing the 'work of art' rather than just 'a good effort'.
At the end of the day you want those criticisms and problems pointed out to you before the book is on shelves or stored in kindle libraries... so accept the information graciously and use it as chance to get it right... after all, there will be enough people looking for something to criticise... lets make them work for it and give them little to complain about. But above all start growing that thick skin and allow yourself that opportunity to improve your craft.

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