Wednesday, February 15, 2017

The critic, the criticized, and thin skin @ Liz Flaherty

Does anyone here have a thin skin? I mean, seriously, we've all been writing for, my God, eons, at least.  Most of us have had a few bad reviews--or more than a few. We've had sales that tanked, imprints that were discontinued despite being successful--Precious Gems, anyone? We've all had the Judge from Hell in a contest who hated our entry from the first "Once upon a time..." We should all have rhino-hide.

But some of us don't. I no longer read all my reviews, but if there's one with one or two stars, I hone right in on it. Sometimes it's obvious the reviewer didn't read the book, or is commenting on another book because s/he names different protagonists. Sometimes the reader just hates it.

At a recent writers' retreat, a small group of talented indie authors who write erotic romance had a really good time making fun of the publisher and the imprint I write for.

Every single time, it hurts. I don't usually admit that it does. Usually, I shrug and say profound things like "one man's trash is another man's treasure" or "what a freaking idiot" or "holy shit, did she really say that?" If a reviewer has said something constructive, I try to keep that with me. but mostly I go on. It's just what we do.

But what if we're the ones who've done the hurting? I received a thank you note from a contest entrant one time thanking me for my comments and saying she was sorry I didn't like her story. Oh, but that's not what I meant...

This week at our writers' group, I suggested--maybe too strongly although I didn't think so--to a writer that he would strengthen the chapter he'd written by showing instead of telling, and now he is no longer speaking to me. He hasn't even answered my apologetic email.

My writer's brain tells me if you have a story to write, you're going to write it in spite of criticism, that you should indeed welcome criticism because sometimes it helps. My writer's heart tell me I'm a cruel witch who has needlessly hurt two people. I never want to judge or take part in a discussion among writers again.

So, back to the beginning. In answer to the question Does anyone here have a thin skin? I guess I do. At this stage of the writing game, I don't know how to thicken it up. I'm not even sure I want to. But I hope I didn't discourage the contest entrant, and I'm so sorry someone I considered a friend stopped speaking to me.

30 comments:

  1. Oh, honey, I'm so sorry he was offended because honestly, I can't imagine you being deliberately hurtful to anyone--you have the kindest heart I know. I'm sure what you said was said in the spirit of helpful advice. We writers do have to have tough skins, the discernment to accept criticism from our peers if we ask for it, and the self-knowledge to keep what helps us and let the rest go. I value your opinion and am always glad to have your views on my stories.((hugs))

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    1. Thanks, Nan. I do think I could stand to share my opinion a little less often! :-)

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  2. I hear you. Writers are people, too, and some are kind and professional and others are not. Your suggestions seem helpful and reasonable. Great post!

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    1. Thanks, Lynn. It seems to be an ongoing discussion, doesn't it? I remember talking about it before I was ever published.

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  3. Hi Liz, Excellent post! Years ago, I participated in a workshop where the facilitator made it clear (from the start)that only positive comments would be allowed. While it was great to hear compliments, I didn't learn too much from the experience. CONSTRUCTIVE criticism helps us grow as writers. The trick is to recognize it--many new writers are overly protective and consider all criticism "unasked for advice."

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    1. Yeah, it's sure a slippery slope, isn't it? I'm always going to be sorry if I hurt someone, but you're right--compliments alone don't teach.

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  4. I'm sorry you had that experience, Liz. FWIW, in all the times I've known you, I have never known you to be harsh or discouraging or to offer up an opinion with the intent to harm another person's story.

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    1. Thank you, Kristi. I wish the intent had been understood this time. :-(

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  5. A creative writing professor at a local college told me once that, in his experience, people who want to write listen to input. They might not implement it, but they listen. And people who want to be "writers," as in the ones enamored of tweed jackets with suede patches on the elbows, a pipe, and cocktail parties do not. Instead, they are highly offended by the suggestion that something they've written could be done better. Either way, I've known the Audacity Response to rear its ugly head. My favorite example is the reader who complained that I didn't know how doctors talk. Given a 30-year career surrounded by highly vocal medicos, I have to say I would have liked to have smacked her with a rolled up newspaper. (I know. BAD Cheryl.)

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    1. Lol! I don't blame you! Although I did tell a friend once--a paralegal who'd spent YEARS in a law office--that if that was how lawyers talked, I didn't want to know any. I think she rolled her eyes and shook her head, only because she didn't have the rolled up newspaper on hand.

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  6. I stopped judging and critiquing after someone I considered a good friend stopped talking to me after we critiqued each other's WIP. I was just trying to help. You never know how peoplr are going to react.

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    1. I know, but it's certainly a painful lesson.

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  7. I'll bet, once he's had a chance to stew a little, that he'll start thinking about what you said. And then he'll find a way to improve the chapter. And eventually he'll be glad you said what you did. He many not ever tell you so, but he will grow because of you.

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    1. I hope so, Beth. He has a lot of good bones in what he writes, and he's funny! I hope he gets over this period of being discouraged and angry.

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  8. Yup, I have a thin skin too. However, when offering criticism to other writers, I also try to focus on what would make the story better because that's what we all want, isn't it?

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    1. I think we do all want that, but a lot of people are the "tweed jacket" variety that Cheryl mentioned, and I think they don't believe they can BE better.

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  9. I belong to a writers' group that I think gives great feedback AND tries to be positive and supportive. A tricky feat. Lots of people come and ASK for critiques, and we tread lightly and still hurt their feelings, but they don't really want any kind of criticism. They just need encouragement. It's a fine line. I feel for you. But I personally would get aggravated if writers at a retreat made fun of my publisher and imprint.

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    1. I was aggravated, but in truth, they weren't talking to me or even about me, so I shouldn't have been hurt or offended, I guess. But I was. Sigh.

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  10. I like to think I have a thick skin when it comes to my writing, but I do tend to remember the bad comments more than the good, so maybe not??

    And like Nan, I can't imagine anyone thinking you were doing anything but trying to help them.

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    1. Sounds like me and my one-and-two-star reviews! Thank you, Margie.

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  11. If he wants to be a writer, you did him a great service by pointing out he was telling rather showing. He needed to know that. If his skin is that thin, he's seeking the wrong profession. I know you feel bad, but you don't need to apologize, Liz.

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  12. I agree with Cheryl. We can hope that he'll soon realize your were doing your job as a crit partner.

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    1. I hope he gets back into the game, too. Thanks, Barb.

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  13. I believe the best preparation for developing an elephant's hide was the dozens, maybe close to a hundred, rejection letters I got from agents before I finally found a good one. Every query went out with hope; after a while, I kept sending them just because I was too damn stubborn to quit.

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  14. I'm like you, Helen. I collected 100's of rejections before I started to sell. People who self pub miss out on that opportunity.

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  15. I'm like you, Helen. I collected 100's of rejections before I started to sell. People who self pub miss out on that opportunity.

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  16. I had a lot, too, although I neither kept nor counted them. �� But "never give up " is still the most valuable advice I ever got.

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  17. This is why I hate giving writing advice, or reviews (even though I force myself to do those anyway): I hate hurting people's feelings. After all these years of submissions and rejections I'm a lot better at taking criticism, but it still hurts, so I know how everyone feels.

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    1. I hardly give reviews, and won't even give a bad one. Like you, I take it better than I used to, but...yeah, it still hurts.

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