I’m a big fan of motivational reading. Over the years I have used many books, talks, podcasts, and more, to get me over humps and out of slumps. Now I’d like to share all that has resonated with me, in the hope that, wherever you are on your writing journey, the things I’ve learned might inspire you too.
Each of my Author’s Mindset series has four topics. I suggest you pick one topic and spend some time (at least a week, or as long as you need) mulling over the suggestions, and implementing any new habits you need to propel your writing forward.
4. Constructive Criticism
Have you ever felt scared, uncomfortable or embarrassed at the thought of showing your work to someone?
Have you ever worried that others might not get the meaning and content of your work; or have you had feedback that left you feeling flat?
In some ways this is a strange topic to address early on, because before you need to worry about criticism, you have to write enough to show someone – and that can take a long time. However, from many conversations over the years, I know this is a worry held by a lot of new writers. And I can’t imagine there are many – if any – writers who haven’t felt like this at some point. I’ve talked to so many unpublished writers over the years who’ve been too embarrassed to show people their work, and have asked how I handle the editorial input and the inevitable critique.
The answer is that it isn’t always easy – particularly if you have a strong attachment to your work (and if you’re going to write a book then you should have a strong attachment to it!). It isn’t nice if you don’t get the positive reaction you’re hoping for. However, receiving constructive criticism is a vital part of the publishing process, and the importance of editorial input in helping your work reach its full potential is worthy of a whole other series.
I once had an unsuccessful grant application returned with a blistering critique of my work. I’ve handed a novel in, only to have the editor respond with a very unenthused reaction about how much work I’ll have to do to make it any good. I’ve had a writer I really respect respond with confusion more than excitement when I showed her an early scene from one of my books. And these moments HURT! However, if I let them hurt too much then I would never pick up my pen/laptop again, and that would hurt much more. So, I’d like to suggest a few ways you can handle critique so you don’t stall when it’s time to share your work:
ACTION STEPS/THINGS TO CONSIDER
Don’t rush to show people your work. Spend some time examining your writing critically and working to improve it before you share. Showing work too soon can be dangerous, as negative feedback will kill your passion for the project, when it might have so much potential. Therefore, make sure you’ve exhausted your own ability to work on it first.
Think carefully about who you’ll show your work to when it’s time. My husband is brilliant because he is devastatingly honest. Likewise, I have a pact with two cherished author friends that we will be completely honest with feedback on early drafts – otherwise we can’t help each other properly. Remember that loved ones might find it tough to be truthful, and look for someone whom you’d consider your ideal reader. Don’t ask your dad to read your romance saga if he prefers cricket autobiographies.
Not everyone in the world will like or get your work, and that’s okay. I’ve heard plenty of critique about Harry Potter, and JK Rowling seems to be doing fine! If one person doesn’t get it, don’t panic. However, if you begin to gather constructive critique and find recurring themes, it’s worth looking at these points to see if you can address them.
Check out the credentials of any reader you pay to read your work. You needn’t pay a fortune for feedback. You could also consider a writer’s group, or mentorships run through writing centres.
If you work with an experienced editor, trust them. Their input can make your book better than you could ever have imagined.
If you’re keen to show someone your work, resist until you’ve done one more critical read. Consider your work from a reader’s perspective and look for any areas you might improve.