Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Scum sucking lizard brains

I'm headed off to the desert at the end of this week to hang out with some terrific writers, splash about in the pool they're providing, and while swilling from my G&T IV pole, gnaw on some queries and manuscript pages.

Needless to say, there will be blood. Shark infested waters, after all.


When I'm critiquing queries I offer suggestions for improvement. Some of the suggestions are for things you should change (put your contact info at the bottom; leave out the part about how you've loved to write since before you were conceived etc.)

Some suggestions are for what I think makes a good query letter. AndyesJanet, there is room for more than one opinion there.

This is less crucial in a query than it is in the manuscript pages.

For the workshop I'm doing in Phoenix this weekend, I've gotten some queries that enticed me enough to ask for pages. A lot of the pages don't show me enough to entice me to ask for the full. That means your query has done the job: I've read the pages. It's the pages that need work.

And herein lies the problem.

It's incredibly difficult to hear that your pages don't work, particularly for such abstract reasons as 'this didn't grab me' or 'there's no tension.'

And frankly, I don't respond well to anyone criticizing my work. I never have, I doubt I ever will. People in my office still shudder at the memory of how I went ballistic when someone took apart an article I wrote for a newsletter.  I was furious at how they'd done it.

Five months later (yes five MONTHS) I can see what the problem was. I couldn't at the time. In fact at the time "scum sucking lizard brain" might have been uttered more than once, and I wasn't talking about myself.

I've tried to apply what I learned there to critiques I give to writers. Some times it works better than others.

But, what you the writer need to know is that thinking anyone is a scum sucking lizard brain is both a perfectly normal reaction AND probably not totally right.  The trick is to take the notes you get and hold on to them for a while. Then go back and look at them later. THINK about what is being said.

Yes, it's possible the critique is off base. But some of it might be on target. And even the off-base remarks might help you see something in a new light.

In other words: even scum sucking lizard brains have their uses.


51 comments:

Michael Seese said...

"Scum Sucking Lizard Brain." I thought that was the title of a horror movie.

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

Do scum sucking lizard brains drool because my pages were wet?
I thought the dampness was from my tears but upon analysis I'm thinking those green gooey droplets did not contain the salt of despair but the spew of synapse distain.

kathy joyce said...

All true of course. Still, hearing criticism of the writing you've poured yourself into can sound like, "Your baby is ugly," or "Your face just isn't right." It's a normal reaction to defend and protect your loved ones, even in manuscript form. One must be a big person to accept and learn from such personal criticism.

Theresa said...

That blog post title really woke me up. I figured we were in for something juicy. I never suspected the Shark herself reacts badly to criticism of her writing. Very reassuring. And the advice is spot on: let the critique sit while you cool and think. Then do the revisions you consider necessary.

Lisa Bodenheim said...

Hm... (waiting for my caffeine to cool) so we're getting better at queries? But not first pages. There's hope, folks!

With the critiques from my wonderful crit partners, I've learned to read when I first receive them, get irritated, exasperated, upset, and then put it away til another day when, as Julie phrases it, the boys in the back have had time to sit and sort into either the rubbish bin or hand it back to me with pointers.

Rose Black said...

AndyesJanet - it took me far too long to work out what that said.

I had three chapters in a WIP that I loved. They gave great insight into other characters while the MC was off screen, as it were. They had humour, emotion, development, and some wonderful lines. And everyone told me to cut them.

"They just don't work." "There's something not right."

And I resisted. No one could put a finger on what it was, so I just tweaked and played with them, hoping to find the magic arrangements of words that would fix the problem. Until someone said "The problem with those chapters is they completely kill the tension of the one before them."

I was devastated, because they were right. I cut them out there and then, about 6000 words. And I don't regret it.

I do cuddle those missing chapters and tell them I still love them from time to time, though.

DLM said...

AUGH! TENSION! "But the STORY! It's so GOOD! Aren't you fascinated with this piece of history nobody in America seems to know!??"

Rasserfrackenfrickenfracken tension. Stupid tension. I hate tension. And it's my bugaboo.


There are sources of feedback I just don't listen to, and a very few whose criticisms mean the world to me.

I *love* to find out what needs work, what needs to go; the readers I trust who tell me where I've gone wrong - they're serving my story, which is all I want to do!

Those whose feedback is meaningless to me are not scum-sucking lizard brains, they're just irrelevant. They don't understand the work, most often, or think they're being helpful but really just offering empty non-pointers. They may not even be wrong, that this or that is not working, but in such cases they don't know why; so what good is that? Telling me a piece doesn't work doesn't serve the work. Telling me I need to ditch sixty pages, or change POV, or lose two characters or this or that subplot - that serves the work.

I have two ever-present voices I trust almost beyond question, and a few more I would go to to ask if they'd read a finished piece. Unfortunately, feedback other than these sources is maybe 50% useless to me.

Karen McCoy said...

For me, the scum-sucking lizard brain is always myself. Case in point--with this novel that I thought was near ready to query (hardy har) I found a rough section with a lot of big picture edits that need to happen (thanks to a beta reader who is, thankfully, not a lizard brain at all--I just wish I'd realized the flaws sooner). So, at least for this section, it will be back to the drawing board before I can go back to line-edit heaven. I do have to put my drivel out in the universe sometime though...this perfectionism thing isn't pretty.

Karen McCoy said...

AndyesRose--I've learned the hard way that what works on the micro level doesn't always translate to macro. Good for you for having the guts to cut those words!

Colin Smith said...

From the title and the first line, I thought Janet was making a trip to Carkoon this week. After all, the scum-sucking lizard brains of Sallernq are quite the attraction. Provided you aren't scum which, unfortunately, was true for the population of Sallernq. Which is why the SSLBs of Sallernq are an attraction. After all, where else in the universe can you go to see an entire town run by SSLBs?

But I digress...

Yes, critiques are valuable, even if they don't seem that way in the moment. But let's not overlook a little nugget that Janet threw into her gold mine of advice--especially if you are new to these parts, and/or new to querying:

A lot of the pages don't show me enough to entice me to ask for the full. That means your query has done the job: I've read the pages. It's the pages that need work.

The query is the vehicle that drives the agent to the pages. It is never more important than the pages. And the query that works is not the query that conforms precisely to the Query Style and Syntax Guide (Imaginary Press), which is published by the Query Police every month and written by a team of middle aged literary agents with tight curly hair, tight lips, and big black horn-rimmed glasses who enjoy nothing more than crushing the dreams of woodland creatures. (If you've ever wondered who's spinning that wheel you're running on, look no further than the writers of the Query Style and Syntax Guide.) The query that works is the query that gets page requests. End of. (As the kids say. I think.)

That's all I have to say about that.

(Yeah, right.) :)

E.M. Goldsmith said...

It is difficult to hear criticism - even when it's constructive and especially if you are already self-critical. However, to improve, it is something we writers must learn to digest. I agree heartily with the refrain "let it sit for a while."

I have two chapters that I keep switching out as first chapter of my WIP, but I can't figure out which works best. One definitely has more action. The other augments the original first chapter's tension. The chapters are set 30 years apart in history. I don't tell tales in chronological order. Time is only a construct after all. What to do?

I will have to hear criticism to figure this out. And yes, the most common thing I heard on last journey through query trenches was the dread ambivalence of "this just doesn't grab me." Or "Not for me". So here's hoping for articulate and honest beta readers that can spare me a few deaths by first pages.

The query OTOH- heaven help me. Ugh. One step at a time.

Kregger said...

You know there's something wrong when zombies won't eat the lizard brains.

You guyz and gals always give me hope as I plod along the trenches.

Ms. Reid, don't forget to take in an Indians game while in Phoenix. They're right next door in Goodyear.

Karen McCoy said...

Ooh, the desert is in Phoenix? The botanical gardens are worth a try too, if there's time...

whipchick said...

One of the most valuable lessons I learned from acting class--write down the notes! "If you don't write it down, you don't remember the note--you remember how you felt when you got the note." Plus, if I'm focusing on the paper and getting the agent's feedback down, I'm not crying or screaming, so it's a win-win!

E.M. Goldsmith said...

Colin I have always been confused by the Scum Sucking Lizard Brains. Are they Lizard brains that crave scum to suck on or are they scum with Lizard brains? I was too traumatized during my time on Carkoon to partake of the tourist attractions much. Although, I am rather glad they are a favorite tourist attraction.

I heard whispers about the SSLB crowd. I was under the impression they were a new political party on Carkoon.

And with the daily coups being the Carkoonian national sport, they always need a new party. I found it rather like relegation in the BPL. If one party lost a coup, they were relegated and forgotten the next day as far as I could tell.

Oh, back to Day job. Thinking of Carkoon always makes me break out in hives.

Jennifer R. Donohue said...

"it didn't grab me" "it didn't work for me" both industry standards, both inutterably frustrating to the writer to hear over and over and over again. But, it is what it is. It's hard to confront "do I love these pages simply because I wrote them? Do people outside my head have everything on the page they need to get it?"

But some private and/or office raging can be good sometimes. Cathartic. Refreshing. Right?

Melanie Sue Bowles said...

I'm weird... I never feel offended, even when someone says or does something offensive. Must be some kinda glitch in my hard wire.

When I was in my 20's, a boss once told me that I needed to "dress more attractively." I just cocked an eyebrow and said, "You buyin'?"

When I ask someone to critique my writing, I'm not looking for blind praise. My intention is to improve. If someone offers an unsolicited critique? Truthfully, I'll still look at their input with the same intent: to improve my writing/improve the story. The solicited or unsolicited critique may or may not resonate, it may fall flat. Or it may turn the story in the direction it needed to go. Bring it!

AndyesJanet made me laugh...

Dena Pawling said...


Sharks aren't the only things chomping on folks in Phoenix right now.

http://rare.us/rare-news/across-the-u-s-a/rogue-chihuahuas-overrun-arizona-town/

Have fun, and wear body armor [or at least boots].



kathy joyce said...

E.M. I share your "which chapter goes first" problem. Queried both ways and got nothing. My conclusion was that, if I'm having that much trouble, maybe it's neither. So, I started with a big event from the middle of the story. Although I thought the story perfect before (hah!), it's much better now. Not quite ready to query again, but close. And I really do expect better results.

Colin Smith said...

Dena's link: http://rare.us/rare-news/across-the-u-s-a/rogue-chihuahuas-overrun-arizona-town/

And I'm claiming Andy Esjanet as a character name. ;)

Amy Schaefer said...

It's funny what criticism makes it through the chinks in your armour. I once got notes back on a full from an agent I really respected. And they were on fire. Utterly toxic. She hated everything about everything. There was nothing right about my MS - it was a flaming pile of garbage that took years off her life. I've never closed an email so fast.

Except, she didn't actually say that. But I definitely interpreted her remarks that way the first time I read them. Why? Because I had been so hopeful. She has previously invited me to get in touch with any future projects, and when I queried her she asked for pages within about three minutes. And I so loved the books she repped. I was so hoping this was "the one."

Months later, eyes ready to snap shut if the heat was still too great, I went back and reread her rejection. After all, she had taken the trouble to give me notes - how often does that happen? And it wasn't that bad. She definitely had fair things to say about the work. But it took giving myself that distance to hear it.

Steve Stubbs said...

This is the right time of year to see Phoenix. You do NOT want to go there in July, when the tempo is 125F in the air conditioning. If this is your first visit, there is some cool stuff there. When you are not coldly massacring query letters, take in the Desert Botanical Gardens. Or drive up to Flagstaff, The first time I went I was heading for Flagstaff and looked in the rear view mirror I was blo2n away to see the most gorgeous mountain.

Beth said...

Steve and Karen, I love the desert botanical gardens, partly because I was there beside the prickly pears when my agent called with good news, for a change.

I'm expecting edits later this week, so I'm trying to pre-experience the stages of grief (nuh-uh, lizard-brain, but what if, why do I even try, and yeah, you're right) so once they arrive, I can get right to acceptance and get busy. We'll see how that works out.

DLM said...

Melanie Sue, blind praise (or just bland praise!) is actively frustrating to me, if I'm looking for actual feedback. It's all very nice if someone happens to read something and says they love it, in a non-critique context, but it's not useful either.

I might have decked that boss, though. Good LORD.

Dena, rogue chihuahuas! *Heart*

BJ Muntain said...

Critiquers aren't perfect. They're not always right about what isn't working. And that's okay.

That doesn't mean you don't take heed of what they say. They're always right about one thing:

It isn't working for them.

That's where the hard work comes in. Why isn't it working? You can usually find the clues in the critique. Did they misunderstand something? Maybe you need to clarify it. Are they trying to change your character's words? Maybe the words are out of character. Are they coming up with interesting scenarios out of the blue that you know won't work in your piece? Maybe something's missing, and they're trying to figure out what it is. It's up to you to translate "You could add another character" to mean "You need more tension."

And sometimes you can't use a certain critiquer's ideas. You can't figure out what they mean, or the changes wouldn't make sense, or something. That happens. But don't forget them. Because there's a darn good chance once your work is published that your critics will say the same thing.

Oh yes. The critiques may end once it's published, but the criticism never ends.

The only proper response to critique or criticism is, "Thank you."

Getting angry doesn't help anything. It just gets in the way of self-improvement and good PR.

And remember: It's only your baby until it's put out into the world. Then it becomes an independent entity that has to stand up on its own. Critique is the only way to prepare it for the big, bad, nasty world and grow it into the mature, brave, smart being you know it has the heart to be.

Julie Weathers said...

Ah Phoenix. I loved it there. That's where I wrangled horses in my misspent youth and got offered a job to work as a stunt woman in a movie. I turned it down as I thought I'd make a fool of myself. I had no confidence then the same as today.

Anyway, I find I can usually glean some good out of comments. Even the fire eating editor who ranted about there being no such thing as blue roan horses with white stockings. While she was wrong about that and other things, I had a brain freeze on social registry. I had meant to write social pages and knew the difference.

The problem with Rain Crow is going to be a lot of "experts" are going to read it if it ever gets to that point and say, "A woman would never discuss politics in 1861. Only men did that and not in polite company." In fact Horace Greeley had a female reporter who was a political reporter. He had to fight to get her full access to congress. He also had the first female foreign correspondent and combat reporter. Many women, according to diaries, memoirs, and letters, were very much interested in politics.

Col. Mosby scathingly asks a friend how Mrs. Lewis voted as she is so overbearing and politically outspoken it's a known fact she brow beats her poor war hero husband into voting whichever way she wants.

Anyway, yes, I always look for what I can use. Give it time and come back to it again and see if I can glean anything else from it. I'm a hoarder about writing advice.

And now I must get ready to have my boobs flattened. I understand squished mammaries are in style this year. I just hate it when I get them caught in my belt.

Colin Smith said...

Julie: A thought strikes me--one that probably struck you a long time ago, but humor me, nevertheless. :) Could you not provide an "Author's Note" at the end of RAIN CROW that attempts to preclude a lot of "expert" critiques by providing the kind of information you post here? If the "experts" want to challenge your interpretation of the historical data, at least you're showing them you've done your research and have a basis for what you say.

And that's the only part of your comment I feel comfortable or qualified to address... ;)

John Davis Frain said...

So the shark is turning out to be borderline human? I'm going to look into today's blog post in search of its origin. Something is off base here, and I'm curious if we have a guest post without attribution. I could be wrong. I was last Thursday for a moment, but that was just about directions.

On topic, here is my corollary dilemma. When two respected people tell you two different things about your story. Even if neither of them is a scum sucking lizard brain. How does one go about the task of determining which path to follow? I fear the solution is to do the extra work, go down both paths as long sa they lead and then decide which brought you to a better destination.

Oh, sigh.

RosannaM said...

Ah, critique versus criticism, how hard it is to tell which is which sometimes, (and am a little peeved right now that the computer thinks I am misspelling criticism!)

Rose--I am glad you visit and cuddle with your words. They deserved to be written even though they tried to wander into the wrong story.

Melanie--wishing I was like you. In my 20's a friend of my husband said, and I quote "you're not half bad looking for someone with 3 kids." Oh, yeah. He did.

About the writing: there is so much we have to do to tell a compelling story that moves our reader to want to turn pages and stay up way too late. It is difficult to have such clarity to know what changes need to be made when we are smack-dab in the middle of it. Time helps. (along with hopefully some valuable critiques)

BJ Muntain said...

David B. Coe posted an eerily companionable piece to Janet's today - from the author's side. Check it out:

Ups and Downs in the Writing Life

BJ Muntain said...

JD Frain: What do you do when you get two different suggestions? Figure out why they gave those suggestions, rather than try to work out which is better. Chances are you can figure out an even better path to follow, that will address the problem they're trying to fix.

A couple years ago, I showed the beginning of my novel at two different conferences. The one was more of a workshop, and the leader suggested I cut a lot of the beginning. So I did that before showing it to an editor at the second conference. He told me what my beginning was missing... and it was what I'd cut.

I had to really think about it, and figure out what to do. I realized that, yes, what was cut was necessary. I also realized that maybe what I needed to do was to make it more interesting. I tried this. I then showed it to a lovely writer at a blue pencil session at Surrey last year, and while she suggested a couple of minor changes, she thought it began well. I think I made the right choice(s).

Julie Weathers said...

Colin I'm going to. However, a great deal of the book right down to dialogue is taken from history.

Diana Gabaldon and I discussed this as she researches pretty meticulously also. She refers people to her LibraryThing so they can look up the books she references. That's probably a good idea.

I have a scene where the other POV character comes upon some wounded men under a tree after a battle including a Union man and a little Union drummer boy. The boy's feet had been shot off in a cannon blast. A dying Rebel soldier had tied off his legs to try and stop the bleeding. Baron, the POV character, and his men load up the wounded and try to get them to camp and help. Baron carries the little boy and keeps him talking to try save him.

Oh, they wouldn't have done that. It's such a sappy scene. Well, it's based on a letter the Union soldier sent back to the NYT who related the kindness shown to him and the little drummer.

Anyway, I'll have to find a way to assure people that it's been carefully researched and list my resources as much as possible. I just can't justify each event or it would be like a history book with footnotes to high heaven. That's one thing I loved about Mosby's Memoirs. He did footnote very carefully so I could track down primary sources. He must have been a heck of a lawyer because he was a little badger about digging up evidence.

And speaking of history books. I wish someone would write a lovely book about Ms Fuller. I know some have been written, but dang what a remarkable woman for her time. Combat correspondent in 1849?

Susan said...

I fear I've spent the majority of my life letting other people's thoughts influence my writing--either the topics I write about or the style with which I write. Then I had an epiphany: they're not me. That's how I learned to take criticism with ease and trust my voice and my story.

That said, it's now what makes me crave that criticism. When I give my MSs to beta-readers, I ask them to rip it apart, ask me their questions, what confuses them. That's the only way I can put the pieces back together more strongly and succinctly. Does it hurt sometimes? Absolutely. These are words we've ripped from the soul. But I'm my own worst critic--when I fall into periods of self-doubt, it's never because of what others say, but always because I feel like I'm not meeting my own expectations for my work. Maybe that's why criticism has become easy to bear--I rise in the face of others' criticism but fall in the face of my own.

I try to be softer with my approach when I'm critiquing others' work, though, because I know how it can burn. I usually do two readthroughs--once as a reader and the second as a professional, and always explaining both the strengths of the manuscript and what can be stronger. Then, it's up to the writers to evaluate the comments and take it or leave it. I always tell clients to trust themselves and their story but to listen with an open mind. As much as we would like to receive nothing but praise for our work, particularly WIPs, it's not helpful, nor does it push us to be better writers.

I'm going to borrow the phrase "scum sucking lizard brains." I know a few people who fit the description.

Joseph Snoe said...

I guess I’m unusual (this time in a positive way). I’m so brutally critical of my own writing, the strongest response I have when others criticize it (as opposed to me personally) is surprise or curiosity.

I try to understand the critique. Half the time I reject the suggestion. Often I gain some really good insight from the comment. Many times I’ve revised something that was perfectly fine on the theory this one reader might represent many readers who would be confused or wouldn’t understand it.

So I’d try writing it another way. (Last night, for example, I crossed out three paragraphs in “Escape from Brazil” after reading Julie Weathers’ comment on it (Julie knows her stuff and I’d be a fool not to take her comments seriously).

I read BJ Muntain’s comment after writing mine. I agree with him (except sometimes I explain why I didn’t take a suggestion – shame on me).

Just had a memory flash – some writer (John Grisham? Stephen King? Somebody else?) parenthetically wrote, “The editor is always right.” It’s not true, but it’s a good rebuttable presumption.

Karen McCoy said...

Steve, I'm so glad you mentioned Flagstaff. I lived there for four years. The mountain is quite majestic indeed.

Barbara Etlin said...

Dena,: The Attack of the Killer Chilhuahuas! Hee hee!

kathy joyce said...

If you have extra time in the Phoenix area, the Biosphere and its history are beyond fascinating. Also, it would make a terrific fiction setting (in multiple genres), and a compelling non-fiction story too. And the desert there is gorgeous and teeming with interesting life.

stacy said...

I would like to see this fabled Query Style and Syntax Guide. It'd be right up there with the Fake AP Stylebook guide.

Theresa said...

Julie: Those "experts" must be really old and out of touch with what historians study and write about today. Real experts in women's history would know exactly the kinds of women you're writing about.

Angie Brooksby-Arcangioli said...

I'm with Melanie. I don't get offended...

But then comes some outlandish criticism that rocks your boat to the soul. You start to drown in doubt. You flounder. Then it's sink or swim. Blubbering all the while.



The last writing contest generated some beautiful words. Congrats to all of you. I don't know how Janet chose a winner.

kathy joyce said...

Oooh. If the last contest was about happiness and we created so many beautiful words, what would we create with a contest about beautiful words?

Lennon Faris said...

Strong criticism rocks me to my core. I wish I weren't like that (here's lookin' at you, Melanie!) but it does. I keep my words and face cool but the words stick forever.

Sometimes I wish my personality was a big switchboard with dials of traits that I could turn down or intensify at will. Wouldn't that be handy. Right now I'd turn on the 'wash the dishes' and dial back the 'snitch the toffee' dials.

Julie Weathers said...

Theresa

"Those "experts" must be really old and out of touch with what historians study and write about today. Real experts in women's history would know exactly the kinds of women you're writing about"

Agreed. In an article I was reading earlier that discussed Victorian dress and manners it said, " A gentleman will never curse or discuss impolite topics in front of a lady." That would be scientific things and politics.

In a letters written home by Union soldiers, several comment: "We rode up to a plantation today and were met by the mistress who greeted us with a shotgun and cussed us out most roundly. I learned a few words I'd never heard before. I think my ears are still burning."

Too often authors and readers confine their research to reading etiquette manuals and blogs which are posting things from etiquette manuals. Said etiquette manuals say men always wear coats in public, but there are untold photos of men in shirtsleeves in public and even in rolled up shirtsleeves.

Of course, a person has to weigh all material. Newspaper articles were notoriously biased. Gee, I'm shocked. Accounts of the days leading up to Sumter from opposite sides of the fence give wildly varying versions, but you can piece together what probably really happened by details that match.

Anyway, I've totally hijacked the thread and I apologize.

Casey Karp said...

Add me to the list of people who have to put the comments aside for a while before I can consider them rationally. After all, if I hunted down every critique partner, beta reader, and editor and bludgeoned them to death with a printout of the manuscript, I'd never get that sucker published.

Makes it interesting when I'm getting feedback face-to-face, though. I'm getting good at letting the words go straight from my ears to my keyboard without actually hearing them. That way I can come back to them later and rant and scream in the privacy of my den...

Sharyn Ekbergh said...

Years ago I went to a writing workshop with my middle grade WIP. The workshop was led by two published YA authors and a young editor known for pulling an award winning book from the slush pile.
I had a critique with the young editor. She told me to send her the MS after making some changes. I was happy.
I walked out of the room with another writer and we passed one of the workshop’s participants. She was slumped down along the wall with tears in her eyes.
Neither of us knew what to do. What we should have done was sit down with her and tell her it would be all right. That’s what I would do now. At the time I think we did not want to embarrass her further. And we didn’t know what to say.
That workshop had about 15 hopeful writers, all women. One had been published and continues to write sensitive YA books. She still struggles. One did get her ms published. I felt most of the writers were beginners. Some were spending years getting an MFA in writing for children.
Writing is, I think, the most personal and difficult of the arts. If someone doesn’t like a drawing you did or a song you wrote you can put it down to taste. But if someone criticizes your writing it feels like they are saying your thoughts aren’t worthwhile. And that feels like you’re not good enough either.
It takes guts to accept that your writing may never be good enough to publish. If you do get your book published it may not get an audience. You may find it on the remainder table. You may get bad reviews.
I never forgot that workshop because it made me think about what the possible rewards would be for pursuing publication and the emotional cost of putting your words out in the world.

Timothy Lowe said...

The only thing I can do is to tell myself that I'm doing it for me, to fill some deep well that came from I don't know where. There will be rejections and bad reviews, but none of that will change the fact that we're using it to occupy a corner of our soul that couldn't be occupied in any other way. It's like any other creative enterprise. And yes, critiques hurt. But if your words exist only in a private place, you might as well be writing a diary. I say take a few punches and take a chance.

Craig F said...

I got down to the "And frankly, I don't respond well to anyone criticizing my work." and started to have a Ru-Roh, Raggy moment. Then I saw that it was way to long ago to have been me. Guess I have four months and a couple of weeks before I am an official scum sucking lizard brain.

A critique comes from the same Latin root as criticize and critical. Reading critically is an absolute necessity to building up the quality of your writing. Learn to do that to those things that piss on you and your work and you will get even closer to being a writer.

A few of the people I have asked to beta-read some of my stuff came back and said "WOW." I turned them around and made them do it again. I am only perfect at certain things. So far writing is not one of those things.

Have fun with those horned lizards in Phoenix, my Queen. By the way I think I am the only person who calls himself a Floridian that was born in Phoenix. All the rest of their prodigal children went to Vegas or California.

Janice Grinyer said...

You know how Cats, when they do something "dumb" while "hunting/stalking etc., go off to sit in the sunlight afterward, licking their paw like nothing happened?

Yeah, that. And after they get done cleaning their paws, ears, eyes, uh, other regions they go back to hunting. And learning.

I know I'm like that cat. I think a lot of people are. Don't give up, but give yourself time to clean up your pride so you can get back into the game with a "clean" slate.

Thanks JR for the reminder.

kdjames.com said...

I suppose I have a few hot buttons (my sisters seem to know what they are) but generally criticism doesn't get me all worked up. It's not about me, it's about the writing. And it's opinion, which I might agree with or might not. But I also had the experience of growing up with an English teacher father who took a red pen to everything I ever wrote. So I have a lot of practice in not taking things personally.

Another thing that has helped with that whole what-will-people-think fear is blogging. Depending on what you write in a post, it can be an extremely vulnerable thing to do. But you pretty quickly get over the sick dread of what anyone might think of your writing. I honestly can't imagine how it must feel to send pages to an agent and they're the only person ever to read and react to your work. I can see how "scum sucking lizard brain" might be a rather mild epithet, in that situation. Toughen up a wee bit before that day comes, fellow writers.

Janet says she was "furious at how they'd done it" and that's telling. Nothing like being on the receiving end of ham-handed word evisceration to up your empathy quotient. Sorry that happened to you, Janet. But I'm glad you've applied the lesson to your own critiques. Smart move.


kdjames.com said...

John (MS) Frain: Not sure whether this is helpful to your corollary dilemma, but it's something that rings true to me in regard to specific advice about how to fix stuff:

“When people tell you there’s something wrong with a story, they’re almost always right. When they tell what it is that’s wrong and how it can be fixed, they’re almost always wrong.” - Neil Gaiman

I guess it's the "almost" that's the tough part. Trust your instincts, your writing is amazingly good. Best of luck with it.


Steve Stubbs said...

Hi Colin,
You don’t have an AUTHORS NOTE to explain why a woman in THE RAIN CROW discusses politics in 1861. You have the character mouth off about politics, then another characters chastises her for discussing politics (“It’s 1861, for crying out loud”) and she says something unprintable (even though books are supposed to be printed) that establishes her as a mouthy gal. Over the course of the story you establish her character so no reader questions it. There was one real woman I read about in the nineteenth century who was a cross dresser. Nobody knew she was a woman until she died and they prepared the body for burial. Not everybody was a slavish conformist then.

The way they are today.

A good writer can create a character who is against type and make her work. As long as she doesn’t work too hard.