I recently attended a writing seminar about creating compelling titles for books. A burgeoning writer volunteered her book title for the rest of the group to critique. The consensus of the group was that her title wasn’t catchy enough and needed to be reworked. Several people in the group offered sage advice that would probably have helped her a great deal, had she been open to suggestions – but she wasn’t. The novice writer became incredibly defensive (and borderline angry) about the feedback. She was not ready to be objective about her work. The facilitator had to smooth things over and hastily get a more willing participant for the exercise.
Throughout history, even the most successful writers have to deal with criticism, so there’s no reason why we should consider ourselves immune to feedback. Check out these excerpts from actual famous author rejections from www.writersrelief.com:
- Sylvia Plath: “There certainly isn’t enough genuine talent for us to take notice.”
- Rudyard Kipling: “I’m sorry Mr. Kipling, but you just don’t know how to use the English language.”
- J. G. Ballard: “The author of this book is beyond psychiatric help.”
- Emily Dickinson: “[Your poems] are quite as remarkable for defects as for beauties and are generally devoid of true poetical qualities.”
- Ernest Hemingway (regarding The Torrents of Spring): “It would be extremely rotten taste, to say nothing of being horribly cruel, should we want to publish it.”
Ouch! So, how does one not get touchy about his / her work? Writers are still artists, after all. Artists are famous for being highly sensitive. Artists who have to self-promote themselves may find it incredibly awkward to listen to face-to-face or written criticism. Once I gave a book I wrote to a professor friend to review. He said. “Well, perhaps you should focus on writing things you know about, as opposed to rock stars.” It was a fair point well made, and my creative writing has become much more real as a result of sticking to what I know.
Aside from writing, I also like to paint. At one of my showings, I overheard a man telling his friend that my art might be best displayed at a fast food restaurant. “It’s convenience store art,” he said as I looked on, trying not to have any sort of facial expression. The critic didn’t know I was the artist or that I was in earshot. It stung, but feedback is still feedback and should be regarded as just that. It proved to be a valuable lesson – you can’t win them all. If you will accept nothing less than 100% acceptance, you will be plagued by disappointment. But here is the silver lining: You don’t need to win them all. You just need a percentage, and as long as you keep putting your work out there, the correct audience that appreciates you will find your work. It’s all about maintaining perspective.
Why does one need to develop a thick enough skin to withstand criticism? Because unless you have someone else to promote your writing on your behalf, it’s all going to be done by you. You will be the one going into the front lines to promote and defend and champion your own work. Confidence helps, so if you don’t feel you have any, then act as if you do. Pump yourself up until you start to believe it. If one reader doesn’t appreciate your writing, that’s okay – there will be others who will. Instead of harboring hurt feelings, why not just say, “There are other audience members in the literary sea. Next!”
How do YOU maintain perspective about your writing?