A lesson in handling criticism

Okay, boys and girls!  All of us who are aspiring and emerging authors dread the day we get that first bad review or critique.  Well, tonight my “author cherry” was finally popped, and it was by a friend of mine from college.  Here is the comment from my friend Mereann Lineberry, posted on my Facebook feed (she has allowed her real name to be used in this blog):

I’m sorry man, I just gotta be honest, I can’t even get past that second sentence. I do a lot of reading, I mean ALOT, and I just can’t. And I guess..I am assuming you want constructive criticism right? Its why you do teasers? Your trying to get more readers. So you don’t want people to be put off on just that second sentence right?

Well, when you said “first coming together back in April of the previous spring”

You know how you when read a book, and it flows like a natural conversation. Where the voice of the book assumes the reader has common knowledge of either generalized situations of life, like ” you know how high school was”, or the reader has some understanding of the story either because there was a flashback chapter of the previous spring your talking about, or the writer wove in the back story gently but in a natural pattern of speech or action that still feels like that conversation, or the reader reads “not like what it was before” and internally the reader goes “what before?”” What was it?” And this intrigues the reader to keep turning the pages, and eventually they get to that chapter or a character tells the back story, “oh before!!! Now it get it!! It was last spring!!!” You know what I’m saying?

Like if you sat down and told me a story of what your day was like, you wouldn’t say this sentence “things were very different for us since coming together in April of the previous Spring” in a story your telling me, you just wouldnt.That’s more robotic than Data talked. It just doesn’t flow, at all. That sentence is just halting and crammed in. Its like when I write a paper for a class and its got to be at least 5 pages, but I don’t want to write 6 pages, because…why do I want to do extra work right? So I put a lot of stuff into run on sentences to get as much gradable material in the least amount of space. That’s what that is like. And now that I kinda think about it, April is always in spring…that’s one of the charms of April. So wouldn’t the short “last April” shorten up that run on sentence and the reader will know it was last April…thus also the previous spring, in their heads. Without that having to be spelled out.

I tried to read that free book on kindle you had, but the first few paragraphs…I just couldn’t. I guess a lot of people go by the school of thought “if you don’t have nothing to say, don’t say anything at all” and I’m not trying to be mean. I just thought…maybe everyone is just saying nice things, and maybe you would want some constructive criticism. Maybe it might help, maybe not. But B— and me both tried to read a bit of your book and couldn’t get past a couple of pages, then when we looked at your teaser, and we saw you were doing it again…I dunno dude. I have heard of artists wanting many different eyes/ears on their work, and wanting many different opinions (both good and bad) so they can chisel their craft to appeal to more people. Take it for what you want. Or just forget about. I dunno, I just finally was like hey….say something and it might do some good. Please don’t be mad.

The last statement is what really took me by surprise.  Well written, thoughtful criticism is something any respectable author, aspiring or established, should crave!  I love it; without this sort of statement, I would go through life with endless pats on the head and kisses on the cheek, figuratively speaking.  Granted, I love those who give me needed jolts of confidence, but I cherish real, detailed, hardcore criticism, and this comment on my Facebook page is exactly the sort of thing I’m looking for.

Let’s face facts; I’m not perfect, and I’m certainly not a Pulitzer Prize candidate.  I’m just beginning what I hope is a very long journey down the road of publishing, and I’m really just happy to be here.  For my friend to be worried I’d be mad at her is concerning because it speaks more to a fear of speaking one’s mind, and that’s something I always encourage others to do.  I want to personally thank “Ellen” for this, and her spouse as well, for being willing to put it out there for all for all to see.  My Facebook page is public for a reason, and that being that I want my readers and prospective readers to understand the sort of writer I really am; one who is unafraid to take criticism, and willing to engage my readers and explain to them my plans to improve.  Without that sort of honest dialogue, no writer can ever hope to grow!

Thanks, Mereann, for showing both candor and courage!  It’s appreciated !

By the way, if you want to see the books this critique is about, click here and see if you agree!

One thought on “A lesson in handling criticism

  1. Your friend is great! Personally, I think it’s easier critiquing strangers rather than friends. You just don’t want to hurt the other person’s feelings when you’re friends with them. When you’re a stranger, you don’t feel so bad being blunt because you’re not invested in a relationship of some sort with them. It’s great that Ellen was honest and open with you. The (writing) world would be a better place if more friends gave out critiques like you said!

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