A Quiet and Teachable Spirit

it is easy to give advice
none too easy to take it
and nearly impossible to implement it

I confess I have been so caught up in working on Plenilune (which has been going well, by the way) that I have been somewhat neglecting my email inbox and The Penslayer.  Though I am not sure you would be so very angry with me for that...

I have a Shadow Things announcement to make before I roll into the bulk of my post.  First of all, Elizabeth Rose (whom I have had the pleasure of hosting here on The Penslayer) has read The Shadow Things and recently posted her book review on Living on Literary Lane.  If you wanted to hear someone else's views on the book, please check it out!  Additionally, I had the honour of being the first individual ever interviewed on author Audrey Hansen's blog just this morning.  I was really peached by that piece of news and really pleased by the questions she asked me.  So be sure to check that out too!

Now on to the main event!  Which, incidentally, features yet another blog - The Destiny of One, by Sarah Holman.  I recently read an excellent, concise little post by her on how to handle criticism.  As I mentioned with honesty and chagrin in a comment on the post I am a very sensitive soul (do you think it shows?) and I don't tend to take anything but the kindest of criticism well.  Thankfully I have gotten almost nothing but the kindest of criticism, but that is unusual and as I am at the mere beginning of my literary career I can expect harder nails to claw at me in the future.  Sarah Holman's post was brief, and I will add to it with a few of my own thoughts, but her points were so excellent and so spoke to me that I took the liberty of reposting them here.

1. Know that you cannot please everyone. Even the books on the bestseller lists get negative reviews. There will be people who don’t like your genre, your style, or the fact you mention God. However, there will people who love your book for those same reasons.

2. Give the book to some friends first. Tell them you are learning and would like their opinions but can’t take harsh ones yet. Your friends will often respect that and you will learn to take some criticism, along with the good things they have to say about your book.

3. It is okay to give the book to people you know will like it. Family members and friends who will like it no matter what can help boost your confidence and make taking the criticism better.

4. There are some days that you should never try to read what others are saying about your story. Make sure that you are emotionally ready to handle it.

5. Know that as long as you are honoring God in your story (this does not mean it has to be preachy) he is pleased with your work.

These are really good, down-to-earth pieces of advice for writers.  Just because someone doesn't share the same taste in style and genre as we do doesn't automatically make us failures at our craft.  I've already said that a touch of blind "I-am-the-greatest" attitude will further you in your writing, because that nagging sense of not doing a good enough job while you hone your craft will only discourage you and drag you back.  Of course you have room for improvement.  We all do, and we always will.  But fixating on that is detrimental to your morale, trust me.  Tie up your own boot-straps, put up your own chin, and stride out among your own scrawled words with a sense that you own the place.

If you have good friends (our choice of family, as was the case with Mr. Bingley, cannot be helped), they are the sort of people you can assume know you best and can make a good assessment of your potential.  In short, they will heartily give praise where praise is due and urge you on to do better.  Invest in those friendships!  

Author Anne Elisabeth Stengl has said several times that she does not go out of her way to find reviews.  I am guilty of doing this (if you can call it a guilt) because I like to know what people think.  However, her point is very valid, especially for souls like hers and mine.  Glowing reviews are always wonderful, but that one negative review, heartless and demeaning, can ruin everything.  So don't tempt the devil, as it were: don't stick yourself out there to be criticized if you aren't ready to handle it.  And, as always, there are many different aspects of our faith that we may address in our novels: but so long as we adhere to the faith, so long as what we write is not only done "to the glory of God" but accurately reflects his own self-revelation, I would say you have nothing to fear.  The content of your writing is sound, even if your skill may need improvement.

Those were Sarah's points and I am really appreciative of them.  I have just one more overarching piece of advice to give and that is: have a quiet and teachable spirit.  We are in an ancient and venerated business - the writing of books - and there is no place here for a puffed up spirit.  We have countless people to teach us our craft, many of us have a good crew of folk still alive to come alongside us and point out from a more objective viewpoint where we have done well and where we need to improve.  These moments may sting, but then blessings have been known to come in disguises.  Take stock of your own smallness in this literary world, the sheer dependence you have on the writers who have gone before you, the miles of improvement you have left to go, and learn to bear gladly the criticism of others.

I'll be learning it with you.

13 ripostes:

  1. I do need to keep this in mind. I like people to like me. I must have people like me. Horrid. But I am always trying to keep in mind the fact that it is not all about me, and I am not that wonderful of a writer in the scheme of things. Perhaps that is the one reason I love to read so...it puts me in a right perspective of my own work.

  2. When I published my work, I decided up front that I could not please everyone and that, should I ever get/when I got a negative review, I would, after I got over the initial sting, evaluate what they had against it, and then let it go. I have gotten a negative review, and, after I read it, I could see where she was coming from. And then I put it on my list of blogs who have reviewed me. I wanted my readers to have the bad as well as the good.

    (although I do have it at the bottom and the last review they'd get to.)

  3. Kendra - Your little caveat made me giggle. I am glad that, when you get negative reviews, you weigh the person's points. Sometimes reviews are just nasty, but sometimes you get a really good one, even if it is negative, and there is plenty to be gleaned from that. Good show!

    Rachel - I'm glad this could help. I wouldn't fixate on it, of course, but a bit of perspective is always a good thing to have. Which puts me in mind of another blog post...

  4. I'm glad you decided to post this, Jenny, as I really needed to hear it today. I'm notorious for comparing myself to others, and often the results can be so discouraging that I want to bury myself under a rock and never write again. I recently found an old post of yours where you mentioned that you are glad you're not the best writer in the world because if you were, you would never be able to read other books and be inspired by them. And that's really true. How dull it would be if the most exciting literature available to me was my own writing! No suspense, no drama, no witty dialogue that challenges you to take up your pen and slay with the written word . . . the thought is rather drab.

    As a newly-published author, critisism is something rather new to me. It's easy to be praised on your blog when your readers are only catching snippets of your best pieces; when they read the whole book and develop an opinion of it, it's rather like they're opening a window into your private thoughts. Even when my brain says that the critic is making perfectly legitimate arguments, my sensitive nature takes it all to heart and feels as if I've failed them. Which isn't true. Like you said, the content of your writing is sound, even if your skill may need improvement. That's what we're all here to do: write and improve our writing. No one is born an authoress: the talent may be there, but the gift requires a good deal of polishing. In the end, the best cure is to sit down and write.

  5. Excellently put, Elizabeth Rose. "The best cure is to sit down and write." Excellently put. ^.^

  6. I've heard that some authors don't allow themselves to read reviews of their books. I'm not sure if I'd be able to resist that temptation. When my book comes out this fall, I am a little afraid of receiving negative feedback. But those are not the reviews that authors should pay attention to. Sure, you can learn from some of them. But the ones that we really need to focus on are the positive reviews. And, unless you’re just a horrible writer with an equally awful story, you most likely will have more positive reviews than negative. Besides, authors aren’t writing the book for the people who won’t like it, but for those who will. So in the end, those positive reviews will be the only ones that matter. =)

  7. I don't remember where I heard about this but a good idea is to keep a note book in three sections, one of praise, one of criticism, and one of passages from other peoples writing that make you go "wow!"

  8. I admit it: I claw for reviews myself, even though I haven't even published my first book {yet}. I love to know what other people think.. that is. But, as women, we are more delicate, and anything with a slight point cuts throat. Therefore, when I hear a particularly throat-severing word, I have to remind myself that I am writing to glorify God, not to glorify me. It works almost always. And when it doesn't work, well, I cry out my tears, vent with my sisters, and drink a cup of tea. ;) Because tea warms the soul.

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  10. I am so honored you would repost my words, Jenny. Thank you so much. It brightened my day.

  11. Thank you, Sarah! We are all indebted to your original post!


  12. Excellent advice. I'm afraid reviews are the things that scare me the most about eventually publishing anything.

  13. A lovely post. I have not yet had any negative reviews of any of my writing thanks to the fact that only my family and friends have read my writing... some critical thoughts (especially at that workshop I attended sometime back) yes, but not NEGATIVE and as Rhoswen said, it is something that can be a bit scary whenever one thinks about getting published: the negative reviews. But your post held excellent advice on how to deal with them and I will put it at the back of my mind for future reference. I thank you!