Sunday, August 14, 2011

Apparently I'm a wimp.

I hate the phrase "Don't take it personally."

I received a rather harsh critique of The Wicked Instead recently. The critiquer wasn't wrong about a lot of things, but the way the comments were presented, heavily colored by the critiquer's personal biases, put me on the defensive. After I was done being pissed, I was devastated. I felt hurt, invalidated, attacked. The critiquer made some points that were valid and that I agreed with, but I had to sort through a lot of emotions that those words brought up. I'm still sorting through them, in fact. I wanted to get right to work fixing what was wrong yesterday, but I couldn't because every time I looked at my manuscript, I felt a crippling sense of dread and knew I couldn't handle it that day. A lot of writers act like this makes me a wimp. I should just push through the pain, walk it off, don't let them get to me. I agree with this to a certain extent. I won't let those harsh words cripple me forever. I won't let that critique make me stop writing, because it's something I love to do. Something I have to do. That doesn't make those words any easier to hear, though, and doesn't make my emotions any easier to get over.

Isn't it doubly invalidating to tell yourself you aren't allowed to be hurt by something that's hurtful? Writing is an incredibly intimate, personal thing. Yes, writers need to have thick skins, but the fact is, we also still have emotions and pushing aside those emotions doesn't help us as people. I am a goddamn expert at invalidating myself and my feelings (just ask my partner), but I can't ignore them forever. It isn't healthy and it doesn't help me as a writer. It builds resentment against myself, and what kind of writer am I if I despise myself?

People affect other people. If your parent/significant other/friend (or hell, even a stranger) says, "You look like shit in those pants," it's going to hurt. You can choose not believe the remark or use it as "critique," but doesn't it still sting? Shouldn't we be looking to examine the causes of our upset rather than pushing it away?

I'm not saying that either you take the critique whole-heartedly with a smile or sulk and don't use a bit of it. A broken clock is still right twice a day. A person who is generally full of shit can still speak the truth. You can still use harsh critique if you can come to a point where you can separate emotion from the remarks. And that's what's difficult.

It's not all on the writer to be the strong one and to push through it. An effective beta/editor will keep in mind that s/he is talking to a person with feelings. Some people just don't "get" it (tell me you've never had this feeling) because they don't read between the lines to grasp an author's intent. This isn't me being a special snowflake--when I critique, author intent is golden. My job as editor/beta/whatever is to help the reader reach his/her vision, not mine.

That's not to say that the editor should tiptoe around an author for fear of hurting his/her feelings, but there's a way to frame a critique, even a difficult one, in a way that doesn't automatically put the writer on the defensive. When people are defensive, they don't listen. It costs nothing to be diplomatic. Think of it this way: an editor wants the writer to take his/her advice. The writer wants that advice. But when the writer is feeling too defensive to take it, everyone loses.

My point is, writers, you're allowed to have emotions. You're allowed to be defensive. It's your choice whether you push those comments away or use them to your advantage, but that doesn't mean your feelings aren't valid. Figure out what's making you defensive. Is it the critiquer's tone? Are you feeling insecure/caught out at something? What is it? Is it something within the story that you need to fix, or is it some other factor? I think writers often forget that life influences writing and life is full of emotions. They're too intertwined to separate how you feel about life from how you feel about writing a lot of the time.

Fuck "Don't take it personally." Writing is personal. We can't avoid taking things personally. It doesn't make people wimps. The question is whether we can deal with those emotions in a healthy way so we can go on with the business of writing as better, stronger writers.


  1. Hey there, just returning the follow/comment love. I'm sorry to hear you had to go through that. You know what? You are absolutely right. A) Just because what a person says is valid doesn't mean it doesn't hurt and you're a person with real feelings and B) There are tactful ways to be honest. Hang in there, and do try to separate the "advice" from the emotions if you can. This person may have said something useful, even if they didn't choose their words carefully enough.


  2. Hi there! Thanks for the comment and for the support. I'm better able to separate the advice from the emotions the more distance I get from the situation, but it does a writer no good to have to wait two weeks before they can process comments through the hurt, you know?

    Thanks again for the comment and the follow!

  3. I'm stopping in from the erotica circle of the campaign and I wanted to say I don't think you're a wimp. You're human. those kinds of things do hurt and we should allow ourselves to feel hurt. Logically we know we can't please everyone but when someone really does make their comments more an attack than helpful criticism it's hard to honestly feel anything but hurt.