As we pause to draw breath after another rip-roarin' Secret Agent round, I'd like to focus on the fine art of handling criticism. A refresher course on this sort of this is always helpful, yes?
Frankly, this month's Secret Agent used less sugar on her cookies than some of our others. And that's okay. Everyone has his own style, his own way of expressing opinions. Most of you are attuned to the reality that throwing your work out there is fraught with potential Fear of Criticism and Fear of Rejection.
You already know that you're not supposed to take it personally.
But when the opinion expressed is so blunt, so unabashedly raw, that it sets your teeth on their proverbial edge, it might make you stagger a bit. Reel. Fight back the urge to give up.
That's a normal response. But it's also a response you need to move through quickly and with aplomb. Feel the feeling, then put it in its place. Move past it as quickly as you can.
I'm not telling you to discount the opinion. It may, in fact, be dead on. If someone tells you that your prose is rife with cliche and overwriting, it may feel like a slap in the face. But if your opening sentence reads like this: "Samantha stood on the brink of sanity, teetering precariously between the urge to live and the urge to ruthlessly succumb to a self-induced death." -- well, I'd say the cliche and overwriting bit was something you needed to hear.
Of course, there are soft, medium, and hard ways to express this opinion. The soft ways don't always do the job, and the hard ways often offend the caught-off-guard writer. But you need to be ready to read and receive all three types of criticism on your writing. Not that everything will be exactly right (remember the utter subjectivity of it all). But when you're panning for gold, you can't dump the dust back into the water without sifting.
So let's say our Secret Agent has read your 250 words and it hasn't hooked her because your writing isn't tight enough (most likely because you entered the contest before doing enough editing on your work, but I digress). Let's look at three potential responses:
SOFT: "You have the seeds of a compelling idea here! Keep working on your craft and spend some more time editing to make this flow better. As it stands, I'm not hooked; sorry."
MEDIUM: "Sorry, not hooked. While your MC definitely has pluck, the writing needs too much work (a reduction in adverbs and an eye to avoid repeating descriptions is key) for me to want to invest more time in at this point."
HARD: "This isn't close to being ready. The writing is all over the place and I found myself feeling lost after the second sentence. This is a no."
(Disclaimer: I made these up. I promise.)
Now, if you read carefully, you'll notice that the soft, medium, and hard responses are all saying the same thing. The problem with the soft response is that it might be too easy for the writer to think, "Hmm, this agent just doesn't like my story," instead of really honing in on the "spend some more time editing" part, which is the crux of the critique. The medium response is balanced because it makes no bones about what's wrong with the writing, but still points out something positive (a plucky MC is a good thing). The hard response is the most "real" response, but its tone might be off-putting to the author who wasn't ready to hear it.
So this is what I'm telling you: BE READY TO HEAR THE HARD RESPONSES.
They might hurt you. They might make you angry. Heck, they might have been inappropriately stated in the first place (hey, we're all human). But you absolutely have to be ready for them.
Remember the HISTORY OF THIS BLOG'S TITLE. Behind the concept of this entire blog is a critique of my work that started out stinging like mad and ended up changing the course of my writing forever.
And it was a MEDIUM response. It felt hard at the time because I wasn't used to throwing my work out there. But read it yourself, and you'll see that it falls into the MEDIUM category.
So. Soft, medium, or hard--you're going to receive them all, and you're going to have to learn to use them all to your benefit.
Yes, "I hated this" is about as hard as they come. Even so, it's just one person's opinion--one person's first impression of your work-that-still-needs-work.
Press on, and keep growing. We've got a veritable garden of growing authors around here! Pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and if I keep going with this sentence I'm going to drown in cliche.
But seriously. I want you to succeed almost as much as you want yourself to succeed. Stick around, keep working, keep growing your ultra-thick writer's skin. By now, you know how much you'll need it.
And finally, thank you. For being here, for sharing your work, for adding to the sense of community. And for allowing me to speak into your life, if only a little bit.
Now get to work.