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Thursday, July 21, 2011

Ego Madness

You only need the courage to look. 
In a writer's world, our novels are like our babies... We love them dearly and we love them just as they are; warts and all. 

I've had the privilege of working with an amazingly diverse group of ladies in the critique process of PENDOMUS. 

To me, their differing perspectives have been invaluable. They offer insights into my novel that I am either not equipped for seeing or the ones I simply have blinders for. I know what I'm good at and what I'm... well, not.

I have no shame in that. 

Writing, to me, is a learning process. If you go in thinking your novel is the best thing EVAAARRR and it's never fallen upon another set of eyes, you are probably delusional. Even JK Rowling has done revisons.

My first experience with having PENDOMUS critiqued (I mean really critiqued) came from my Beta-Reader-Extraordinaire. I'll admit it, when I got her first detailed email about the things that weren't working, it stung a little. (I fancy myself Wonder Woman, remember?) 

Then I took a moment... took a step back and you know what? I'll be damned if she wasn't right!

From that moment on, I was able to detach myself from the critique and give in to the critical thinking process that goes along with polishing a novel. Sometimes critiques are spot on. Sometimes they aren't. But I feel that it's our obligation to really consider the feedback of others. Sometimes, our initial reactions are not the most logical ones. You know what I'm saying?

When something isn't working in a novel I'm critiquing, I'm honest. Generally speaking, I don't hold back because I feel it's a waste of my time and theirs if I don't give it my all. I also have the experience behind me with Beta-Reader-Extraordinaire and I know just how important that critical insight can be.

The thing I find fascinating about working with other authors, is the apologetic behavior... I even do it. If the person takes the advice poorly (and I'm not just talking about my group, here), I feel bad. A part of me wants to back peddle. 

But is that for the best? 

If my honest opinion wasn't what they wanted to hear, does that mean it was wrong? Or does it mean it's another perspective to consider? 

Does it mean it's the only right one? Absolutely not. 

What about you guys? 

When you've had your work critiqued, what kind of feedback do you look for? How do you respond to positive and negative feedback? Can you detach from the critique? Or is it difficult for you?

When you work with others, are you honest? Or do you gloss your opinion over?

I'm curious...


Gina Lamm said...

You're spot on.

But on the flip side, there are those of us who've started this process thinking, "this whole novel is crap. I have to take every single person's opinion as gospel."

At first, I was that kind of person. I took every nugget of feedback, every morsel and breadcrumb of information and treated it like the holy grail of fixing my MS. It's only recently that I've discovered that I have to trust my own opinions too.

It's a delicate balance, and everyone has to find their own level.

Every CP and beta's opinion is important. But they have to all be taken into consideration of the larger picture, and that's the vision of the writer. :)


Carissa Elg said...

I hope that's not how you've started this process, woman! DM is a wonderful concept and you shouldn't allow anyone else persuade you otherwise.

You DO have to trust yourself and your instincts. I think you've done a great job of that. :)

<3 ya, woman!

cherie said...

Good post, rockstar!

I like Gina's comment too. Sometimes we need to go with our gut too, even after getting feedback. Especially if we get conflicting crits.

Daezarkian13 said...

My 2 cents. If I sound gruff, it's because I'm sick and at work. :O

Learning to take criticism is one of the hardest thing for a writer to do. It's also the most important.

Learning to acknowledge when something truly needs to be changed vs. being something another writer *thinks* needs to be changed is another tough skill to master.

For the record, I take criticism well. I'm also very honest when I provide criticism, but not in a brutally fashion. You can be critical without being an ass-hat. You can also take criticism graciously, even if you think the person is sheets-to-wind insane.

By-and-large, people are going to know when you're being too nice, just as they'll likely suspect if you're just trying to impose your own style on their writing. Taking criticism is like an all-you-can-eat buffet: there's no shortage of stuff out there, but you have to determine what you can to incorporate into your meal, and what's crap.

Kioko2010 said...

Not everyone takes constructive criticism the way they should. As little as I get it, I absolutely love constructive criticism on my photography, good and bad. I take the critique and ask, how can I use this to my advantage? And just because someone gives a hurtful critique doesn't mean that you need to change that exact thing, really it's only a suggestion; some other person's perspective on your work. Also working with others, I'm completely honest. If they say they want constructive criticism,I'm going to give them my honest opinion, and if they don't like it, then they shouldn't have asked.

Carissa Elg said...

Hey, guys!

@Daezarkian- You weren't gruff! HA!! Thanks for your honesty, too. I absolutely believe we can give good, CONSTRUCTIVE criticism without being an ass-hat. That's really the only kind of criticism worth taking, IMHO. ;) You make some very excellent points.

@Kioko- See! It transcends to all creative facets! Thanks, for your comment, woman!

Marc Mattaliano said...

I love critiquing, in fact, I fancy myself a pretty damn good critiquer. I haven't critiqued any manuscripts per se, but just about any time someone has wanted something read by another person, I always lend my time to doing it.

Thing is, like you, I do try to be honest and give them the best most productive feedback possible, even if it's not the sparkling perfection they want to hear. Also, I try to give them props on positives they did well, because it's gotta be a rarity when someone writes something completely useless and has done absolutely ZERO things well at all. Even if the writing itself is bad, they might've come up with a good character, a line or two of good dialogue, an interesting premise, etc. And those good points need to have some light shed on them as much as the bad points, :-)

I think what happens, though, is that some people get into that Simon Cowell mode, where they think being creatively rude equals honesty. FALSE!!! This couldn't be more false. Not sure how you feel about him, but Simon Cowell's behavior is awful. He's only being honest in how he feels, coming up with creative ways to explicitly destroy people is not part of that honesty.

Critiquing is extremely useful, and critiquers should always be honest if they see places in a piece that could use improvement. Obviously, like you said, there will always be places where the critiquer isn't 100% spot-on, but those comments should still be taken into consideration. I've read a lot of blogs written by writers on Twitter talking about how writing should go. Some things I've taken to heart and ended up changing things in my WIPs as a result. Other things, I said, "no, my WIPs don't do that, and there is a good reason for it."

So you're very right. Much of the time, we need to reign in our egos, however like every other time, we somehow need to balance that with pride when we realize that certain things that are purely subjective and speculative, we've done completely intentionally and don't need to change.

But the key is to always keep ourselves under the microscope and be open to making errors, :-)

Carissa Elg said...

Thanks for the insight, Marc!

I agree- Simon is a dick. (Though, to be really honest, I never did get into American Idol... HA!) I really think that if you are critiquing or being critiqued, it's best to keep an open mind.

However-- you are the one in control of your story. Like you said, sometimes, there are reasons to defy the norm or defy what a critique giver is saying. (Sometimes, they don't see the bigger picture yet, for example.)

Often times, I think people are afraid to be wrong. I posted a blog about it a while back but it still holds true to me:

Anonymous said...

When I have my stories critiqued, I get a big thrill from it. It means that someone is finally going to look over my work. I might be able to stand apart from my writing, but I know I'm still close enough to it where I'll need another opinion to figure out if I'm doing things right or not.

I only wish I had more opportunities to have my work critiqued. It's an important signpost to find out what really works and what doesn't. It's also a good way to find any grammatical errors I might have missed.

I'm not a slave to those who critique my work. I take their suggestions and do my best with them. Sometimes it works out, other times, it doesn't. Either way, I'm able to use criticism to improve my writing.

Carissa Elg said...

Hey, Sithlord!

I really enjoy the CRIT process, too. I enjoy both the good and the bad because it can only make my story that much better. You know?

Thanks for your comment!

Anita Grace Howard said...

Ionce heard that when you're critting a new writer's work, always put the criticisms in a compliment sandwhich. IOW, find the pros and start and finish with those. That way, they're left with a good taste in their mouth. Well, it works so well, I use it even now w/the seasoned writers in my group. Great post, Carissa. And I'm glad you have such a spectacular crit pal! :)

Andrew Kincaid said...

I've never done a formal critique group. I do however, as a general rule, get incredibly pissed when I'm criticized, because I associate criticism with something negative. I'm working on it =P.

Okay, incredibly pissed depending on the tone. If it's constructive and honest I only get a little mad, but if I'm being patronized, or if people are using vacuous words to try to make me feel better, I'm going to explode haha.

What's even worse is when the criticism is right. I try to be objective and see what the person is trying to say, but my mind zeroes in on the negative rather than the positive and it seems that they're trying to tear the work down rather than simply make it better.

Point being, don't be like me, haha. Be objective, and also take what's said with a grain of salt.

Lynn said...

I love my betas, altho from time to time, I worry that one beta in particular is just in love with my work and doesn't judge it as harshly as she might if it were someone else.

That's always my problem; I don't need to reign in my ego, I need to GET one. I HATE it when I get a story back and I have a couple of grammar suggestions and some switching POVs to fix, but then the person says, "This is great, I loved it!" My mental editor is crying "Bulldrek, this is some of the drekiest drek ever written!"

Personally, I'd almost love to find someone who'd "Simon" my work. Well, maybe not quite so rudely, but you know? I KNOW there has to be stuff to improve, but sometimes I just can't see it.

Or I get bogged down in grammar fixes and miss the fact that Plot Point B never gets resolved.

Anonymous said...

Like you said, Carissa, our novels are like our babies. For me, my novel is something I never wanted to have grown up. I would have been perfectly happy if it remained at the first draft...unfortunately (or fortunately), the book had to mature into something the world would be ready for! At this point I'm at draft, in essence, my book is symbolically 12 years old.

Will it ever end? I suppose, once an agent decides to take it on for representation. Until then, I'll keep feeding, looking after its needs, water and allow it to be its own thing!

We'll see where it takes me!

Lyn Midnight said...

Ooo, I caught a Gilmore quote in here, lol.

So... yu're right of course. Having your work critiqued is like a slap across the face but the good kind. Wait... that's not a good comparison!

When I first got my work critiqued I was upset, but then I realized my crit partner was right, for the most part. I haven't had multiple crit partners yet, so I'm a baby still. But when it comes to me giving the critique...

I'm always honest. I tend to cushion the blows with positive feedback but I can never not say something or pretend it's okay because I know that's the worst someone can do.

Though I feel guilty while doing it..