Tuesday, July 9, 2013

The Importance of Liking Your Own Work -- Part Two (an Indie Life post)

A couple or few weeks ago, someone said to me that one of the reasons that she likes my blog is that I know how to take criticism. That, of course, started me to thinking, and the first thing I thought of was the incident that I talked about in part one of this. The point of that is this: when you approach a topic (whatever that topic is, from an idea to a creation) from a stance of confidence, it allows you to take any incoming information (critique) and say one of two things:
1. Well, that's obviously not valid, so I can discard that.
2. Oh, that might be valid; let me look at it and see.
When you lack confidence, when you don't believe in yourself (whether it's an idea or a creation), you only have access to one of those options.

You can either discard everything (because you have to) and cling to whatever belief you have, even when you have nothing to back it up with other than dogma (as I was talking about here (which is not to say that that behavior is only about religion; it's not. It's just as common in politics or science or, even, dieting)). Or you accept everything that challenges you as valid and try to accommodate all of it, which can be rather tumultuous, like being battered by waves at sea.

For an artist, a creator, either of those can be crippling.

You get people, on one end, exploding all over the Internet about anything negative that's said about their work (of which I have firsthand experience) and people on the other end trying to incorporate every critique given to them, even when they conflict with each other. Neither person has any actual confidence in what they've created.

So what is it that allows someone to take criticism well?

When it's an idea or belief, confidence comes from knowledge. From having researched your position, looking at the different perspectives, and coming to the best conclusion you can from the facts at hand. When someone throws something at you that you've already researched, you can disregard it. If it's new data, you can go look at it and see if it changes your perspective. Either way, you're approaching the situation from an area of confidence (that you just wouldn't have if you've accepted your stance on someone else's say so).

When it's about something that you've created, at it's essence, it's the same issue. The key, though, is having created something that you like. If it's the way you want it, it's rather the same kind of thing as having done the research on an issue or a belief. So, if someone comes to you and says, "I don't like the way you had that fart joke in there," if it's something you like (and think is funny), then you can shrug and say, "That's too bad." Or, maybe, someone says, "Hey, what if this thing happened here instead of that other thing?" and, maybe, it's something you never considered, but, then, you can look at it and see if it changes what you've done with your story and see if it really is a good suggestion or not.

If you don't like all of your story or don't know what works or are too busy trying to write a story that other people will like instead of one that you like, you have no way of evaluating what people say to you about what you've written, because you have nothing to judge it against. If you can't say, "I like it," then, well, you have nothing.

Here are two examples:
In one book I was reviewing, I mentioned that it felt like there were two stories going on that didn't fit together well. One of the main characters had absolutely nothing to do in the entire book except that, at one point, he shows up some place and does one thing that has significance to the story. And it's completely accidental on his part as he doesn't go there purposefully to do that thing, he just appears there and his appearance causes the thing to happen. I mentioned that, if that was his only role in the whole book, then, maybe, those two stories should be separate.

The author let me know that originally, it had been two different stories but someone else told him he should combine them, and he'd listened. He'd listened because he had not been satisfied with either story, felt they were both missing something. So, instead of working to make them both into stories that he liked, he started taking suggestions on how to make them better. He wasn't satisfied with the end product, either, but, once he'd put it out there that way, he felt he had to defend it even though he acknowledged the issues, issues he himself had with the novel but couldn't reveal in public. So he had meltdown online over my review and proceeded to call me all sorts of names and, well, it was messy.

But it was because he didn't have a story he actually liked.

For myself, one of the things people mention about The House on the Corner is that it starts slow. I spend too much time on character development. But, as I was just talking about in my review of Doc, it's the character development that's important to me. The action of the story is only there to reveal the characters to us, so I want to know the characters. So, when someone tells me I "take too long" to get to the story, that I don't start with a lot of action, well, I'm okay with  that, because my story is doing what I want it to do. [I want it to be clear that the choices of Tom and Sam and Ruth happen because of whom they are as characters and not because of the arbitrary whims of meeting the needs of the plot.] I'm in a place of confidence, because I like my story. The negative criticism doesn't matter so much.

All of this brings me back to a point that I've made frequently over the course of my blog: as a writer, write the story you like. Don't worry about anything else. If you like it, there's very little chance that there won't be other people out there that like it, too. If, however, you try to write the story that other people like, you won't be able to do it. You'll write a story that some people like, maybe, but will have to deal with the other people that don't like it and, probably, won't like it yourself. And you may end up with something that no one likes. If you write the story that you like, well, at least, you like it. And that's what let's you look at a 1-star review and say, "You know what, that's okay, because I'm happy with what I've written." And, in the end, that's all that's really important.

This post has been brought to you by Indie Life.


  1. Andrew, I loved this post. Although I've been blogging only a short time, I realized early on that I have not a clue when I write something if other people will like it. Quite often it is the things I like the least that most people like the most.

    I do try to avoid profanity. Although it doesn't bother me in the least, I realize it does offend many people. The only time I'm offended by it is when it appears to be there only for the sake of profanity and has no impact on the story.

    I think I would like to read one of your books. I am really pissed off at amazon.com right now because of the Kindle thing so is there somewhere else I can buy your book(s) from? Also, which one would you suggest?

  2. Yes, gotta like your story and have confidence in it in order to know which feedback to accept, and which to disregard. Sometimes I've ignored some feedback at one point, and later had second thoughts. Story development is hard work, and its good to have other people look at it and offer suggestions. But suggestions is all it is.

    I've critiqued some stories that I didn't like; but the structure was sound, the premise clearly presented, the characters strong and likeable. An author has to consider the source of the feedback also, and the intent.


  3. Valid point. I wonder why anyone writes a story they don't love or feel an attachment to in some way? One definitely needs to be able to either take the suggestion for what it's worth or know their story enough to know the suggestion won't work.

    Shannon at The Warrior Muse

  4. I don't worry about the criticism, because if someone didn't enjoy my book, then it's because it wasn't written for that person.
    From my critique partners, I'll accept the small corrections with no question. But the bigger items I mull over first.
    And after reading David's comment, I say good for him for making that decision.

  5. Yep, same old story. Gotta stay true to yourself and not compromise to please others. Please yourself and you will end up pleasing others.

  6. So true! We have to love what we're writing! So important for the creative process, our confidence, and when reading negative reviews later. Great post.

    Thanks for participating!

  7. Some good advice I read in a textbook once was except for the obvious things like typos don't worry so much about the specifics of a critique but WHY people make the comments they did. That kind of follows with an infographic on Goodreads about why people quit on books.

  8. Love your post. Yes. One has to love their story and UNDERSTAND why they wrote it the way they did. It doesn't matter if a handful understand why.

    I received a recent 3 star review, which was very sarcastic to say the least. But this reviewer no matter how much she thought the MC was stupid, she couldn't put the book down. She found it entertaining.

    And yes, I deliberately wrote the MC a bit dimwitted on purpose, but she grows into a fighter by the end of the book. Currently, I'm working on Book 2 and she has a lot to fight for in this one. Like her boyfriend's soul.

    Hugs and chocolate,

  9. Having confidence is such a wonderful thing to have. Great post!

  10. This is a great post. I think it's really important to like your own story. Not only does it make me happier, but I think it puts me in a better place to know what to do with criticism, whether it's something that needs ignored or worked on. Besides, we all have different tastes. Thanks for sharing.

  11. David: What is the Kindle thing that has you pissed off? I don't know about anything like that.
    House is available for the Nook. If you don't want to buy from Amazon, the only other place is directly from me, but, hey, you can get a signed copy that way.
    As far as suggestions, if you like character development, I would go with House. If you're more of a "get right into it" kind of guy, I would go with Spinner.

    Donna: Yeah, it is, which is why I think it's so important for the author to have a clear idea of the story s/he wants to tell. If you don't know that, you can't be sure of the validity of anything anyone says about it.

    Shannon: Fame and fortune? Oh, no, wait, that's "fortune and glory," right? I don't really know. Well, no, I do. Too many writers sit down to write with no plan in mind, so they end up with stuff they don't know what to do with.

    Alex: I don't think I ever accept anything without question. Nope, can't think of a single thing.

    JKIR,F!: Yeah, trying to please others sucks.

    Laura: Well, we have to at least believe in it. Its validity. Purpose. Whatever.

    PT: I think I saw that. If it's the same one I saw, I wasn't overly impressed with people.

    shelly: I don't know if I could actually write a story with a less than smart MC. I've thought about it and, so far, I just don't think I could pull it off. The last book I read with a MC that wasn't smart enough to figure out what was going on drove me crazy, because we were also supposed to believe that she was accomplished in her field. I never read any more of those books.

    Kimberly: Thank you!

    Janeal: There is so much more pleasure in writing something that you're happy with than writing something you think other people will be happy with.

  12. This is exactly where I am with my story. I like it the way it is, but have had some suggestions to start with more action. I could, but then the story doesnt make sense to me or my characters. And I wanna stay true to that. This is the problem with so many opinions--they'll all be different and your head will swim, but in the end we have to go with our gut and write teh story we want to tell.

  13. Pk: I am underwhelmed with the idea of everything having to start knee-deep in action. Most of the stories I've read like that have left me disinterested in the outcome, because I have no connection with the characters. I do, however, believe in starting with the inciting incident; however, that thing is not always an action moment.

  14. Andrew:

    The MC is 18 and very naive...but she learns all too quickly being naive gets you into trouble. By book 2 she got a Kickass attitude.

  15. I always try to emphasize to people when I critique their work that my suggestions are for them to keep or toss at their discretion. I feel it's my obligation to let them know what I have issues with, though, as a reader. But those issues might be specific only to me. Who knows?

    But, yeah, you have to know your story well enough to be able to sort through the feedback and know what to apply and what not to. And agents aren't always right either. I've had some feedback from them about how to improve a story that left me cold.

  16. shelly: Well, good for her, then! When I clean up some of my stack, I'll take a look at it.

    L.G.: Agents, who often have no actual training other than liking to read, are no more likely to be right than anyone else you know who happens to read. I'm not sure why we put them up on the pedestal that we do, all things considered.

  17. Surely if you like your own work that is the best criteria of all. Then some of the best criticism would be whether people use their pocket books to purchase your work.

  18. Andrew, I just ordered your book "House..." Sign it however you like...if you only want to do your name that is okay.

    My problem with amazon.com and I want to be clear here, is only with their books. I buy other things from them all the time. I really don't know where to begin with all the things I dislike and the troubles I've had with their books. I don't know that Kindle is the problem but I suspect it is part of the problem because they are in the business of selling both devices and books. I have still not been able to download or read "A Beer in the Shower's book" on my tablet. The only way I can read the book is to search through my e-mails, find the one where I bought the book and follow a link.

    I read just today that Apple has lost a law suit over price fixing with publishers. At least amazon has not tried to rip people off on pricing. I've no idea how much they pay the authors but I'm betting amazon's piece of the pie is pretty big.

  19. Critiquing can be so nerve wracking, whether getting or giving. I always try to point out things that confuse me or strike me funny, but sometimes I have a hard time explaining why. I'm just glad I never provoked a meltdown.

    I think you make a very good point about people being sensitive to critiques when they don't like the story. If you know it isn't right but you still pushed it out there...well, it's a lot easier to lash out than it is to admit you were wrong.

  20. Jo: That's almost true, except, at that point, it's kind of like trying a new food. Many people (like my son) will just assume that they don't like anything new without ever trying it.

    David: I don't know what to tell you about the technical issue with your Kindle; I don't own one. But I do use the Kindle app on my computer and have never had a problem with it.

    As far as paying authors goes, Amazon, through Kindle, offers the best royalties available, up to 70%. Even their 35% rate is head, shoulders, and torso above what traditional publishers offer. The cut on the physical books is not as much, but it still matches, at least, what you get through traditional publishing.

    Your book should be on the way tomorrow.

    Jeanne: Pointing out things that are confusing is a very good thing to do. When you know what's in your head, you can often forget all the details to make it clear to someone who does not have the story in his head.

  21. Sage advice, Andrew. You're spot on.

    As an editor at my day job, I work with many different writers, about 40 in total, in an economic research environment. The best authors are those who understand that when I set fresh eyes on their article or report, I do so to add value. I don't criticize unnecessarily, and it's certainly never personal. My goal is that our readers will understand the information being conveyed, and be interested enough to continue reading. The worst authors are those who are defensive as soon as they hear my voice, because they're sure I'm telling them their work is the worst ever….before I ever say a word. It is about confidence, and it's also about putting the work in and valuing your work. The same goes for writing fiction.

  22. Thanks Andrew. I don't have a Kindle. I have a Samsung Galaxy tablet which also serves as my wireless connection to the internet. I see no reason to buy a Kindle which would have less functionality.

    I am a fan of amazon and it's good to hear they are paying you guys decently. I'm thinking this problem with the tablets is temporary.

  23. Had to just add another comment here, David Oliver said the Kindle would have less functionality. I own an original Kindle and an android tablet. The original Kindles don't have the functionality of the Kindle Fire, but one thing they do have is the paperwhite technology which means you can read them anywhere, i.e. in the full sunshine you can still read your book. As far as I know, no-one else has this technology.

  24. J.R.: Yeah, it does. It goes for everything, actually.

    David: Yeah, I don't have any experience with tablets, so I have nothing to offer. I think I'm bypassing the "tablet" stage of things and waiting for them to have the stuff that plugs directly into our heads.

    Jo: Thanks for the update, Jo.

  25. You know, it's funny you mention people complaining about House starting off too 'slow.' I hate the requirement of modern books to hook you INSTANTLY from the get go, and be nothing but action, otherwise it's just boring and no agent will touch it.

    Hell, we've had one reviewer tell us that zombies started too slow. You know, the book that starts off on page 1 with a man turning into a full blown zombie and ripping an entire room full of waitresses to shreds. THAT was too slow for them.

    This is what we get when people have the attention span of a goldfish. :(

  26. ABftS: It's also the impetus behind that whole starting at the climax and, then, telling the story as a flashback leading to the starting moment, and I HATE that. So lame. It's just poor story-telling ability if you have to start at the end to get people to be interested.

  27. I like this post a lot! I actually think your comments about criticism apply across the board in work/ life. If some part of my professional behavior is criticized, I am always inclined to review my behavior. It doesn't mean I accept the criticism but it does make me review my actions. Thank goodness, more often than not, I leave the review feeling confident in my behavior. And sometimes I learn some new strategy.

  28. Graciewilde: Oh, yeah, it totally does, which is why I started out talking about beliefs and knowing what you believe.

  29. So much of this post resonated with me. Really well thought out and written. I think I'm mostly confident that my story is the way I want it to be. Yes, there are a couple of comments that people have made that I think have validity, but for the most part, my low reviews are about my story not being something it's not.

    Great post.

  30. Jo,
    I actually meant less functionally for me. I did not make that clear.

    As far as I'm concerned you are pretty much right about the tablet. I hate doing anything with it except connecting to the internet and reading. I has much more functionality which I use when I really need to but it's a pain.

  31. err functionality
    I hate that we can't edit our comments!

  32. Well argued. It's good to start with at least ONE person who likes your story ;-) I have confidence in mine, just need to keep writing it.
    Tina @ Life is Good

  33. Okay, someone explain to me how it is that -my own- comment gets marked as spam on my own blog. Whattheheck?

    Rinelle: Comments can certainly be valid even if you have confidence in your story. Like when you haven't explained something well enough, which is common, but, then, the issue is with the communication, not the story. That's a huge difference.

    When you say "low reviews," do you mean negative reviews or that you don't have many?

    David: Pretty soon we'll all be cyborgs.

    Tina: It is! I mean, how horrible is it to start from 0? To come from "I think this is crap, would you please read it?" and really mean that.

  34. I know that for some writers, the actual act of writing is easy. It's easy for them to sit down every day and bang out thousands of words on a computer.
    It isn't like that for me. It's HARD WORK, even though I enjoy it! So there is NO WAY that I could write an entire story that I didn't even really like. So I agree completely that each of us should be writing the story that WE like :-)

  35. Rachel: It's not easy for me. I'm not a word spewer, and I hate editing, so I will spend a lot of time to get it right the first time rather than have to spend a lot of time revising. Generally speaking, once I'm finished with a first draft, I'm mostly ready for proofing.