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.
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