Time for a Little Criticism

I am now at a sought-after point in the writing process. I have both completed a rough draft of my latest manuscript in the Bobby Navarro mystery series, and I have edited it as well. Now, I would probably want to change something any time I read a story I’ve written, so I can never tell if it is the best it can be, or not. At some point, I need outside feedback—criticism. My reviewer may end up thinking the whole thing was a colossal failure, or fell apart completely at some point. It’s wait-and-see time. Believe me—not easy.

In everyday life, we talk about being willing to listen to criticism. In writing, we talk about having our work critiqued. In either case, no one is eager to hear their creative efforts are crummy, their brilliance banal, or their talent tenuous. I’m no exception, but I do feel that constructive criticism can be a highly valuable commodity. However, getting the most from a critique of our work requires more than just letting others have their say. Here are five components of making criticism constructive when you are on the receiving end.

 1.        The first requirement for making criticism constructive on the receiving end, is to listen to it, and resist temptation to defend what we did. It’s not an argument. The goal is not to decide who wins. Learning from the criticism is the sought-after goal here, and that is only accomplished when the emphasis is placed on hearing, and understanding, what the criticism is. Similarly, it’s important not to succumb to another temptation, explaining why the behavior, writing, whatever, was the way it was in the first place. Just listen, get it straight, and take it under advisement—with sincere appreciation.

2.       That last part—with sincere appreciation—is very important. It’s not easy to accept criticism, but it should be appreciated. That doesn’t mean surround yourself with nags and nasty enemies. It does mean that criticism can help you improve yourself or your work, and is a valuable means toward that end. There are a lot of things written on how to be a good this-or-that. There are usually no books written about what we, as individuals, are doing wrong. Good criticism is worth a lot, treat it accordingly.

3.       Do something with the criticism once it’s received. A wonderful thing about computers, is that it is so easy to save numerous versions of our work. We don’t have to throw out the original, to try something different. Too wordy? Try cutting down, and examining the results. Someone suggests getting rid of a passage of particularly beautiful prose? Cut it. One click can save the treasured bit of writing. Chances are, you will never use it, but it hurts less to cut something, when we know it is saved should we ever find a better place to use it. The important thing, is to try seeing how the effected portion of writing works when revised.

4.       Have more than one source of feedback. If you receive a difficult-to-take bit of criticism, it can be more convincing and easier to take if you hear it from more than one source. I once had a whole writing group tell me a piece I had written was terrible. I had thought it was great. Hearing it from the whole group was convincing, even though disappointing. On another occasion, one reader thought a story was the best I had written, another thought it was the worst. Who can say? Receiving criticism is a learning opportunity. Multiple sources offer a greater opportunity for you to learn, and that’s what it’s all about.

5.       You own the final product. Accepting criticism does not remove one’s own responsibility for the final product. Simply making suggested changes, without working to understand them and the reason for their suggestion is disrespectful to oneself and one’s own work. Sometimes the criticism is best rejected, although the rejection should be saved until after the criticism has been received, understood, analyzed, and tried-out. But, in the end, you own the results, and must accept that ownership in an informed and responsible manner. By the way, when you keep in mind that you have the final say, it makes it easier to pay attention to whatever criticism you are dealing with.

 So, with all this in mind, now I’ll have to wait and see what happens, and then get back to work on producing the finished manuscript so I can put Bobby Navarro back on the road. And, speaking of being on the road, I recently saw this beauty.  Any thoughts?

New Year, new Resolutions

It’s that time again. People are making, or already have made, personal resolutions to kick off the new year. As we all know, these New Year’s Resolutions seldom last. Some never get started. Nevertheless, I love it, and I refuse to believe you are too old to accomplish change. After all, aging is all about changing, and getting used to changes. You know, that arthritic pain is just a part of aging—get used to it. Doing your chores is just a part of life—get used to it. Ha, if you think eighth grade is tough, wait until you get to high school—get used to it. So, let’s be realistic, if we are supposed to get used to unpleasant stuff, why not get used to something becoming better? Why not get used to something we want?

With that said, the road to good intentions. . .etc. I remember quitting smoking. Not easy. Failed more than once. Finally hit on a plan that worked. . . so far, at least. (I put it that way in order not to get cocky. Getting cocky leads to failure. And, who knows? I may fail again. . .although it’s been around fifty years now.) When I was quitting, I didn’t tell others that’s what I was doing. Didn’t want to jinx the effort. When asked why I wasn’t lighting up, I’d just say I didn’t want one right then. I even carried a pack of cigarettes around with me so I wouldn’t be tempted if someone offered. I had my own; I just didn’t want one. Technically, it was true. I was dying for a cigarette, but in my head I didn’t want one. So, you don’t have to tell others what you resolve, just carry out the resolution one day at a time, and–get used to it. After a while, it becomes a habit.

Last year, I resolved to achieve more balance in my life. Nothing too specific, although finishing the novel I had underway was part of what I had in mind. I wanted a modest resolution. You see, I had resolved to achieve better balance before. Guess what?

One of the things that helped me with the balance thing this time, was my wife, Lesley, convincing me it was better to write for an hour, or even a half hour, than not to write. I had previously relied on waiting until I could find a bigger chunk of time down the road. That didn’t happen. Little bits worked. A little bit every day accumulates over time. So, it’s not just setting a modest goal, it’s doing modest bits of behavior in the right direction on a regular basis. Forget about big changes, it’s the little bits of change that add up to success.

f course, if this sounds like I now lead a well-balanced life—forget it. You can believe it or not, but I have a lot of improvement yet to achieve. No, really! But, it’s like when I stopped smoking—I did better this past year. . .for more time. And, as for those times when I did anything but better—we need to learn from our failures, it’s how we gain successes.

So, what’s in store for this year? I’m not saying. We had a great getaway for New Years, and I hope to continue moving ahead on my work in progress and have the next Bobby Navarro mystery out this spring, or summer. Beyond that, I’m just picking out one little thing I want to do differently, and trying to take regular steps in the right direction. How about you?