I have something to say. This could be long, so if you’re not up to reading for a few minutes, I’m going to encourage you to go ahead and click the X in the upper right hand corner. I hate saying that, but I’m just going to be honest and some folks don’t care much for it. So, either click the X or read on. The choice is yours.
I’m not the best writer in the world. I’m better than some, worse than others. I know this and I am fine with it. Why? Because I know where I’ve been and how far I have come. I don’t want someone to tell me they think my work is great if they don’t believe the words coming out of his or her mouth.
We all want to hear we are marvelous, that we did a good job at something. We, in general, want folks to like us, and by extension, what we do. We don’t want to be criticized, and too many of us don’t know how to take that criticism when it comes (and it will come). We’re a society used to getting trophies for participation.
We don’t handle failure all that well. But failure isn’t always a bad thing. It teaches us what we did wrong and maybe what we shouldn’t do again. It hurts, but it also makes us tougher and wiser than before we failed.
For the record, you only fail when you quit trying.
When someone criticizes us we feel as if we have failed. This is not true. Criticism comes in two forms: constructive and destructive. Let’s address the destructive first. Destructive criticism is when someone tells you something that is insulting and not helpful to you. It is the type of criticism that is meant to hurt you instead of build you up. It is the type of criticism that is not enlightening at all. It is what we hear the most. It’s not what is said the most, but what we hear.
Constructive criticism is meant to help or provide direction. Though it is often negative, if listened to, it can lead to improvement in an area of weakness.
Destructive criticism implies failure. Constructive criticism can give you the tools toward success.
Are you with me so far? Good. Because I think I am about to take this in a different direction.
There is also such things as constructive praise and destructive praise.
Constructive praise is honest. It’s the cheerleader of praises. You just scored a touchdown. Ra ra ra. You did a great job. It generally focuses on the obvious good points. Constructive praise is good praise because it is based on the facts. It can also pump you up and inspire you to try harder at something, even if you are good at it.
Then there is destructive praise. Destructive praise is when someone says something that is not true, but they don’t have the heart to tell you the actual truth. It’s the type of praise that doesn’t inspire you to try harder to improve. It is the comfort food of praises. It is ice cream and beer, folks. You may have heard some destructive praise before and not realized it. It looks kind of like this: ‘Hey, you’re a phenomenal writer,’ or ‘That was the most amazing story I have ever heard.’
But…but…that’s not destructive. How is that destructive? Those are compliments. Not if they aren’t true. You have to understand that. It is destructive when the compliments are not true.
Destructive praise’s purpose is to stroke the ego. And other than that ego stroking, there is no value in it. It is not meant to help you. It’s also a lie. It is. Remember, it is when someone says something that isn’t true that is meant to not hurt someone else’s feelings.
I have never been one for destructive praise. I don’t particularly like it when I receive it and I don’t give it out. I have been told every once in a while it is a good idea to tell someone a lie to keep from hurting their feelings. I disagree. I would rather tell you the truth now and get it over with, than for you to find out a month from now that I lied to you. Because what is worse than finding out someone lied to you, even if they thought they were protecting your feelings? How can someone believe you if you tell them a lie? If you’ll tell one, then you’ll tell another, right?
Once upon a time there was this villager, and he wanted to find the land of Publish. It was a daunting task. He had no clue where to begin and he made a lot of bad decisions along the way. He wasn’t that great of a writer, but some of the villagers had read his (horrible) stories and had told him, ‘Dude, you’re pretty awesome.’
Lies. They were all lies. Well intended, but lies. So, this dude—and yeah, we will call him Dude from here out—started believing he was awesome. His head was somewhat swollen from the heaping amounts of praise that had been lavished on him. To the great land of Publish he traveled. He sought out all the kingdoms that published the written word, you know all the ones ending in ‘zine.’ At each stop along the way to Publish, all the kings and queens of the kingdoms of ‘zine’ laughed at him, swearing he must be in jest. They kicked him out of their kingdoms and told them to go home, son, you can’t possibly be good enough to be aloud in our kingdoms.
‘But I’m Dude, the Great.’
To this they laughed heartier at him.
So, Dude, the Great made his way back to his village, discouraged and not understanding why the kings and queens wanted nothing to do with him. Still, the villagers told him, ‘Dude, you ARE great.’
Lies. All lies.
So he set off again, in his quest to find the land of Publish. Finally, the queen of the kingdom known as House-of-Pain Ezine said, ‘Welcome, Dude, we will allow your words here.’
Finally, Dude, the Great had made it to Publish.
The villagers…they had to be right. But were they? Of course not. Of all the stories Dude, the Great had written, only one of them made it to Publish. But one had made it. That was a start.
Then Dude, the Great learned a valuable lesson. You see, he approached one of the villagers and said, “Hey, can you read this? It made it to Publish!”
“Sure,” the villager said.
Days passed and finally Dude, the Great contacted the villager with a, “Did you read it?”
“What did you think?”
“It was great?”
“Yes. I loved it.”
Loved it? This made Dude, the Great happy. “Well, what did you love about it?”
“All of it.”
“All of it?”
“Yes. All of it.”
“What stood out about it?”
Hmmm…Dude, the Great had an inkling that maybe the villager wasn’t necessarily telling the truth.
“What was the story about?” he asked.
The villager couldn’t tell him.
He asked again.
“I can’t remember, but it was great.”
“Did you read it?” he finally asked.
“Yeah, I read it. It was great.”
Dude, the Great walked away, his head down. The villager had lied to him, and he was saddened by this. Why? Because it became clear to him that the other villagers had heaped praise upon him, but they didn’t believe what they had said. He went home and sat in his room, the lantern on low, staring at his pen and paper.
All that time people said he was great, that he wrote terrific stories, and none of it was true.
Destructive criticism gives writers a false sense of how good they are told they are as opposed to how good they actually are. Constructive criticism allows them to become as good as they want to be, assuming they actually take the criticism for what it is.
Writers are real people.
We are. I know some of you who do not write say, ‘It’s easy to write a book. Just plant your butt in the seat and start typing.’
If only it were that easy.
Writers have families. Most of us have jobs to support those families, and we often write when an opportunity to do so presents itself. On many days, that opportunity is not there. So, what do we do? Many of us who really want to make it in this business will either stay up late or get up early in the morning to get some writing done. If you are like me, you do both.
Writers have feelings. We hurt. We get pissed. We love and dislike, and in some cases, hate–just like the average human being. We eat, we breathe, we poop. Well, we do. Most of us like sex. We are as real as you are. If you touch us, you will feel the imperfections in our skin. If you cut us, we bleed red, just like you. We’re real.
We put ourselves out there for you to love, hate or be indifferent to. We always hope you will like the words we put out and will tell someone else about this great book that ‘you have just got to read.’ It is a dream of ours, you know. Martin Luther King had a dream. We do, too, except all stories aren’t created equally. Some are slapped together, while the details in others are agonized over, sometimes to the point of being painful.
That’s just the way it is.
We want folks to be honest with us. Or maybe we don’t. Maybe we would just rather look through those rose colored glasses and never know we need to improve. Maybe the truth hurts and we just can’t handle it.
‘Oh, I’ll just quit since people don’t like my stories.’ Then you’ve failed yourself.
Do you see how this works? Do you see how we, as writers, can be counterproductive, because so much of what we say and mean are two different things. Sounds like the average person.
Writers are real people. We work hard at telling stories. Most of us work hard at finding homes for those stories. Some of us work hard at marketing them and networking with other authors. A few of us actually get somewhere. Yup, just like the average person.
Passion is important.
Readers can tell when you actually believe in what you write and believe in yourself. Readers can tell when you get into a story, elbows deep, and try to make it come alive. It’s alive! It’s alive!
It’s hard to disappoint me, but lately, this seems to have happened more than usual. And it has happened because of being helpful. It has happened because I don’t believe in destructive criticism or destructive praise, but rather just the opposite. And it happened because so few people are willing to listen these days. So few people have open minds about concepts and philosophies and how things are done, and no I am not talking politics here. I’m talking writing.
I think differently than you.
Most writers are all about the rules, the rules, you must follow the rules. Meh. I followed the rules, and I hated it. I even got a t-shirt. I believe rules not only are meant to be broken, but should be broken.
I don’t believe in plots, but life situations. I don’t believe you have to have perfect grammar–it’s boring. I believe not all passive voice is bad.
I believe in characters and scenes and the feels. I believe you can be the best writer in the world, but tell horrid stories that will never sell. I believe you need to do more than just write words, but you need to connect with the readers, hook them and pull them in and hold them so close they don’t want you to let go.
I believe all action, all the time, sucks.
I believe we should look at writing as the art form it truly is and maybe color outside the lines a bit.
There are too many writers competing against one another and being mean to each other and flat out cheating and stealing from each other. There are far too many good old boy clubs where you get in because you are friends, even if your stuff sucks.
There are too many writers who would rather bash another writer because he or she does things differently than them.
The reading population has dwindled over the years. It’s not just that there is an abundance of other things to keep people occupied. There is also an abundance of really bad books out there, and readers have gotten tired of purchasing stuff that sucks. We’re losing them every single day.
And it is our own fault.
Yeah, full circle and all that jazz.
If we, as writers, were honest with ourselves and the readers, we know when we are actually trying to tell a great story or trying to make a dollar or four. We know when we are doing something wrong. We know when we are hiding something that could help others. We know when our words suck, and when we just throw them together.
But wait. Sometimes our friends know we suck. They opt for destructive praise instead of constructive criticism. A bloated ego based on false statements doesn’t help someone get better when they need to.
Too many people don’t care.
It’s your life. Own it.
This is where the rubber meets the road. It’s your life. Not someone else’s. Don’t blame someone for your shortcomings and failures. Don’t blame someone else for you not succeeding. If you can take credit for the things you do right, you can take credit for the things you do wrong.
Own. Your. Life.
You only get one shot at this game, why not be the best you can be?
Own your writing. Make it yours and then show the world what you’ve created. Be proud of what you accomplished.
I told you I had something to say and it might be long.
So, until we meet again my friends, be kind to one another.