Are you feeling discouraged?
Is your writing career just not taking off the way you'd dreamed it would?
Yup, it happens to the best of us.
And get ready for the most depressing thing that will ever happen to you as a writer.
It can happen to you no matter where you are in your career.
Even if you've been published before.
Even if you've sold a ton of books.
Even if you adore them; heck, even if readers adore them.
Here it is, the very worst, most devastating thing that can happen to you:
Good, honest, reader feedback. Critiques from true friends and writing companions. It can be devastating. It can hurt, not just a little, but a lot.
When I read feedback on my stories, I can’t help it, I’m flooded with feelings of inadequacy, a devastating inner monologue that goes a little like this…
I suck. My story sucks. Nobody liked it (even if they explicitly SAY they liked it! That just means they're lying.). Nobody likes me. My writing is lousy; the story is stupid; it will never succeed. I should cling with all my strength to my day job. I am just not cut out to be a writer. Even if I have succeeded before, I have cut off more than I can chew with this particular piece of crap. I’d better just throw it away, forget about it, never look at it again. Never write a word again.
How does it feel when you submit a story for critiquing?
I don't know about you, but when I submit a new story to my regular critique group, I'm scared. This is my baby, and I've nurtured it, grown it from the merest twinkle in my eye into something real and sold and beautiful and precious. And then I hand it over to them.
"Don't kill it," I want to whisper. "Don't drop it. Don't hurt it. Bring it back safe and sound."
But they never do, of course. Like all honest friends, like all critique-group members ought to do, they are not kind and gentle to my story AT ALL.
Oh, I mean what I say about "sandwich" critiques, and everybody in my group is nice about respecting this and adds a few good things at the beginning and a few good things at the end. But overall... this is a pretty rotten sandwich.
Want to know what I, a professional writer, do when I receive critiques on my stories?
I ignore them. And I suggest that you do the same.
When your story is new, it's too fragile, too perfect, too precious.
I, for one, cannot be objective when we're talking about a new story, with fresh critiques. I have to let it sit and, like wine, which I'm told is sometimes too harsh to drink when it's brand-new, eventually the critiques, sitting on my hard drive, start to mellow. The critiques mellow, the story mellows, and I mellow... or forget, which is kind of the same thing.
That's when I'm ready to read them.
At that point, I approach my story with fresh eyes, and can start to read through the critiques objectively.
Maybe you’re different. But somehow, I don’t think so. Somehow, I think this something most writers have in common.
As Jack Nicholson might say…
WE can’t handle the truth. Together, all of us.
And that’s okay. That’s just how we’re built. Writers are only human, and it’s natural to love our own stories to bits when they’re new and fragile. As long as we can face those critiques someday. That’s when we turn around and do what it takes to make our stories as great as they could be.
Just not right away. Sometime later… when it hurts a little less.
And remember – you’re not the only one going through it. I’d love to hear how you handle feedback and what helps take away the sting. Let me know in the comments!