The hardest thing about being a creative person is subjectivity. You pour your entire soul into a piece of work; a few people will love it, many will be indifferent, and others will take your submission as an invitation to make you feel like a wart on a worm in the eye of a newt.
Last week, I offered my budding query letter up for review on a writers’ blog, out there in front for all the Fiction University blog world to see. (A query letter is a one-page description of a book with a bit of a bio that a writer submits to an agent when seeking representation & a book deal.) I took an entire week to get up the courage to read it. And I got feedback. Helpful feedback. But even though it was immensely helpful, it was still hard as hell to hear what wasn’t working. As I finish my novel, look for an agent, a publisher, and read online reviews once the book is published, I know the scary specter of rejection will be a frequent companion.
I was a Writing Arts major in college. We submitted our work for critique and the students read their comments out loud in class. Apart from getting advice on being a better writer, I think this process was also useful to prepare us for the rigors of submission. I mean, it’s hard enough to submit a paper in class and get it back all marked up in red, but to have those inadequacies trotted out in front of the entire class? Yikes!! I’ve heard even established authors still get the butterflies in the stomach when they submit work, so I’m guessing that nothing prepares you entirely. But I believe you can learn how to turn that anxiety into good.
Because it’s that critique, if we can hear it and not let it discourage us, that makes us better, and anything that makes us better at what we love is worthwhile. Every endeavor has a learning curve, in fact Anders Ericsson, a Florida State University psychologist, posited that it takes 10,000 hours to become an expert. But it’s not just about repetition, according to Ericsson,
“You don’t get benefits from mechanical repetition, but by adjusting your execution over and over to get closer to your goal.”
“You have to tweak the system by pushing,” he adds, “allowing for more errors at first as you increase your limits.”
Ericsson argues the secret of winning is “deliberate practice,”
(From “Focus: The Hidden Driver of Excellence.” Copyright 2013 Daniel Goleman., https://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/10/08/success-book_n_4059506.html)
In today’s sound-bite society, having the patience to work at something, to hone it, is challenging. I want to be a perfect writer and I want it NOW! I’m thankful that I’ve been through this process before, as an artist. I discovered pyrography — “writing with fire” also known as wood-burning — in 2011, and this was one of the first pieces I burned. It honestly isn’t all that good.
After a few years, I was still insecure about my work. Many times when I sat down to create, I asked myself, “What the hell am I thinking, I’m no artist!” In fact, there were at least two pieces where I realized I was in over my head and had NO idea how to work through a perspective or shading issue. Those pieces sat for two years before I developed the skills to complete them.
One fortuitous day I found this quote by Ira Glass:
Well, I’m a fighter, that’s for sure. So, I dedicated myself to studying drawing, shading, and even took an oil painting class. Seven years later, I can say I’m very pleased with how far my pyrography has come. I no longer trace my outlines, I hand-draw everything. And I feel comfortable working through the sticky parts that just aren’t working. My latest piece was so much fun, and such a challenge with all the negative spaces and depth perception issues, but I’m ecstatic with the result:
So, I’ve done this before. And because I’m a “Jill of all Trades, Master of None”, there can be no doubt that I’ll continue to immerse myself in a gazillion creative endeavors, and will have to continue to strive, work, think, and learn.
When I submitted my query letter, there was a section for readers responses. All of them were gentle, appropriate, and helpful. Except for the one commenter, when asked if they’d ask for the full manuscript after reading the query letter who responded, “No. If I was 14 years old, maybe.” Dude. Pay attention. It’s a Young Adult book!
There will be people who love my work, people who hate it, people who don’t care, and people, like the commenter above, who just love to troll. I hope to take the constructive criticism with aplomb, to take rave reviews with humility, and to remember that we all have our issues. I know I’ve been less than civil to people when I was having a bad day, so my goal is to accept those crappy comments with grace, and sympathy, in case that person was just having a bad day too.
Don’t let the haters get you down. Keep on creating, keep on improving, and never let go of that drive to improve, because that’s what makes great art.
Have you experienced critique anxiety? What helped you through it?