This resonates with me on a personal level. What I bring to the table supersedes the rest, for good or for ill.
It’s also useful in my life as a writer. It’s why there are so many opinions and reactions to various books, writing styles, themes, subjects etc. What is moving, meaningful, and amazing to one may seem trite, pedantic, or corny to another.
As a writer, it’s far easier to remember and be affected by criticism – by those who didn’t like one’s work – than by those who offered positive feedback, review, or praise. This quote helps me to keep it all in perspective.
ALL reactions to creative work are valid…but because of the intimate and subjective nature of any creative work, those reactions, positive or negative, often speak more about the person reading/viewing/hearing the work than the work itself.
When a review seems firmly based on the book – characters, plot, setting, background etc – it’s still true. Have you ever seen the reviews on amazon and the like where a reviewer who gave a blistering, one-star review is questioned by others who liked the work with something along the lines of, “Are we even talking about the same book – and did you even read this one?” It’s all in each individual reader’s perspective.
When the reviews are clearly personal – whether sweetly gushing or sarcastically slashing – having little to do about the work itself but seeming to be more emotional, the quote above is doubly true.
In the 13+ years since my first book was released, I’ve had reviews of all kinds, and it takes a while to develop the thicker skin required of anyone who hopes to have a long-term writing career…especially when it can seem as if those with negative reactions are the most vocal. But it’s a necessary skill to cultivate if you intend to put your work out there for public consumption.
Not everyone will like your baby. Some will even call it “ugly”. But others will adore it and treasure it. It’s all part of a writing career, and it’s a good idea to try to cultivate a healthy perspective about it. 🙂
3 thoughts on “Cultivating a Healthy P.O.V.”
I have a question along these lines. I hope you can help. Here’s the backstory to help:
I was in a writing group for 4 years. I finished a novel , pitched it, and had an agent interested. In follow up ( line editing, etc) , I worked closely with the group leader ( Amherst trained and Masters trained CLRA). She referred to me as a friend and a student. She was aware of some significant health issues I dealt with on and off over the four years.
The novel wasn’t picked up, but I kept taking classes. I stopped when the following happened:
Her one on one critiques were mixed with comments like, ” You need to deal with your issues about death.” ” I’ve done everything I can for you.” You make the same mistakes over and over again.” This was the same person who also pointed out I’ve had more published than any of her students.
I’ve had essays put in nursing magazines, our city newspaper, short stories in two or three places, and am most proud of getting a story in the Bellevue Literary Review.
It was starting to feel like a toxic relationship. I’ve been winging it on my own for over a year now.
Was I being to thin skinned? The writing community feels so small in a city sometimes. The idea of bumping into her makes me anxious. Is it me? I am my worst critic and sometimes feel that , if I am in a group, I will write less because I am trying to hard to please everyone.
This is a long note. I understand if for one reason or another, you can’t comment on it. What I’ve shared are only a few examples where I felt like a teen who couldn’t do anything right to please their parent.
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Sorry – I just saw this now.
I don’t think you were being thin-skinned in the situation as you described it. I can understand how it began to feel toxic. It’s very, very difficult to navigate meaningful critique with someone who lets personal commentary seep in. IMHO, literary critique should be kept to that alone…the nitty-gritty of the story, whether it’s flow, grammar, plot, world-building, characterization, style, continuity, etc. Personal comments about you as a person don’t belong.
If she felt you were “making the same mistakes” over and over, she could have found a much more diplomatic way to convey that to you…or declined to do more one-on-one critiques with you, because she felt there wasn’t anything more SHE could offer YOU.
I don’t know your situation in-depth of course, but I will say that I’ve heard several horror stories from writing friends wherein a critique partner turns catty or seems to offer veiled sarcasm in “helpful” critique etc. Often there is a dose of jealousy going on…or something to do with the critiquer, and not the work being critiqued or the writer of it. Your situation sounds like that to me.
How has it been, going on your own? I think that was a smart move on your part. There comes a time when you have to trust your own inner voice. Too many cooks spoil the broth, it’s true.
I, too, write completely autonomously and have since my second book…and even then, I only got feedback or critique on a few scenes. I DO use beta readers when my book is complete. But I think there comes a time for every writer where he/she is wise to cultivate an inner sense of self…a protection and awareness of one’s own voice. And that means shifting away from the use of critique groups except in the case of specific issues that may be stumping you, where you can turn to a trusted one or two people to get their take on the issue.
To some perhaps it can seem cocky, but I always believed that if you don’t trust what you’re doing and go ahead and write – once you’re experienced enough to do so – from a sense of sureness and confidence, then you risk the chance of your voice/themes/style etc being muddied by the POV of the critique partners working with you.
Even when I wrote for HarperCollins, I valued my editor, but I had autonomy. She was also a trained professional who never crossed personal boundaries and made it completely clear that she trusted and valued my writing etc and that anything she asked for in a revision letter (which could be seven-eight pages long, with all the feedback) were only suggestions and not commands. I was free to keep or change the story as I saw fit. MY name was going on the cover. If I ever turned anything in that was so off the mark that she couldn’t go forward, she’d have let me know and we’d have come to some understanding or I would have had to walk away.
If you run into this woman, I’d just be pleasant and neutral. As long as things didn’t end with a big scene, it’s no problem to say, if she’s forward enough to comment on it, that you felt it was time to transition into working more autonomously, once you were more confident in your skills. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that! 🙂
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Thank you so much for your input. I will continue on my own and seek out critique as needed from a new source.
I do miss the camaraderie of writing groups. As a Christmas gift to myself , I’ve registered for a writing conference in Plantation, Florida.
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