It is a common misconception that constructive criticism is easier to take than unfoundedly mean spirited criticism. More often than not, this isn’t the case. While it can be fairly easy to ignore and move on when criticism doesn’t resonate, when it rings true, pain really sets in. It’s hard to see your reflection and dislike what you find. And when someone else holds the mirror, it’s even worse. But I found that I can be resilient in the face of such genuinely painful critiques.
Last week, in my writing group, I discovered just how much the truth can hurt. I’ve been working so hard on my second draft of my novel The Particulars, and I really thought I was making good progress. So when it came my turn to submit to my weekly writing critique group, I was excited to hear some feedback. My group usually loves my writing, so I was caught completely off guard. Though their critique of my opening chapters was very constructive, it certainly wasn’t favorable.
It was rough, listening to nearly two hours of how my writing wasn’t working, so when I finally got off the Skype call, I broke down. I cried more than I had in a long time. I was just so frustrated and disappointed in my writing and in myself. I felt stupid for thinking it was good when it wasn’t. And the worse part was I really didn’t think I knew how to fix it.
Once the tears stopped flowing, though, I had a choice. I could choose to be resilient in the face of a difficult situation. Here’s some tips that helped me:
- Don’t read into it.
The biggest mistake you can make when dealing with a harsh critique is to read into what it means about who you are as a person. I could have told myself that because the opening of my book wasn’t working, that I was a terrible writer or that I’d never be published, but there’s nothing productive that will come from thinking those things. Besides those things aren’t even true.
- Get right back on the horse.
The very next morning after the critique, I forced myself to start again because I knew the longer I waited the harder it would be to start again. So don’t wait. No time like the present.
- Look for the opportunity.
I realized I could choose to be burned by this critique, or I could rise for the ashes a stronger writer. This was my chance to grow and improve, if I choose to use it that way.
- Start fresh.
Since my writing wasn’t very effective in my first draft, I gave myself permission to come at it from a different perspective and tried something totally new. I scrapped the first three chapters of my novel completely and started over from scratch.
- Don’t give up.
The only way you can really lose in these situations is to give up. There would be an upside, if I stuck with it.
So I rewrote my first three chapters, and what I came up with was so much better than what I had. At least I was pretty sure it was. But to make certain I had to submit myself to one more critique. I asked one of the group members to read it again for me, and to my relief, she absolutely loved my new direction. And the fact that I was able to do so despite my pain and sweat and tears, made the victory all the sweeter.
Here’s the new opening paragraphs of The Particulars as it stands now:
Veril Maloit picked up his manuscript and dumped it into the trash. It was no use. It was no good. He was no good. He kicked the overflowing waste bin. There was no evil worse than writers block. He glared at his desk. It looked so empty without his novel cluttering it up. Two hundred thousand words in, and he didn’t even know what it was about yet. What a waste of trees.
He took a deep breath and gagged. What was that strange odor? By the smell of it someone had just run over a skunk with a truck of herbal medicinal supplies. He coughed and pinched his nose closed with two fingers.
My High School Graduation (2001)
Last night I went to my ten year high school reunion, and it has put me in a reflective mood. It was fun (though somewhat strange) to see everyone after ten years apart. I was impressed by how friendly everyone was and how genuinely happy everyone seemed to reconnect with everyone. It has me thinking though about my seventeen year old self and who I thought I’d become verus who I’ve actually become.
When I was seventeen I had a lot of expectations for myself and everyone. The other day on Twitter I mentioned that I was “Trying not to compare myself to the me my 17 year old self thought I’d be by now.” My friend (@nerdgoddess) replied, “Don’t worry. I don’t think any of us live up to our teenage expectations.” I think this must be true. But I sure had a lot of them at that age. At seventeen, I thought that by ten years later I’d have made my first film, have a husband or at least a serious boyfriend, and be living on my own. None of these predictions were accurate.
At first I was feeling kind of bummed about what my seventeen year old self would have thought of me now, but on further reflection I’m really rather happy with where my life is at as unpredictable as the last ten years have been. It hasn’t all been great; don’t get me wrong. No one predicts or wants to think they are going to end up with a chronic illness. But there have also been so many wonderful things that have come of the last ten years of my life.
When I was seventeen, I was headed to the University of Southern California to study film. I wanted to be a director. Or at least I thought I did. And although I’m sure I could have found happiness pursuing that line of work, my real love is for the written word – specifically the novel. At seventeen, I never would have considered that I’d have it in me to write a whole rough draft of a novel by the age of twenty-seven or that I would be doing freelance graphic and web design. Or that I’d be designing Alternate Reality Games.
When I was seventeen, I was in the middle of a serious depression. My perfectionism consumed my life and made me miserable. Thanks to meds and therapy and a lot of hard work, I have found so much happiness in the last several years. And that is something I certainly didn’t expect at the time. In fact, at the time I didn’t even know what it was to be happy.
When I was seventeen, I was essentially an agnostic Jew searching for some meaning and connection to something larger. I NEVER would have dreamed in a million years that I would have found it in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. But a little over a year ago I did. And becoming Mormon has brought me a level of joy, comfort, and perspective on life I never anticipated was possible.
The last ten years have been a roller-coaster ride that my seventeen year old self never would have imagined. Sometimes the sudden drops and loops make me want to throw up, but all in all I wouldn’t get off the ride for anything.
I share a special relationship with my mom, but it hasn’t always been that way, and it hasn’t always been easy.
Growing up I didn’t feel I was loved unconditionally by either of my parents, but especially not by my mom. It’s strange looking back at how I felt because it is so clear to me now that my mom completely adored me and doted upon me. At the time though, I took her tendency to be critical to be a reflection on me when it was really just my mom’s struggle with anxiety showing itself.
My mom worked full time when I was very young, but she would come home from work and play with me for hours before I went to bed even though she must have been exhausted. She read to me endlessly. I attribute my love of reading and creative writing to all the hours I spent curled up in her lap as she read me picture books and eventually entire novels.
My mom, sister, and me on a car trip.
I consider myself so fortunate that she always was supportive of all my creative endeavors. She praised my writing, drove me to all my theater rehearsals, and supported my decision to go to Film School.
My mom created amazing childhood memories for me from the little things like the home cooked meals we always shared to the family vacations we took. We drove up the coast of California over two weeks, went to places like Mexico, New York, Hawaii, and Canada. Every trip was a success because of my mom’s gift for planning.
I admire her other gifts as well. She is an accomplished architect and an amazing crafter. She paints, knits, crochets, and sews. She painted me the most spectacular secretary desk. It is one of my most favorite treasures.
Most of all I admire my mom’s strength and perseverance. When my parent’s separated after over 25 years of marriage, she went back to work for the first time since my early childhood. She also took on caring for me, her chronically ill daughter, both physically and financially.
On my 26th Birthday.
I cannot count the hours she’s spent being there for me through the hospitalizations and other aspects of my illness. It was rough on our relationship at first. I had been a fiercely independent person and had a difficult time accepting help from her graciously. She wasn’t used to giving up her freedom to be there for me constantly. But in the end it brought us closer together as we grew to really value each others company and spending time together in every context.
I am so blessed and grateful for my mom! I only hope that someday I can be as wonderful a mom to my children as she has been to me.