Criticism: Every Writer’s Nightmare

I’m sure most of you will agree with me when I say that writing a story is just like having a child. It’s fine when you’re writing it because you don’t have to let anyone else see- or criticise- it until you’re absolutely sure it’s ready. Then, as soon as you type the final finishing touch, it becomes like your child’s first day at school. You have to let it go out into the big wide world, all on its own, for people to make their own judgements on it. I’m a fairly thick-skinned person, but even I will admit that the thought of someone I don’t know reading the story I’ve lovingly crafted and prepared for the past nine months scares the hell out of me.

Last night, I experienced my first taste of criticism. I was unsure if two sections were working together, so I passed it to someone whose opinion I trust (they’re an avid reader of a wide range of genres) and asked them to take a look at it. This was a mistake for two reasons- one, it was late at night and the person was just about to go to bed and two, the story had moved on dramatically from the last time they’d read it! The person said they didn’t like the sections I’d showed them and I was crushed. The part in question was one of my favourites (yes, I know having favourite parts is dangerous, especially when it comes to culling them!) and I’d originally felt it was particularly well-written. The person then said they felt they would like to read from where they’d last left off in order to fully understand it, because the writing looked good. This made me feel slightly better but I spent at least half an hour after the person went to bed analysing the section thoroughly and making edits.

What followed was a partly sleepless night wondering if the rest of my story was as good as people have said it is. Were they just saying that to be nice, or did the parts I’d shown them actually have merits? It all sounds very dramatic but it made me wonder whether I would actually be able to take people who didn’t know me personally criticising my work. Not everyone will like what I’ve written and I can fully accept that. What I was worrying about was one day seeing the dreaded one-star review on Amazon, followed by a scathing attack on the story I’ve worked on for the best part of this year. The thought that someone could tear it apart was actually quite disturbing.

However, I awoke (very early) this morning with a thought. Having your work critiqued is part and parcel of being a writer (obviously!) and there’s no point in worrying yourself over it. Since I can remember, I’ve been uncomfortable with people reading my writing in case they don’t like it, but this is something I can and must get over. When the time comes to submit it to agents, it’s inevitable that it will be read by people and like I said, not everyone will like it and I don’t doubt some people will feel the need to make perhaps unnecessary critiques on it via Amazon or other sites. However, others will like it and these are the people who matter. It’s impossible to write a book that everyone on the planet will like, so there’s no point in trying to appeal to every single person. Different readers have different tastes. I, for example, don’t enjoy historical novels. Others can’t get enough of them. What I’ve learned from my first taste of criticism is that although it’s inevitable in writing, it’s absolutely nothing to worry about. If you feel in yourself your novel is as good as it can possibly be (it’s impossible to write the perfect book- believe me, I’ve tried!) then that’s what matters.

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3 thoughts on “Criticism: Every Writer’s Nightmare

  1. Joanne Phillips says:

    Ah, Lynsey, I feel your pain. You’ve come through it really well, and you don’t need me to tell you that this is just one person’s opinion, and although it’s valid to the extent that you asked them what they thought and they told you, it doesn’t make it ‘true’. One of the hardest things about putting your writing out there is that some people will love it, and some people will hate it, and there seems to be no logic to why the bad reviews are never outweighed by the good. Read these blog posts if you get chance, where I went through exactly the same thing 🙂
    http://joannegphillips.wordpress.com/2012/03/26/how-to-develop-a-thick-skin/
    http://joannegphillips.wordpress.com/2012/02/20/not-all-reviews-are-equal/

    Jo x

    • lynseyjames says:

      Thanks Jo I will definitely take a look at those posts 🙂

      It’s hard when someone doesn’t like it. The person has since revised their opinion by reading a bit further back but it just made me think of all those people who won’t enjoy the book and it is disheartening. My new focus is on those who will enjoy it. I’m hoping it appeals to a broad market and knowing there will be people who will like it makes me even more determined to get it finished and out there. I’ve had great feedback for it so far and hopefully this continues.

      Once again thank you for your lovely comment 🙂

      Lynsey x

  2. Áine Warren says:

    Having heard people ruthlessly slam some of my favourite novels, I at least have this concept down in theory. You’re absolutely right, criticism is always going to be inevitable! I guess the trick is knowing when you really do need to make serious changes, and when it’s just a matter of taste.

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