Developing a Thick Skin as a Writer – Have I Finally Done It?

 

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Writers are continually told that they must develop a thick skin or they’ll never make it. This is true, but it’s far easier said than done. When I first starting writing, I never used to send out my screenplays or novels for any kind of review because it was too scary.

Big mistake.

The biggest, in fact. If I had only one single piece of advice I could give any writer, it would be to always send your writing out for beta reads/ critiques. Seriously. You’ll shave ten years off of how long it will take you become a professional writer. You learn more in with one critique of your work than you will by reading ten writing books. (Read the books, too, though.)

Finally, I started sending out my writing for review and it was very difficult. It’s hard to have your work torn to pieces, but it really is for your own damn good. This is particularly true of self-publishers. If you’re going to publish your work for the world to see, you’re better off having people tear your work apart first, thus giving you a chance to fix it before it goes public!

In the past, I would really stress out over receiving a review. I’d wait, nervously, for days and sometimes weeks for the review to come in. I would freak out just thinking about it. I stopped checking my email after 7pm each night when I knew a review would be forthcoming soon, because if it was bad, I would be too stressed to sleep. I knew I needed time to deal with the review. Time to be upset, deal with the emotions, and finally feel better. The second the review popped up in my inbox, I had to read it. I had to get it over with. I have terrible, awful, no-good luck with timing on this issue. Inevitably, the worse the review, the more people would be around when I got it. I got one such rejection on Christmas Eve and had my entire family around. That was fun, having to pretend my heart hadn’t just been ripped out. Often, my kids are around me, yammering, vying for my attention when I’m just trying to quickly do the “how bad is it” review. Still, I couldn’t “not” look. I just had to know.

Right now I have several chapters of my novel, SINGLES VS. BRIDEZILLAS, out for review with two beta readers. One came back last week with her critique. Just yesterday, I got around to reading it.

Wow.

That surprised me. I knew the review was sitting in my inbox but it took me almost a week to even look at it. It’s not that I don’t care about the review. I do, and it’s still scary to a degree. I guess it’s just that I’ve been doing this for a long time and I’ve gotten good reviews, awful reviews, mean reviews, glowing reviews. If it’s a great review – wonderful! Bring on the Schnapps. If it’s bad – terrible even – I know I can fix the story. I’ve done it many times before.

The hardest part of getting a review is reading it for the first time. It’s hard to see your work torn apart, your flaws exposed. It gets better when you start actually doing the rewrites. You’ve dealt with whatever emotions you had and you’ve moved on. The best part is stepping back and seeing how much better the writing has become since you’ve fixed all the bad stuff. That “Wow, that IS better!” moment. You can be so much more confident releasing your work to the world since several people have already told you what sucks and how to fix it.

It just seems weird to me that it doesn’t upset me as much. It’s a good thing, just surprising.

Don’t be concerned if you still get upset about bad reviews. I still do, too, it just doesn’t bother me as much as it used to.

Remember, your writing is important to you. If you get upset about bad reviews, it means you care.
– Linda Fausnet 

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On Dealing With Critiques and Reviews – The Road to Self-Publishing

This article is part of my ongoing Wannabe Pride Self-Publishing blog series in preparation for publishing my novel, QUEEN HENRY, in July of 2014. Proceeds from this novel will go to the Harvey Milk Foundation.

49 Weeks Until Publication

It’s never easy dealing with critiques and reviews, but I’ve developed a system for both. And yes, there is a distinction between a critique and a review. A critique is when you actively seek out criticism, either via paid editors or unpaid volunteer beta readers. A critique is supposed to tell you what you need to fix before you publish or submit anywhere. A review is when readers provide a critique of what’s already completed and published.  Both critiques and reviews can be difficult to deal with and each require different coping mechanisms. At least for me they do.

When getting a critique, it’s important to remember that you are the only one who is going to see this review of your work. Unless you blog about it like I am wont to do from time to time…. With a critique, no matter how bad it is, there’s still time to fix what’s wrong with your work. That’s the whole point. Isn’t it better to be told that your slip is showing or you have toilet paper stuck to your shoe BEFORE you make your grand entrance to the party?

Anyway, critiques and reviews can suck. Sure, they can also be good, but do you really need my advice on how to deal with a good review? Didn’t think so.  Okay. I have a simple three-step  process for dealing with critiques. A critique is something that you actually asked for, so you’re at least somewhat prepared because you know its coming. The first step is to read the review as quickly as possible. The first time I read it is always the scariest. It doesn’t matter if it’s good or not. For me, it’s an awful moment when I see that the critique has popped up in my inbox. It’s that heart-pounding, adrenaline-pumping moment of pure liquid fear. It’s the “Hi, this is your doctor calling and I have your test results back” moment. Even if it’s good news, it’s gonna take a while for that initial terror to dissipate. I skim the critique as fast as humanly possible. This is the “Okay, how bad is it?” read.

My initial response is usually defensiveness. No way! That’s not right! That’s not what I was saying! She doesn’t get me at all!

Guess what? If your editor or beta guru doesn’t get it, your readers probably won’t either. This is what you paid an editor and/or harassed your writer friend to do. You wanted them to tell the truth.

After my breathing calms down a bit, then I read the review again. This second step is known as the “Okay, what is this review really saying?” step. The critique is usually not as bad as I feared it would be. On the second read, I can start to get the gist of what the reviewer is really saying about what’s right and wrong with the work. What are the major flaws and how bad are they really?

The three read is actually kind of fun. By the third time, I’ve chilled out considerably. By that read, my mind is already spinning with ideas on how to fix what’s wrong with the manuscript. For me, writing is hard work but it’s also fun. Once I start putting a plan into action on how to incorporate these changes, I feel better. I’m back in my comfort zone. I’m a writer. I got this.

I usually do the three reads all at once. I mean, like immediately. BAM-BAM-BAM. It always reminds me of that episode of The Simpsons where Homer believes he’s dying and goes through the stages of coping in rapid succession, from anger to fear to bargaining to acceptance. He starts by yelling at the doctor and ends up reasoning that we all have to go sometimes. It takes about fifteen seconds.

This whole coping-with-critique deal probably takes about 10-15 minutes, but it’s an awfully stressful quarter of an hour. As I write this, I’m still waiting on the critique for my manuscript. It stresses me out just thinking about it, but I have to remind myself that, unlike a Few Good Men, I CAN handle the truth. I WANT the truth. I NEED the truth. This is not a game to me. I’m really going to publish this book and I need it to be the best it can possibly be. This is my favorite story that I’ve ever written. First as a screenplay and then as a novel that I tried to get traditionally published, the rejections for QUEEN HENRY always hurt more than for anything else I’ve ever written.  I waited a week to send QUEEN HENRY to the editors after my last edit because I knew I was way too close to the story to handle a critique right away. I had just read through the whole book making minor edits myself. I’m so close to these characters that I swear I feel like I’ve experienced everything they went through. Right after reading it, I am at my most vulnerable and least objective. I told myself not to listen to any of the usual songs I listen to while working on this novel while I waited for the critique. I needed to give myself some emotional space, some distance from it, before it gets torn apart by the critique.

But I didn’t follow my own advice and I’ve still been listening to my own personal QUEEN HENRY soundtrack as usual when I’m out for my daily walk. There’s really no protecting my heart when it comes to this story. My heart’s been broken by critiques of it before and I suppose it might be again.

But I know that it’s worth it. When you love something so much, it’s called passion. Great passion brings both incredible joy and intense sorrow. That whole better-than-not-having-loved-at-all kind of deal. I know the risks and I know they’re worth taking.

So that’s my philosophy on dealing with critiques.

Reviews can hurt just as much but the process for dealing with them is less complicated. Reviews come after the project is a done deal. The book is already published or the movie has already been released. It’s too late for changes and hindsight is always crystal clear. My plan for dealing with reviews after publication is as follows: for the good ones, I will print them out and save them in a binder. I’ll probably read them so often that I’ll be able to quote them verbatim. As for the bad ones, I’ll read them once for the “how bad is it?” read and then I’ll read it a second time to see what they’re really saying. I don’t want to totally ignore them altogether because there could be something I could learn for future use. For bad reviews, two times is enough. If it’s especially nasty, one time is enough. The truth is, some people are just jerks. It’s never worth dwelling on the negative, even if you can learn something. Learn, then move on as much as you can.

I guess passion in writing is kind of like passion in marriage. You really do have to take it for better or for worse.

It really is better than no passion at all.

Wish me luck. The critique is coming any day.

– Linda Fausnet

Terror at 308 Pages – The Road to Self-Publishing

This article is part of my ongoing Wannabe Pride Self-Publishing blog series in preparation for publishing my novel, QUEEN HENRY, in July of 2014. Proceeds from this novel will go to the Harvey Milk Foundation.

 50 Weeks Until Publication

Forget monsters, zombies and vampires. The only true terror writers face is sending their work out for editing critiques. It is by far the worst, scariest, most awful part of being a writer. And that’s why so many writers simply skip that step. It is absolutely the hardest part of being a writer, but it’s also the most important.

I’ll say that again, people.

Getting your work critiqued is the most important part of being a writer. It is quite simply the difference between possible success and certain failure.

No one can guarantee a successful book because it’s always a crapshoot to figure out what’s going to catch on and be popular. However, I can guarantee your book won’t sell if you don’t bother to have anybody critique before you publish it.

You are always far too close to your own material to be able to judge it accurately.  What’s in your mind and heart does not always translate to the page. You know what you mean to say and how you want your characters to be, but that doesn’t mean your work will necessarily come across that way. In earlier drafts, my main character was coming across as too mean, which is not what I wanted at all. His “tragic flaw” was his homophobia, but other than he was a pretty swell guy. After a critique, I had to soften him up a bit in the first chapter so readers would be able to root for him.

If I had just one piece of advice for all the Wannabes out there, it would be to seek out criticism. It’s not just a cliché to say that you will learn more from failure than you will ever learn from success. You will learn more from having someone knowledgeable look over your work and point out the flaws than you could learn from a million how-to books, blogs, or any other source. It’s the actual DOING of the work and seeing where you went wrong that helps you learn.  I can promise you that if you are willing to take that incredibly difficult step of putting your work out there to be torn apart, thus giving you a chance to fix it before you publish, you will be LEAPS AND BOUNDS above other writers. I am constantly amazed at the self-published work that I see that has such great potential, but clearly was never seen by an editor. There could be a great story there somewhere, but it gets lost in a sea of grammatical errors, too much exposition/backstory, repetitive paragraphs, and stilted dialogue. One self-published writer told me how brave she thought I was for sending my work to literary agents since I was trying to get traditionally published. She told me she would be too scared to ever do that.

But she PUBLISHED her book.

She wouldn’t send her work to be critiqued privately, but instead, she PUBLISHED it for the whole world to see. It was a shame, too, because I truly believe her work had potential. Had she had it edited, it might have sold much better and gotten better reviews. If you publish work that you think is good but no one else has read, the best-case scenario is that you’ll sell a few copies of your work to family, friends, and other writers but you’ll never break out into the general reading public. The worst-case scenario is that you will get public reviews from readers who will tell you the truth about your work. The painful truth that a paid editor would have told you in private.

You MUST go through the difficult process of having your work critiqued if you truly want a chance at success. HEAR IT, LEARN IT, LIVE IT.

It won’t be easy. My motto is – Don’t Be Fearless, Be Brave.  Fearless is the absence of fear. Brave means you’re scared and you do it anyway.

I sent my novel, my baby, my favorite piece of writing that I’ve ever done, to two editors this week. I want them to tell me the truth about what’s wrong with it so I can fix it.

And I’m really scared.

But I’m being brave.

QUEEN HENRY has already gone through a LOT of changes over the years in screenplay form. When I first wrote it, I loved the story. And it was awful. But I didn’t know it. I sent it through Triggerstreet, which was a peer-sharing script site where other writers review your work. It got a bad review. I ignored it. I thought he was wrong. It got another bad review. I thought that one was wrong, too. Then I got a third one. It was bad, too. I’ll never forget it. I had the stomach flu and was horribly queasy and felt terrible, and then in comes this third bad review. I just did not have the physical or emotional strength to cope with it. It was terrible.

That was the most painful moment I’d ever endured as a writer. I’ve never, ever thought about quitting but I very clearly remember thinking, “If I wasn’t a writer, I wouldn’t be in this pain right now.”

In that moment, though, I actually had the maturity and foresight to realize how important these reviews were. It was definitely an Oprah-esque A-HA moment. Prior to this script, I don’t think I’d ever sent anything out for review before. I was like the writers I complain about now. I lived in my own happy world where all my characters and stories were perfect so long as nobody critiqued them. After these reviews, I knew I was at a crossroads. I could give up on this story that I loved but was clearly awful, or I could work harder than I ever had in my life to make it right. I chose the latter. I loved that story. I still love that story. So I fixed it. After LOTS of rewrites, I started getting good reviews and QUEEN HENRY ended up being a finalist in a small but national contest.

There’s no way to describe how amazing that feeling was. Seeing the title QUEEN HENRY in that list of Finalists. It was neat to see my name next it I guess, but seeing the title in print was way cooler.

That never, ever, could have happened without those critiques and the pain I endured. Rejections of this story ALWAYS hurt more because I love it so much. That’s not gonna change now. I’ve fixed so much with this story that I hope it works well in novel form, but I’m leaving nothing to chance. That’s why I’m paying for the opportunity to have my heart broken if these editors tell me it’s awful.

If that happens, then I’ll just have to work as hard as I can to make it right.

I still love this story far too much to do anything less.