Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Ask Lila: The Feedback Blues

This week we've received a question from a reader who wishes to remain anonymous. To make it more fun, we've given him/her a nickname. Insulted in Seattle. Aren't we original?

Hey guys,
Not sure I feel comfortable having my name out there, so if you could make it anonymous, that would be great!

How do you avoid taking criticism too personally? I've recently received a lot of feedback on my WIP that is mostly constructive and often accurate, but I can't help but feel insulted. Instead of making me want to work harder, I read comments that make me want to give up. How can I work through this?

Thanks ahead of time for the help,

Insulted in Seattle

Dear Insulted in Seattle,
We feel your pain. Writing is quite possibly one of the most subjective businesses around. Just think about queries. When we sent out ten, we definitely heard a few, "not for me's," some almost instantaneously. But on the other hand, we earned a few requests and eventually landed an agent. But as tempting as it was to send some bat-shit crazy email to all of the agents who ever rejected us saying something along the lines of, "booyah!" we held back. Why, you ask? Take a seat.

We try our damnedest to integrate something we like to call, WWSD (What Would Stacey Do?) into our daily lives as much as humanly possible. Stacey is the youngest Roecker sister and is quite possibly the most laid-back person on the planet. She rolls through life letting bad news bounce right off of her. We attribute this particular quirk to years of abuse at the hands of her evil older sisters. Let's just say we gave her the gift of thick skin.


The fact is, Stacey doesn't let anything bother her and she never takes herself too seriously. Combine the two together and you've got a recipe for success. Stacey not only has her own stationary and nursery design business she also designs websites and pretty much anything else you ask her to do. She doesn't worry about taking risks or failing miserably, she just follows her gut and it always pays off.

Think about it. You've got two choices: You can let the feedback humiliate you completely, stifle all of your creativity and eventually just throw in the towel or you can take those insulting lemons and make some lemon drop martinis!


Give yourself some time to digest the feedback and then decide what resonates with you. If you completely disagree with everything your reader told you, get a second opinion. Whatever you do, don't give up. We guarantee you'll end up with stronger writing and a little bit of Stacey-style resilience. Both will serve you well.

Now that you're really on a roll, try your hand at not taking yourself too seriously. This is where it gets tricky. We have been burned (and I mean burned) after taking ourselves way too seriously. This is so good, blah, blah, blah. We nailed this, blah, blah, blah. This is a big deal, blah, blah, blah. Wrong, wrong, wrong. Publishing is not an easy business. Prepare to get your ass handed to you and get used to picking yourself up, dusting yourself off and laughing at your stupidity. The laughing in particular seems to help.


We've learned there is always room for improvement and we really try to embrace opportunities that help us grow as writers. It's not easy playing Stacey and we often forget how, but it is so, so worth it in the end.

XOXO,
L&L

55 comments:

Katie said...

aww... I love me some Roecker sisters! And ask Lila is the bomb :-) You should add a little installment from time to time called "The Regulator weighs in with her opinion."

Natalie said...

Excellent advice. Stacey sounds like she could teach us all a few things. I've found that the more I put myself out there the less criticism and rejection hurts-I'm slowly becoming immune to it's sting. :)

Tamika: said...

You ladies nailed it again! I'm just now developing the thick skin that would served me well in the past. It feels alot like being in the boxing ring with no gloves sometimes.

Thanks for the encouragement to stand anyhow!

Hardygirl said...

I wanna be Stacey!!

I'll quote another writer friend here and just say "If this were easy, everybody would be doing it."

Love the post. And, yes. We totally need to hear from the Regulator herself.

sf

Jonathon Arntson said...

Somebody said something about lemon drop martinis, where are the lemon drop martinis? Well, I can tell you that I am really looking forward to lemon drop martinis!

Karen said...

Such good advice! Thanks for a great post. :)

Jen said...

Excellent post!! This gave me a lot of confidence and reminded me to take things slow and let the bad things roll of my shoulders, which I am terrible at! Great advice, and thank you Insulted in Seattle for taking the time to share your concerns!!!

Yay for Lemon Drop Martini's!!

confused homemaker said...

Excellent advice. I also had a colleague tell me that my work was not me, no matter how much I felt it was.

Christina Lee said...

Ugghhh this is one of the hardest things, isn't it? And it's also hard to figure out whether you really do suck or not (well, for me it was). You do have to weed out what is useful to you. If you change something and get better feedback as a result, then you know you're on the right track. Great advice, LiLa girls!

Kristen Torres-Toro said...

Great advice!

Also, annonymously writing those people into your novel helps too. I once wrote a short story Flannery O'Connor style dispensing justice to certain monsters in human flesh. :0)

Little Ms J said...

Katie and SF are on to something. Where is The Regulator? I love WWSD. I'm so using it today at work before I give dirty looks or throw any pens.

Great advice.

Melissa said...

This is such a great post! I've received both good and bad (very snippy) feedback on my finished MS, and it was hard not to take it to heart, but I just took the letter, filed it behind my requests for fulls, and moved on...for the most part :)

Erica said...

What a great post! Love this new segment ;o) Stacey sounds like a cool doobie! I think being able to laugh at oneself is a great trait to have.

I know I'm not the best writer. I will get better. Believe in yourself! Some great comments here too :o)

Thanks for taking the time to answer Insulted in Seattle ;o)

Sincerely,
Thankful in Michigan

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

Ask Lila Rocks! Second opinions is great advice.
May I borrow Stacey?

Valerie Geary said...

Great post today ladies! Thanks!

Abby Annis said...

Good things to remember! And so necessary in this business. Great post!

Kim said...

Perfect advice! BSD is my Stacey. He is the same way. Laid back, takes it all in stride, laughs at himself and throws himself back into the game time and time again. It's a trait I admire and covet. He's the ying to my yang.

Gah, how did this turn into a mushy Valentine?!?

Seriously, though. I think you hit the nail on the head. We need more bullies in our lives.

Carolyn V. said...

I agree, it's something that does come with the business of writing.

I look at it this way. In three years, will I be sad if I gave up writing, or will I be relieved. I always come back with, yeah, I'd be sad. So I keep writing and improving my craft.

Simon C. Larter said...

You must now market a line of products boasting the WWSD logo. I'm thinking bracelets, natch, but you could branch out into t-shirts, washcloths, temporary tattoos, and underwear if it went viral. A Youtube channel would be de rigeur. You could install a webcam in Stacey's house and people could watch her mellow her way through a typical day. Fun!

Erm...

In other news... I agree that writers need to develop thick skins. Mine is several inches thick and wrinkly like a rhinoceros's. It itches when I get cracker crumbs in the creases, but I can take critiques like a champ, so it all evens out.

Tere Kirkland said...

Evil older sisters, huh? I bet. ;)

Love your ask LiLa posts!

Shannon O'Donnell said...

This is excellent advice for all of us! Constructive criticism, while immeasurably helpful, is not always easy to hear. It's also difficult to find the motivation to make necessary changes sometimes, which only adds to our frustration levels. Your advice was spot on! (as always) :-)

Dominique said...

I'd suggest channeling these frustration into revenge-awesomeness. "You think this scene is boring? Ha. I'm gonna fix it and make it the most awesome thing you've ever seen. Then you will be begging for the next chapter. Muaahahaha." Then you can use it to amp you up for your revisions. It's what I do.

Lisa Marie said...

Great advice ladies!!!!! You guys are good at this:)

Christine said...

Great advice guys--I keep trying to do this everyday too. Because my first reaction is what Paul Rudd says in Forgetting Sarah Marshall--'when life gives you lemons, just say f*%# the lemons and bail!'

But I'm getting better. I like martinis. :)

rae said...

This is great! Me and Zee have the EXACT SAME WWSD mantra for OUR laid back sister.

t/f: this post made me smile AND I'm emailing it to my sisters and mother.

Jackee said...

Hmm... sounds like I need a Stacey around in my life too.

Thanks for the advice, ladies!

Lou said...

I just read a post on an agent's site about this yesterday. It's nice to hear it from both perspectives. Also, I just reached out to your sister for Sarah's shower invites. Is it just me, or is the world getting smaller?

Elana Johnson said...

I love this advice. First off, we choose how we feel. I'm so NOT laid back that I have a super hard time doing that. But I can choose if I'm going to freak out, work harder, be depressed, watch TV, eat potato chips, etc.

Great advice!

Mariah Irvin said...

Great advice, as always!

When I was in elementary school, my parents realized how much I enjoyed writing, so they taught me how to handle criticism. I'm glad they did, because otherwise I might not be writing anymore!

Ian said...

This has zero to do with your blog post but all about LOST.

CANNOT WAIT FOR LOST TONIGHT!!!!!

Marsha Sigman said...

This is great!
I wish I had a Stacey...

Angela said...

Great post--definitely the key to accepting criticism, no matter what form, is seperating oneself from emotion.

It's tough to do but gets easier with practice.

JennyMac said...

LOVE this and love Stacey and the way you describe her. My first rejected query letter came complete with some super harsh commentary written all over it. I think I cried and then thought, toughen up. It is a process and only accepting andnot crying over people's feedback will help me grow as a writer.

An author I am reading said once that everyone wants to get published but very few people actually want to write. She recommended to everyone to focus on the writing and not the end result. Amen.

Anissa said...

Great answer! Ha! Now I feel like those people on Family Feud. I'm a dork. Seriously though, you nailed it. Woot! Woot!

Larissa said...

You ladies are SO AWESOME!

Kate said...

Great advice and thanks for the encouragement. I figure you are never ever going to please everyone.

Kate xx

Annette Lyon said...

I've been with my critique group for so many years that nothing they say can hurt my feelings (frustrate me because I botched something, sure, but not hurt me). We're all great friends and know we're out to help each other make the others' work the best it can be, so we KNOW it's not personal.

That said, it took a long time to get to that point, and getting feedback from anyone else is still hard, because I don't have that history with them.

Cheree said...

Great advice. I've come to accept criticism and rejection because that's the game that I'm now playing. Yes, it still hurts sometimes, but I keep moving forward.

Jemi Fraser said...

I need to channel a little Stacey :) That could be my new mantra.

T. Anne said...

Perfect advice. I'll initiate my own version of WWSD these coming weeks as I submit and resubmit and hold my breath till I turn blue. BTW, I bet Stacy will live to be 120 with that roll through life attitude.

Melissa said...

I remember my first few critiques stung a lot, but they're getting easier to take. Especially when I know something is off and my crit partners figure it out. I think the thick skin all writers need comes with time.

Kimberly Franklin said...

Nice advice! I will have to try to remind myself to ask WWSD, becuase I'll surely want to send some bat shit email the first time I get a rejection.

But, then again, that's what Twizzlers are for. They make everything better. ; )

Kelly H-Y said...

You two are so awesome! What great advice!

Gail said...

Everything in this post is so true! And even though critiques can be ouchy sometimes, letting the emotion of it wane helps, then revisit the ideas.

Hey I have a younger sister who lets things roll off her back too.... of course mine has to because she lives with 2 teenage sons who could otherwise make you go bonkers!!!

Nisa said...

Aww, your sister sounds awesome and this is truly great advice. It's so great that you're doing this!

SB said...

great response...i need to meet and talk with stacey!

Kerri C at CK Farm said...

Good question, great answer! Guess you can only dust yourself off and try again!

Carolina Valdez Miller said...

Well said. I think it's hardest to receive criticism when you really love the work you've handed over--especially if it's early in your writing career. Well, even later, I think the angst of it never really goes away, but I do find that I look forward to the criticism primarily because I truly do want my work to be the best it can be (and I have great CP's, which makes it easier).

Although, I don't take criticism very well from my husband. It's usually constructive and right on target, but for some reason, all I want to hear is how amazing everything is--even if he's wrong. I mean, is it wrong to want that? I don't want to hear him tell me that a paragraph is redundant any more than I want him telling me I should change my blouse. I want to know that there is at least one person in this world that will lie to me to make me happy. Now that's true love.

Lori W. said...

Fantastic advice! The part about giving yourself time to let the feedback sink in really hit home. And the taking yourself too seriously part was golden. Being able to laugh at my dumb mistakes makes them so much easier to stomach and then learn from. Thank you!

jessjordan said...

Good advice, team genius :)

Now, don't you go skipping your daily blog posts anymore. Monday was empty without you.

inthehammockblog said...

Great post!! This advice is so true for anything, not just writing. Thanks!!

Sarah said...

Great advice! But I have a question...between the 3 of you, do you mind saving some Awesome for the rest of us? I can clearly learn a lot from Stacey.

P.S. My word verification is "priffies'...which is neither amusing or much of anything really, but for some reason I just got this urge to dare you to use that word in a post. Maybe in some poetry? Just putting it out there.

lexcade said...

ask lila brings happiness. much much happiness. i love you guys. always with the great advice and stuff ;-)

if that offer still stands, would you prefer i email the file to you? or post it on my blog? or send it via carrier pigeon? just let me know. i will owe you a HUGE bag of twizzlers!

Nicole Ducleroir said...

First -- I love that you guys work and blog together! I have four sisters, and one shares my passion for creative writing. What a gift it is to pick up the phone and talk plot points or debate comma placement with my sis!

I loved your advice in this entry. If Insulted in Seattle wants to grow in her craft, she has to hear her readers/critics. And just as you said, she doesn't have to take every comment to heart, but there's always something to learn about your writing, even in the most scathing review.

I love your blog and look forward to following!

Rebecca Knight said...

Awww! I love the WWSD mantra :).

This makes me wish I had sisters!