Monday, April 26, 2010

Yeah, I'm Sensitive, So Sue Me

It occurred to me yesterday as I sat weeping on my couch folding laundry that I might be a little bit more emotional than the average gal. Maybe I should back up here and give you guys a little background.

It all started with a rather innocuous comment from my husband.

What my husband actually said: "Wow, it's getting hard for me to work around your schedule these days."
What Lisa heard: "You are not a good mother. Your time is not important. Your writing sucks. I think we should get a divorce."

Yeah, I'm slightly dramatic. Deal with it.

The thing is, writers are a sensitive breed. I guess that's part of our genius. We process feelings a little bit differently than the average person and *ahem* some of us are blessed with an extraordinary flair for drama.

I think this makes it particularly hard for us to accept constructive feedback from readers, agents and editors. For example:

Reader says: "I don't really understand this character's motivation. Maybe you should add some backstory?"
Writer hears: "Your writing sucks. Your characters suck. You shouldn't be writing anything more challenging than an e-mail."

Learning how to process feedback is probably one of the most important elements of becoming a successful writer. We all need to learn to take a step back and really hear what our readers our saying. This is one reason it's probably best to ask your beta readers to provide any notes or feedback in writing. After all, it's ok if you want to weep on the couch for a little while, just make sure you eventually force yourself out of the fetal position and really process that critique. Your writing (and maybe even your significant other) will thank me.

So, how do you guys handle tough critiques? Any advice for keeping those writerly emotions in check? Tell us everything in the comments.

60 comments:

Cheree said...

Lots of chocolate... but seriously, I keep telling myself that any good criticism will help to improve the story. If everyone says that it's perfect (it would be nice to hear), but there wouldn't be any way to know what needs improving.

Just hang in there. It'll only get better.

Liza said...

Haven't made it to the critique part yet...but as for emotions? Try writing those down! I spend 30 minutes each morning at the suggestion of THE ARTIST'S WAY by Julia Cameron, writing morning pages, where I get all that dramatic stuff out...for the day. By the next morning there is always more to write about. :)

Corey Schwartz said...

Ha! I have no problem with feedback on stories. It's the husband comments that get to me! (I am sure my husband is out there as I type looking for a new wife who cooks and cleans :)

Kimberly Franklin said...

I must have that dramatic flair too, because harsh criticism usually sends me on a downward spiral. Chocolate is always helpful though.

Lisa and Laura said...

Hmm...this post reminds me of the time my husband called Seth, one of the characters in LIAR SOCIETY, a loser. Yes, he is on the dorky side, but I cried--actually cried--because it was such a mean thing to say. I think you could call me hyper-sensitive.

Bethany Elizabeth said...

I get really frustrated when I get tough critiques - at myself, not the critics. I mean, if they're legitimate and honest. If they're mean, then I fall into dispair *tear* but most of the time my thoughts immediately turn to how I could fix it. After the problem's fixed, then I got into the 'how could I be so stupid as to write it that way?'s, and THEN fall into mild despair. :( But, since I'm still living with my mother, she'll give me some sort of chocolate and lots of encouragement, and so I feel better after awhile. :)
Mostly, the critiques that hurt me the most are the silent ones. The "yeah, it was pretty good." and nothing else. Then I feel mediocre, which to me is worse than being awful! Weird, right?

Candyland said...

I just cry for awhile. Slam cupboards. Stomp around. The usual. Then when I've gotten it out of my system, I stew in silence until I'm over it (which could be never).
HA!

Christina Lee said...

AAWWW Yep, me too- sensitive type. It usually takes me time to process tough critiques. I read it over and over and then finally move on and do what needs to be done!

Sheri Larsenッ said...

LOOK AT THE SOURCE! That came from my husbands, sports-minded wisdom. Always, easy. Heck no, but after a fashion you get the hang of it. I'm getting better at it everyday.

S.O.S.: if the source is family, may have to handle differently. Lots of reasons for lots of different phrases. ";-)

You both are wonderful. Say it every-so-often.

Summer said...

Oh, I'm also hyper-sensitive. I could see a pretty butterfly and fall to tears.

I've started actually talking these comments out with my husband, like actually saying, "When you say blah blah, I hear blah blah *tear*" It's starting to help...

Rachele Alpine said...

I agree with Cheree...lots of candy works for me! Specifically, Malley’s gummy peaches…those can help anything! Also, I may be sensitive, but I'm also competitive my nature. If someone gives me some harsh feedback, I'll hold on to it for a bit (and may get angry at the person), but then I start thinking, "Okay, I'll prove you wrong." I'll show you that I can develop my character (or whatever else they say). It actually drives me to do better. The tougher the feedback, the more I want to work on something to show all those people that thought otherwise. So bring it on...give me the harsh stuff, I'll show you! :)

Suzyhayze said...

Play video games. Ignore everything else. Do NOT give up on a level. Persistence is a drug. Keep playing. You can't win if you don't play. I look at all the critiques like challenges in video games. Just have to get back up and try the level again using a new strategy (or a cheat code from the internet).

OH. And get a housekeeper who comes in twice a week to do the extraneous chores. Really. I sucked it up and asked for one, and after all the dust settled and my feelings of inadequacy vanished we are ALL much happier for it. XO S

Kerri C at CK Farm said...

Chocolate and then more chocolate...guilt for eating so much chocolate. Then a long walk to burn it off lol!

Lindsay (a.k.a Isabella) said...

I go through the following stages...
1)Denial = they didn't get my story.
2)Anger = they don't know what they are talking about, there's nothing wrong with it. Grrr.
3)Sadness - I suck, my writing sucks, I'll never be agented. I should stop now.
4)Acceptance - Okay, maybe there are some truth to the points, lets take another look.
5) Work - Okay, roll up your sleeves and see what you can do to fix it.

Oh, and failing that I eat lots and lots of chocolate :)

Matthew Rush said...

It's natural and important to allow yourself to feel your feelings. If you don't deal with them responsibly they're going to find a way to express themselves anyway.

Just make sure not to act on them in a way that will hurt people or embarrass you terribly.

I have a great example of what not to do here. It's really embarrassing, but hey, live and learn right?

Anyway thanks for sharing Lisa!

Kristi Helvig said...

I love constructive criticism about my work - I have several critique members who are nurturing but BRUTAL and I love them for it! I have a super thick skin because I want to be the best writer I can be.

It's a different story with my hubby. He's said similar innocent things and I've heard what Lisa did. In fact, I went to my first conference this weekend and when hubby said he and the kids missed me, I heard "You're so selfish for taking off for 3 days and leaving us to fend for ourselves." I'm totally sensitive when it comes to family stuff!

storyqueen said...

I don't ask until I am at the point where I REALLY want to know.

When I'm still all goo-goo eyed over my story is not the time to ask for feedback. It's when I need to think about sending it off to prom and if the dress is too short and actually DOES show some hiney when dancing...this is the stuff I NEED to know beforehand.

and my husband is not allowed to read my stuff until waaayyyy later...like, in actual book form.

Shelley

Danyelle said...

*hugs* I'm really sensitive too. Sometimes that can be a gift, and sometimes not so much. >.<

For me, well, I'm weird. When I get a crit, it takes all the courage I have to open it and read it. Sometimes it takes me a few days. But then when I do, everything's okay. I've never had anyone shred me just for fun, so I know all things that point out my flaws are there to help. I don't always agree with suggestions, but I do try to look at everything objectively and use what will make the story stronger. It's just that initial read that's tough for me.

Bish Denham said...

After all these years my skin is pretty darn tough. I know that it's almost all subjective. What one person likes another person may not like. Very few people have the same opinion. I take was "feels" right to me and discard the rest.

Lisa said...

My skin is definitely thicker than it used to be. When I first started writing, a harsh critique would send me straight into a rage spiral. Yep, you read that right. I got angry. Why didn't they like my writing? They must be stupid! Lol! Then after a day of crying in bed, I'd get up, brush myself off and make the changes, because although the critique stung, it was spot on.

Thankfully, I'm past the raging and crying stage now. Mostly. I welcome constructive criticism because I know it's ultimately going to make me a better writer. Fanny inflating foods are always helpful to buffer the pain. Along with chocolate I suggest pizza, fried chicken, cookies, donuts.....

B. Miller said...

When I get a harsh critique, I try to remind myself that the person reading and reviewing my work is doing it with (most of the time) my best interests in mind. What they have to say is supposed to be constructive and helpful, not abusive. But it's still hard to hear someone who doesn't like your work... I totally understand!

Little Ms J said...

I get mad first. If it is a critique I typically need a week to walk around with a scowl before it sinks in and becomes constructive. Then I'm powerful. Now, if it is Mr. J I get him with my Flying Monkey Punch. Or skulk around until he asks me when I'm going to be a big girl. Whatever.

Jen said...

I am so glad I'm not the only one with the overdramatic personality! I think exactly like you do - "This is crap, they hate me, they hate me even more now that they told me my writing sucks." - when all they were saying was that I needed to add a period at the end of a sentence.

I guess I try breathing a bit, eating a cookie, and watching Glee (it makes me smile!), then if I would like more drama but don't want it directly in my life I watch the Housewives of NYC... they have a lot and I mean a lot of drama!

Carolyn V. said...

Sometimes I just need a little time to get over the critique and then I can take it seriously. Other times I just chuck the paper across the room and email my best writing friend. If that doesn't work... It's off to the chocolate.

Heather Kelly said...

Perfect timing for me on this one. And ROFL about the divorce thing! Even shrouded in the "love this sooo much", I definitely get into a funk about critical feedback--and I have to preface that by saying that my crit partners are wonderful and my biggest fans--and spot on with their feedback. So, why can't I get over my weepy self, and just take it for what it is, great advice to make my writing stronger? What do I do? I hibernate for a while, and go internal. And, then when I plug back in, I get all excited about my newest ideas, based on all the feedback. Honestly, I don't know what my subconscious does while I hibernate--maybe it's a necessary part of the mulling it over feedback process. I have to say, I was better at the feedback thing when it was in person, but now that all my crit partners have moved, and it's via skype and the internet, it's a little harder to bounce back. Longer hibernation following a crit session. Who knew this process would be this hard?? Thanks for the laugh this morning!

Kayeleen Hamblin said...

Usually, what happens for me is that I stare at the screen and read it over and over and over... Then I ask my husband if he thinks I'm being crazy or if the critique is accurate. He has some words of wisdom that usually include, "Stop worrying about it." Then I stew for a week or so, before deciding if I want to change something based on what they said. I need that week to really distance myself from the ouch and see the potential that's created by the critique.

Laura Pauling said...

I get totally discouraged for no more than 36 hours and read books and watch bad tv. :)

Lydia Kang said...

Hey, I posted the answer to your medical question over on my blog!
http://lydiakang.blogspot.com

I hear you about that feeling of fear, that you're not good enough. I'm so glad to hear I'm not the only one! Great post, and kudos to you for being brave and being a writer!

Heidi Willis said...

This made me laugh because this exact thing happened last week!! I went on an angry cleaning binge to prove him wrong. Turns out he wasn't being critical and I wasted all that energy on dusting and vacuuming when I could have been sitting on the couch consuming cookies in mass quantities and working on my masterpiece.

As for writing, I pretty much send it out to my crit peeps thinking it sucks. Anything positive they say makes my day, and the rest just give me something to make it better.

Stina Lindenblatt said...

Oh good, it's not just me. I had a tizzy fit last week and told my husband, "Fine! I'll quit writing and spend my days cleaning this house!"

Um, all he had done was pick up a toy off the ground. Okay, several toys and complained to the kids that they're messy and need to pick up after themselves (which is true).

Fortunately he didn't call me on my comment. Whew!

I'm learning not to react to critiques of my writing . . . other than to use them to make my writing/novel better. And I know when not to listen, and when to talk to a writer friend I trust.

~Nicole Ducleroir~ said...

So true! I crumble under the weight of harsh criticism -- okay, from mild crits, too -- but I always come to a place in my mind and heart where I can embrace and really appreciate the feedback.

Writers are too close to their own work. We have it memorized to the point where we often don't even notice typos. The insights from first-time readers can't be over-estimated.

Great post!!

Dara said...

I'm the definition of emotional :P On Saturday, there was a poor little squirrel that had been run over right in front of my driveway (it wasn't me!). I bawled my eyes out for an hour. Hubby actually went out and buried it for me 'cause I couldn't stand seeing it there.

With crits, I can be sensitive too. I tend to think the worst of my stuff anyway, probably as some sort of weird way of "protecting myself". That way I'm uber surprised when something of mine is actually viewed as good :P Unhealthy I know, but it helps me deal with it when I do find out my writing needs a lot of work. I still become depressed about it and think I'm not good, for about a day or two, then I break myself of it and keep going.

~Jamie said...

HAHA YES! We could so be friends in real life. Have you guys considered moving to Dallas and starting a coffee shop writing group with me? :)

Solvang Sherrie said...

I have to let the comments sink in before I react. Sometimes I never get to the point of agreeing, but a lot of times, after a few days or so, I can see the validity of the critique, especially if it's from someone I respect.

Rhonda said...

Hi, my name is Rhonda and I'm an overly sensitive writer.

Filtered through the lense of my sensitivity, even the most innocent of comments can become a sob inducing criticism. Especially when it comes from the hubs.

Maybe there should be a shelter for the spouses of writers with *ahem* artistic sensitivities?

Lori W. said...

I'm with the "wait and let it sink in" crowd. My skin is fairly thick now, and I've learned revision is the bigger part of writing. Acceptance that I need others to help me see the flaws in my writing also helps. After that, laughter and good food are the best things for overcoming the, "What?! It really doesn't work?" disappointment.

Patti said...

I so relate to that.

ME: HOw do I look?
HUSBAND: Fine.
BRAIN: What he really means is awful, but he doesn't have the heart to tell you.

I wish I didn't read so much into the words people say. I think I'd be a lot happier.

Frankie Diane Mallis said...

Im simultaneously laughing and wanting to hug you, my mind works the SAME way, but I just tell myself Im being too sensitive and move on....sometimes it works...sometimes...

Sara B. Larson said...

I'm so glad I'm not the only, *ahem* dramatic author out there. ;-) Highly emotional. Um, yes. I've gotten better as I get older and luckily I have a understanding husband who will often be heard saying, "Okay, what is it that you think I just said? Since you're crying, I don't think you understood me." Ha ha. Good times.

As for processing feedback... I've had to learn to grow a tough skin. One of the best lessons I learned early on was when I got my manuscript back from a good friend (and former acquisitions editor) that was marked from top to bottom. Yikes. (I posted about this on my blog a few weeks ago if you want to read the full story); the lesson she taught me was that she wouldn't have taken the time to mark it up like that if she didn't think it was good. (All red marks to the contrary) It was actually a form of a compliment that she took the time to do it. So I try to tell myself it's a compliment, that someone took the time to do this because they thought it was good enough to be worth the effort. Although I do admit sometimes they are just so harsh or off base that I want to cry. Or yell. Those are the ones I wait a few days to process. ;-)

Marsha Sigman said...

I haven't received any really HARSH criticism yet. But when I receive any at all it usually sends me into a manic cleaning spiral at which time I like to rant to family members that they are extremely piggish and I am not their maid. This is usually followed by a brief quiet period until I drag myself out of it and get to work.

No, I am not BI-POLAR!! I am sensitive.

Kirsten Lesko said...

LMAO! I have these exact hearing problems.

I don't cope well with bad critiques at first. I have to ignore them for a couple of days or I confuse things. After the dust settles, I can see which parts of the critiques I actually agree with.

Icy Roses said...

Actually, I think writers handle critiques much better than most of the population. At least we have to hear it on a regular basis. I mean, plenty of people are so used to getting everything sugarcoated that they just can't take blunt talk.

But usually, when I get rough critiques, I am all mad and in denial for about half an hour until I calm down and revisit it with a cool head. Still, I have to have a little bit of that "mad and in denial" stage first.

Bethany said...

I like to bake my blues away, usually something of the chocolatey, frostingy variety. Or you could take out your frustration on some PlayDoh... Hang in there.
In other news, I just got a blog, largely so I could follow yours and help you meet your goal of 1000, but also, it was about time I got on this band wagon! Thanks for motivating me to join the 21st century.
Cheers.

Mariah Irvin said...

Ugh. Awful critiques SUCK. In the end, they make my writing better, so I just power through the suckiness hoping for a better critique.

Larissa said...

Yeah. I can't read critiques unless I'm planning to take a couple of days off writing. I get all kinds of depressed and think I suck. LOL.

It's like I *know* that I'm sending it to readers looking for feedback to make it better and that nothing is ever perfect...BUT...I still secretly hope that they'll say "OMG this is so awesome you rock!"

So, you're saying it doesn't get better when you actually get a contract (and have proof that you don't totally suck)? Nuts.

Ann Marie Wraight said...

I find the best way to deal with oral crticism is the same as when I was 4-5 years old...

Stick your pointer fingers in your ears...(NO - SILLIES - NOT BOTH IN THE SAME EAR!!) and then either sing, hum or shout rather loudly...

STILL works wonders for me.

Dianne K. Salerni said...

Yes, I am the same way, and not just about my writing. I can honestly say that I remember negative comments a lot longer than positive comments. I still get teary over the few parents who hated me as a teacher (and there were really only a few in 20 years of teaching). It's my husband who has to remind me of all the parents who loved me and fought to get their other kids into my class.

The same goes for writing. Somehow, a single negative review or item of feedback will just STICK to me, automatically outweighing every good word. Human nature, I guess.

I doubt I'll ever be able to master and defeat the problem, but it's really nice to know there are some colleagues out there (teachers and authors) who can help buffer the negative. Perhaps we can cry on each other shoulders (electronically, that is).

Erica Chapman said...

Yep, I can imagine that happens a lot to writers, me included on some days. I guess I look at it as they're helping me make it better ;o) Everyone has crap days, and crap writing, and maybe they caught me, so I need to listen!

Sometimes we're too close to our own writing, nice to take a step back, even if it's not what we want to hear ;o)

But. Yes. It can hurt. I *may* be a little dramatic myself ;o) *hugs*

K. M. Walton said...

If I have the opportunity, discussion always works for me -- helps to clear my head and hear their side of things. If discussion isn't a possibility, then I initially freak out, go back and re-visit and then think rationally.

This coming from, as my husband says, "A drama queen." Whatever. He's just jealous that I can cry at will. Well, maybe not.

Shannon O'Donnell said...

I can't tell you how many times I've lived through that EXACT scenario! We really are more sensitive than the average bear. I usually try to look at the source and intentions first. I work my way through the emotional mud from there. :-)

Jemi Fraser said...

I'm way too sensitive too. I'm getting better at receiving crits - but it's not easy. I don't know if I'll ever be able to do it in person. Online is much easier! :)

Tabitha Bird said...

LOL!
Oh yes, I so understand this. My husband says one thing I hear twentl different things and none of them are flattering.

But surprisingly I actually take feedback on my work really well. I somehow seem to distrust good feedback and deal better with the 'you need to think about (fill in blank)' so maybe that is how I deal with it. I expect the negative and brush aside the positive. Hmm... I think I need to look at that :)

Kim said...

"you shouldn't be writing anything more challenging than an email"

GAH! I laughed so hard at that! I am exactly the same way. Totally hypersensitive. You definitely don't want my advice for dealing with it. Passive-aggressive behavior is so not the positive way to deal with criticism. :( So, I'll just be your "misery loves company" friend. kay?

Vampires and Tofu said...

OH MY GOD...then I was BORN to write! Because those are exactly the things I would have heard!

How about this one... "I'm not really hungry right now."

I hear this as "I would rather starve than eat what you made. You are a horrible cook. I'm moving back in with my mother."

cipherqueen said...

"The thing is, writers are a sensitive breed. I guess that's part of our genius. We process feelings a little bit differently than the average person and *ahem* some of us are blessed with an extraordinary flair for drama."

Oh, yes. I tear up at everything.

"OH MY GOD...then I was BORN to write! Because those are exactly the things I would have heard!"

YES! I, uh, don't take criticism as badly when I read it... it hits hard when it's spoken, because you can physically see the person and interpret their body language to fuel that litle voice. :)

But crossing everything out with red slashes? No problem. I can deal. *thank goodness*

Christina Farley said...

You are so funny! Yeah, I'm that way with my husband too. Totally. But when it comes to writing, I one of those people who's a lover of a tough critique. Because I've learned it makes me so much better as a writer!

Elana Johnson said...

Oh my gosh!!! I do this so hard!

My husband'll say something and I'm like, "You hate me! I'm a horrible person."

Dude. I so feel this. So bad.

Um...I don't know how to deal with it in real life. I'm still working on trying to hear exactly what my husband says and not what I think he's saying.

As for writing, I'm sort of over that. Not that I think I'm all that and a bag of chips, but I've gained enough confidence now that I can take what I need and discard the rest.

So for me it boils down to this: confidence. Do you have it?

Jeannie Lin said...

The emotions go absolutely haywire. I've been crying for no reason, sometimes while driving. My emotions have absolutely gone the other way. I'm so Pollyanna about everything! Oh look, I have a six page revision letter! :) I realized, this must be a defense mechanism to protect against disappointment.

Enjoy the moments -- with all the crazy hormones and all.

sanjeet said...

It usually takes me time to process tough critiques. I read it over and over and then finally move on and do what needs to be done
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PJ Hoover said...

LOL, I've so been there, too! I think sometimes I've gotten past it, and then I'm hit with it again. But I do think it gets easier as time goes by.
And I'm sure you're a great mother and an awesome writer!