How I Came To Love Criticism (#IWSG)

IWSG So I love to cook. I’m just not, er, very good at it.

Well, that’s not quite true. I make a white wine sauce for lamb chops that will make you channel Oliver Twist. It’s fairer to say the few things I do cook I cook very well–There just aren’t that many things I know how to cook.

Here’s the thing. Most people learn to cook from their mothers. My husband sure did, boy howdy. He just doesn’t “cook”. He cooks. So much so he was able to open a restaurant on his 21st birthday.

My mom, however, was one of eight kids in an Irish Catholic family, four of them boys. Three square a day was a myth, and its footprints had never been spotted. Joining the Air Force in the early seventies was a revelation. Air Force food, as far as she was concerned, was the best. She won’t make meatloaf anymore, because no one will touch it and we tease her relentlessly about putting raisins and apple chunks in it.

So I never really learned to cook. And, well, I married one. I now officially like meatloaf, after years of not going anywhere near it.

So I recently I had occasion, during one of my typical Neflix marathons, to catch a cooking competition show between restaurants in the UK hosted by Gordon Ramsey, aka The Scottish Chef. During the Italian Cuisine competition, a pair of brothers specialized in very experimental cooking techniques and presentation, and their very supportive mum ran front of house.

Being a very supportive mum, she would never hear anything remotely critical about her darling, genius boys. She would actually argue with the customer, and provide her boys only positive feedback, despite most of the plates coming back with a majority of the food remaining.

Two things I learned from this, as a writer:

  1. Pay attention to the patterns. Any feedback that is consistent is probably correct.
  2. You don’t learn much of anything–except, of course, what you do well–from hearing only positive feedback. You don’t get better in this way. You just get blinders, and thus blind-sided.

As a theatre monkey, I craved criticism. That is, I craved constructive criticsm from trained professionals and my fellow performers, because finding the rough spots in my technique and working like blazes to hone them to sharp edges made me better.

So why should writing be any different?

Fast foward to present day. I’m in Round 2 Editorial Revisions for Brighid’s Mark, Book 2 of my Keepers of the Flame series. Once again, I’m in the hands of an invested, patient professional (aka Editor Awesome). And while she is quick to point out what I do very well, she also details areas I need to be aware of–and provides the coaching necessary to ensure I get better.

Criticism doesn’t mean you’re a horrible writer who should never put cursor to blank screen. If that were true, I never would have sold a single manuscript. Rather, it’s an opportunity to hone your craft.

This doesn’t mean to say that if one single person doesn’t like such-and-such you should immediately change it. There’s no way to please everyone. You’ll spin your wheels in the mud if you try–you’ll just end up burning up your engines and get nowhere, fast.

But pay attention to the patterns. Consistent feedback will draw your attention to weak spots that can be shored up with careful consideration, which then leads to improvement if you’ve learned from the experience. It’s an exercise in mental stamina that will get you to the next level in your craft.

I really, really needed this kind of coaching with Book 1 in my series. Book 2 is so much stronger now, and will continue to grow so. Once again, I’ve come to crave criticism. I live for my editorial letters now, even before I’ve garnered a contract. I’m not worried that she’ll hate one of my stories–I’m worried that she’ll love them so much I’ll end up missing something.

I guess, in the end, this goes back to Lesson 1: Gotta Love It.

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5 thoughts on “How I Came To Love Criticism (#IWSG)

  1. Julie Flanders says:

    Great points! I’m still learning to love criticism but I know it’s necessary if I want to improve. Paying attention to the patterns is such good advice.
    Great to meet you through the IWSG!

  2. Gus Sanchez says:

    It takes a tough skin to absorb criticism, but it also takes a lot of flexibility to understand and learn from it. Took me a while to figure this out, but I’m also someone that enjoys criticism and loves learning something from it.

    1. catemorgan says:

      Yeah, I can’t believe it took me as long as I did to understand this. I guess it’s all a matter of perspective.

      Thanks for dropping by, Gus–it’s good to see you round these parts again. 🙂

  3. David Stringer says:

    When I’ve put in the work to get something down on the page, dragging the ideas kicking and screaming then forming them into the shape I want them to be, I find that I can fall into the trap of wanting my ‘feedback’ to be readers telling me how great I am.
    I’ve never kicked off as a result, but I have fallen into the very stupid trap of thinking of minor criticism about how a plot point is communicated as a personal affront!
    I think I’ve still got a lot to learn in that respect.

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