The least successful writers are those that quit writing because they are criticized. Don’t fear criticism. It is meant to make you a better writer. If I let criticism stop me from writing, I would have never had any of my books published.
Remember when you were in grade school and it was your first day in school? Did you worry that you would never have any friends? Did you worry that people would make fun of you? I remember my first day in kindergarten. The teacher gave us a tour of the room which had the bathrooms in the back of the room. That was very convenient because it kept kids from needing to leave the room to use the bathroom which also saved time. The teacher didn’t want us to get into the bad habit of needing to use the bathroom in order to goof off. She wanted us to learn things that would help us as we got older.
One of the things my kindergarten teacher wanted us to learn was how to get along with each other. No one made fun of any of the kids. We were all friends. Some of the kids were close friends of mine. Lamoine Beachler was one of them. We have been friends from day one and still are. He likes to read my editorial letters and we see each other every now and then. If he were to tell me something that could be considered criticism, I knew he did it to help me because we were friends.
I had other friends. One was named Kim Woods. He was always the fat kid up until high school just like Lamoine was the short kid. I remember one day we were singing a song in the round. I had my part down pat while Kim kept punching me in the arm because I always got him off. He had a wonderful voice and was in the school play “The Music Man” in which he was in the barbershop quartet singing the high tenor part. I was a skinny kid. I never made fun of him for being fat because he knew it and it would have been hurtful. He could have told me anything and I knew it was for my own good. A little criticism between friends is acceptable because it shouldn’t end a friendship.
I also liked some girls. One was Kathy Rittenhour and her friend Kenda Grizzly. I had a crush on both girls that are probably grandmothers today. My first story I wrote was about saving them from a dragon. They never became my girlfriend. But I still think about them even though I haven’t seen either one since 1972. But if they had criticized me for anything, I knew it was for my own good.
Writers need to pretend that their readers are like kindergarten friends. If they criticize them for their writing, it isn’t because they hate them. Their friends are trying to help them write better.
Critics are like my kindergarten teacher. She told us what we needed to know because it would help us out when we got older. One of the things I also remember is that on Valentine’s Day we passed out valentines to every kid in class. No one was shy. Everyone got one from everyone. When you write, pretend that you are writing to friends. Critics want to tell you things that you need to know. If you write a story that you think is the best thing you have ever written, yet critics say it is the worst piece of tripe ever committed to paper, don’t let the criticism destroy you. Maybe they were having a bad day or maybe your story about your favorite kitty was the 15th story about kitties the critic had to read that day. The story might be just as good as the other stories. But if the story could be improved and the person tells you how to make it better, see if following their advice actually makes the story better. Maybe your story is too much like other stories and needs to be different to catch the attention of readers.
Speaking of kitties, I have loved them since I was a small child. I loved my Grandma Thomas’ kitty Tuffy. I named my first kitty Tuffy. Here is one example of a story about Tuffy:
Tuffy was a beautiful long-haired white kitty that I loved to pet every time I saw my grandma. I named my first kitty, a cream-colored tiger, Tuffy. I found a white cat puppet that looked like the original Tuffy and my neices and nephews fell in love with the puppet and even got the chance to sleep with it. My grandma told me I could leave the latest version of Tuffy with her and I could pick it up the next time I came by.
That story is short and as sweet as sugar. But it is so boring that one might think it was written by an eight year-old. It was as warm as what that cat puppet is in the shed in the box it is lying in. A critic might tell me to give the story more flesh and life. Here goes:
Tuffy was the type of cat that compelled one to cuddle it and stroke its long white fur that was as soft as a shag rug. Grandma Thomas told me to treat her gently and not play rough with her. She was one of the sweetest kitties a little boy could fall in love with.
That had more warmth than the first story and a reader could better picture Tuffy because they know what a shag rug looks and feels like. Beginning writers tell readers things. It reminds me of Jack Webb on the TV show “Dragnet.” He always told witnesses, “Just the facts.” The facts are nice. But they are cold and as lifeless as my Grandma Thomas who died years ago.
A more capable writer paints word pictures that reveal things about what they are writing about to readers. Writers know how to move readers emotionally and evoke memories that might be buried deeply in the subconscious. It is often easy to skim the surface of readers’ emotions. It’s like looking at a laughing baby. It is easy to fall in love with the child and want to continue the laughter.
But a writer shouldn’t be satisfied with surface emotions. Critics want writers to dig deeper. Writers should use criticism as a learning process. It is supposed to prompt them to become miners. Any beginner can pan for gold in a river along with 100 other prospectors. But they can find rich veins of the precious metal the deeper they dig.
Here’s another rewrite of the story about Tuffy:
Tuffy was like a white shag rug that you could spend hours stroking and cuddling. Her low purring had such a calming effect that the worst days became fading memories. Every time I see an Angora like Grandma Thomas’ sweet kitty, thoughts of lazy, warm summer afternoons on the farm come rushing back. Tuffy was the embodiment of what was good and longed for when times are tough. She was why I have always loved kitties and have the compulsion to bend down and pet other kitties that I encounter.
That story gives the readers insight in how I feel about cats. Tuffy left an indelible impression that moves me to treat other kitties like friendly pets that want to be stroked and loved. Critics might say the story is not so much a story about a kitty named Tuffy. It reveals a lifelong affection for cats that may stir some pleasant thoughts in the minds of readers. Cat lovers are my friends and I have a bond with them all thanks to Tuffy.
Critics can be a writer’s best friends. They want them to succeed. They want writers to take their advice and turn their imagination into stories that readers will want to read. Critics don’t want flecks of gold that might turn out to be fool’s gold. They want writers to go down as deep as they need to plunge to recover rich veins of gold that readers will want to cherish and return to even as they slumber.
There are many examples of publishers rejecting writers that go on to be considered great authors in various genres. Jules Verne was rejected by twelve publishing houses before he submitted a book to a 13th publisher that wanted an exclusive right to publish his works of fiction that we recognize as science fiction. He didn’t let critics discourage him from writing what we consider a look at the future that at the time was so far-fetched that most critics probably thought madmen had to inspire his naratives. His first book wasn’t published during his lifetime but was placed in a safe that wasn’t opened for over a century. It was about Paris during the 1960’s and was very accurate. But it might have been considered too fantastic to be believable. But it didn’t stop him from writing about traveling to the moon, or traveling underwater for 20,000 leagues, or flying over enemies in war vehicles. If he had been discouraged by critics, the world would have been deprived of ideas that inspired generations to duplicate what they had read in one fashion or another.
If you have stories that need to be read, write them for readers that you believe want to sample your imagination. Critics are out there to help you tell those stories better. Pay attention to them. Don’t curse them. If their complaints are accurate, take their advice. If you believe they might be jealous of your success, you might be right. But most likely you are deluding yourself. Never think more highly of yourself and your writing than what is deserved. We can’t all be another Jules Verne, or Stephen King, or Michael Crichton. If you don’t let critics get to you and you become a world famous author, some of those same critics might become your biggest fans. If they are the reason for your success, thank them. Without them, you might still be a struggling scribe that readers will be deprived of enjoying. If it takes 13 publishers to finally achieve your dreams of writing stardom, go for it. Believe that there are readers that want to be your friends and are eager to be told creative naratives you want to share with them. If you can do that, critics won’t present any problems to you. Sometimes a bad review can make you eager to show a critic they are wrong. Or it could be a wake-up call to get you back on track to becoming a successful writer. Remember, you might have more friends than you can imagine. Work with critics and you may one day find them