Thursday, September 29, 2011

Ouch - Opinion Hurts

FundsforWriters is twelve years old. Still, when someone unsubscribes and leaves a reason why, I hesitate to open the email and read the response. I breathe a sigh of relief when they say they are backing off email and paying more attention to writing, or that they are changing email addresses, or they've decided they aren't destined to write (that one is sad). Why am I relieved? They aren't telling me I'm unprofessional, worthless, amateur, or mundane. And yes . . . I've been called them all.

When you enter the public eye, somebody will feel bold enough to take a shot at you. Keep this in mind . . . they are usually behind you in efforts to become a talented and decent writer. How do I know that? Because the talented and decent writers remember what it's like to climb up the ladder. The great majority of them, and I dare estimate ninety percent, have empathy for you in your efforts. And the harder you work at being a writer, the more empathy they have for you.

When my editor called my writing minimalist, I let it sting. Then I slept on it, studied the term, and came to the conclusion that it's a good thing. It's who I am and how I write. I didn't crawl in a hole and cry. Instead, I embraced the good of it.Now I proclaim it. She was a mentor, guiding me to use my ability. That's cool.

A writing friend of mine pens children's stories. She's not published yet, but she's incredibly bright. It's only a matter of time. She took a stack of my FundsforWriters postcards to distribute at the SCBWI conference in Charlotte, NC this past weekend. She ran into another writer who knew of FundsforWriters and C. Hope Clark. The writer loved my newsletters but found me "intimidating" online. My friend told her I "had a straight forward personality but was a very warm person." For the rest of the day, I pondered the fact that a young writer's first impression of me was intimidating. But admittedly I am straight forward, and to some, that's awkward. To others, however, it's refreshing to hear an un-sugar-coated message, and it's become one of the attractive features of the FundsforWriters newsletters.

A week ago I attended my local writer's group. We are tight-knit and speak openly. We pick at each other, kidding one guy's passive voice, another one's love of adverbs, and yet another's embellished descriptions in the midst of action scenes. At dinner afterwards, we have wine and a dose of two of fun. One particular gentleman with a cutting wit joked that I scare people away when we discussed why a couple of people had attended and not returned. I have a tough hide most of the time, and he knows it. Still, sometimes . . . words tingle, sting, ache a little.

In this business, someone is going to ridicule you, your stories, your voice, your genre, or your protagonist. They do not fully understand you. Usually they've never met you. If people really meet you, maybe share a meal or drink, they soften. You become human . . . like them. Maybe they felt like a lesser person because you were advancing faster  in your writing effort. Possibly they fear venturing forth, and saying something negative gives them some sense of comfort. But online especially, they point out things about you.

Don't dwell on opinion. Take emotion out of it, study what they say, and then accept or discard it. Fear is a common emotion amongst writers. We have dreams, then we get a case of the what-ifs, and fear oozes in. When someone voices those what-ifs, saying things we already think about, fear takes hold. Fear we might be less talented than we thought, or fear we're fooling ourselves trying to write.

Like critiques, you let the other person have his or her say. Take the rejection, ridicule or advice, let the cold edginess sit a while and warm up to room temperature, then decide whether you should retain the message or not.

You are the compass directing your writing journey. Don't let storms steer you off course. Some gusty moments will teach you how to navigate better, but you have to choose what habits and talents to adopt from these challenges. But if you have a map, and a hunger to reach your destination, then you will. Regardless of the weather in your path. And yes . . . the weather will always change. Brace yourself, and be you.

Remember, the deadline for leaving a comment at the post Giveaway: How to Get Your Book Reviewed is this evening.


Civil War Horror (Sean McLachlan) said...

Yes, words hurt. Bad Amazon reviews hurt. Nasty comments on blogs hurt. I've been in this business a decade now and I have the skin of a dinosaur, and yet every now and then some mosquito manages to get under my hide.

The worst is my travel blogging job at Gadling. We get millions of unique readers every month and so there are always people who don't like what I write, or have odd political agendas, or think some snarky remark was aimed at them even though I don't know them. Some are just plain insane.

It's always the angry people who comment the most, and spell the worst.

So yeah, random strangers are one of the downsides of writing. Every now and then, though, some reader will send a complement. One read my post about moving to northern Spain, looked up my public email address, and sent me some suggestions for hikes! Those make my day.

Unknown said...

Whoever said that stick and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me...had it backwards. I find that negative words stick with me for years, though most of my friends seem to forget them within an hour or two.

Thanks for the admonition to brace myself. :)

Karen said...

It took me long enough to find your blog, but I love it! I'm not sure where I'm going with my writing yet, but your blog is going to be a big help I am sure. Keep it up no matter what negative feedback you get from time to time.

Chris Hoerter said...

So that's actually *two* mentions for you at SCBWI in Charlotte, Hope. I know because I mentioned FFW in a session I attended. I had to repeat your name and FFW twice while folks wrote it down. :)

Hope Clark said...

And I almost attended that conference, Chris. Thanks for mentioning me! I have had a little jump in subscribers. Must have been you!