Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Slings and Arrows of Outrageous Fortune

Let's talk about the painful part of writing. You know it if you write. Even if you don't send queries, if you show anyone your work and they come back with a criticism that is vague or one that "feels" like a pounce, you know pain. As a friend recently wrote on Facebook, it seems that just as you learn something, someone sees something in your work and is so proud of themselves that they "found" some little flaw, they pounce on you. Their "aha!" Turns into "you fail, stupid." Whether they mean it or not. These are artistic losses we all suffer.
"Perhaps the most damaging form of artistic loss has to do with criticism. The artist within, like the child within, is seldom hurt by truth. I will say it again that true criticism liberates the artist it is aimed at. We are childlike, not childish. Ah-hah! is often the accompanying inner sound when a well placed, accurate critical arrow makes it's mark. The artist thinks, "Yes! I can see that! That's right! I can change that!
The criticism that damages an artist is the criticism-well intentioned or ill- that contains no saving kernel of truth yet has a certain damning plausibility or an unassailable blanket judgement that cannot be rationally refuted." ~ Julie Cameron, The Artist Way, pg 130
All these things Hurt- I'll say it again. They HURT. The only way to move on and be free to create work is to acknowledge these hurts- to write about them-to talk about them- to feel them and move on.
I told a dear friend a week or so ago that I'm a huge drama queen (I've said this before on this blog.) When I get a rejection or a damning criticism, I feel it. I cry. I whine. I may even take to my bed, or a hot bathtub of bubbles. I go on and on about it for at least three days. Then I set it aside and move on- The point is I get it out of my system and move on.
Now, I've had friends say- oh, buck up. Stop whining. Grow a thick skin. There is a prevailing sense in this business that if you feel hurt, then you won't make it. You must suffer all these hurts big and small in silence, sweep them under a rug, ignore them in order to be professional. I'm here to tell you, that if you do that, you will kill the joy in your writing. (The person who told me to buck up- Grow a skin...they got one revision letter from an editor and never sent another book out.)
Allow yourself to grieve and move on. I have countless rejection letters. I still have people today who point out my flaws, my typos, etc. I take a bow, acknowledge my imperfections and if there is artistic truth, I thank them. If it is petty I think, really? What did that gain you? Allow yourself to feel these slights- these slings and arrows- acknowledge them, look them in the eye, rob them of their power.
The Journey is tough and random. Some people make millions while other talented artists get ignored. One bad review can set you back years. I often describe the writing life like this. There is a giant room full of boxes. A writer must take a risk and reach their hand blindly into a box. Some pullout a contract. Some get bit by a snake. Some pull out a winning lotto ticket, while others find only razor blades.
When you're feeling blue- remember. It's not a race. The outcomes and opinions of others do not effect your journey. Only you effect your journey. They don't give away prizes for who ever bucks up best. Whoever has the thickest skin. - nope, no award show for that. If you begin to feel as I often do that everyone else knows more of the grammar rules and that I will never be a "good enough" at craft, here is a quote from Julia that I completely agree with: "For an artist to become overly cerebral is to become crippled (artistically.)"
So, grieve your injuries and let them go. Celebrate your imperfections as part of taking artistic risks. Find the joy in the journey while dodging the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune. Cheers~


Jessica Nelson said...

What a great quote, Nancy! I never thought of criticism like that before.

Nancy J. Parra said...

Hi Jessica, Thanks. Hope things are going well for you. Cheers~

Linda Kage said...

Perfect post, Nance! I like a little grieving time too. My husband's one of those "buck up" people--even though I daresay he gets down about things lots more than I do--so I just quite telling him about my rejections.

Despite the little cry fests in between, I've been learning lots from my reviews and rejections. In one of my two-star reviews, the reviewing picked on a piece of dialogue saying, no one talks like that anymore. I was tempted to put that same line in the next book and have another character come back and say, "Huh? No one talks like that anymore." just to show I've learned my lesson. Heck, I still might do it!

~Sia McKye~ said...

Rejection letters are never fun. By the time you reached the point of querying you think your work is the best you can make it and you're proud of it. Those generally take a few days to filter for me.

When I show my work to the few fellow writers, Pubbed and unpubbed, I respect I want the truth, not sunshine and butterflies. I expect them to find glitches and see things I didn't. That's why I ask them. I'm not hurt by their observations and critiques. I learn and apply. But I've also learned that not all critiques help with your story if the reader has a different vision or can't work within yours.

But you're right, whether it merely stings or cuts, you have to get it out of your system and move on.

Nancy J. Parra said...

Linda- LOL! You should do it. :D Would love to see that in dialog. Thanks for sharing!

Nancy J. Parra said...

Hi Sia, I always look forward to your take on my posts. Your comments are really thoughtful and thought provoking.
I wasn't talking about sunshine and roses. Blah- those kinds of critics aren't helpful at all. I agree with you about listening to your trusted cp's/first readers. It goes back to the "true" criticism that rings right and helps you.
At the same time, I've also experienced some "pounce" moments that are not helpful- from teachers, contest judges and/or new CP's who ultimately found more joy in crushing than nudging.
The point is to recognize the pounce moments, grieve them and let them go so that they don't crush the spirit.
It's amazing how many people seem to have an agenda of hurt/artistic bullying.
Thanks for the great comment. Cheers~