Monday, July 1, 2013

Bend, Don't Break

“I would advise anyone who aspires to a writing career that before developing his talent he would be wise to develop a thick hide.” — Harper Lee

Constructive Criticism

One of the hardest things I have ever had to do was stand in front of a room of strangers and try to inspire them. Did I mention those strangers were 13 & 14 yr olds?

I explained to my students on the last day of school my story:  How I was once a little girl who dreamed of having my own classroom because I love school...I'm weird that way. I also told them how hard it was to stand before them and teach them writing. But I ended by telling them how welcome they made me feel and how kind they were. In the end, they inspired me much more than I inspired them!

Writing a book is almost the same thing: you put yourself out there in front of total strangers and hope they accept you and your story for what it is.

Boy is that scary!

I remember asking my editor to read The Dragon Forest II thinking I had hit it out of the ball park! I thought for sure he would be so impressed with my story line.

I was wrong.

He had ten...yes TEN...typed pages of constructive criticism for me to read through, AND he wanted to meet with me to go over each point. 

Ugh. That was a bad, bad day. 

Yet it was also a very good day because it was the day my story was saved...from myself!

I learned that day the true meaning of "constructive criticism" and how much it stings. 

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The Writing Process

When I looked over my Dragon Forest II manuscript again after meeting with my editor that day, I realized how off course I was from my original idea. And I realized my editor's ideas were very beneficial to my story. 

So, I revised....and revised...and...well, you get the picture. 

My book went from 158,000 down to a workable 115,000 words. It was hard to cut out so many words, but it made for a much better story. 

Then I sent my editor an apology email telling him how sorry I was that he had to read such tripe in the first place! But he told me, "That's the writing process..."

And he's so right. 

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Bend, Don't Break!

After revising my book, I asked my beta reader to read the edited copy. It came back with stellar reviews from my target audience. 

Yes! God is good. 

I knew there and then that I was a writer. For the first time, I felt I truly understood the whole process of writing.

I rediscovered something about myself: I can bend without breaking!

I knew this before, I had just forgotten. 

So much about being a writer is bending...

  • Listening to an editor's harsh criticisms along with the heartfelt praises.
  • Accepting the publisher's timelines instead of your own.
  • Reading your beta reader's comments and suggestions with an understanding that they, too, want you to make a better book. 

All this "bending" makes you stronger...just like a tree after a storm. 

I hope this post encourages you to work through the constructive criticism and not give up!

Keep the faith...keep believing in your story...keep dreaming.

And...keep writing!

In the end, you'll not only have a better book, but you will be a much stronger person!

Your turn: How have you handled harsh criticism from your editor, readers, critique partners? How do you handle rejection?



  1. Ruth, this is a wonderful post! So far, I've only ever had one experience with an editorial letter and it was a great experience. But I'm currently in the waiting stage between turning in my manuscript and receiving my editor's comments. Yeah...nerves galore! But you're so write...constructive criticism is bending in a GOOD helps us become better writers and storytellers. :)

  2. Thanks Melissa! It is hard to read those comments, but a good editor will point out what you're doing right as well as what needs improvement.

    I received excellent advice from an agent who rejected my MS. She said the "magic words"....she said I was a good writer. Yay!

    Thanks for visiting!

  3. How do you find "Beta readers?" At what point do you give your manuscript to them? I am self-published, and someone very close to me does the editing. However, I would like to utilize beta readers. Good article, by the way!!

    1. Hey Joe!

      I send my MS to beta readers as the last step in the revision process.

      After it comes back edited and I make the revisions, I send it to my critique partners. After I revise it again, I then ask a beta reader (usually someone in my target audience who reads the genre and who is willing to be honest) to make comments/suggestions.

      Then I complete one more revision. After that, I feel it's ready to go out to literary agents or to a publisher.

      That way I feel I've given the agent/publisher my best work.

      Hope this helps!