writing

How to take criticism

I’ve been told a couple of times, from different editors and beta readers, etc, that I’m good at taking criticism. I want to tell you right off the bat that it was Not Always So.

At one point I got so hyped up about a certain piece of work, so convinced it was Perfect and would Change the World, that when it didn’t win a National competition I was devastated. That’s right, win. I didn’t care about the achievement of just getting it done, and entered. I expected to win. I had built this thing up in my head so much that one little set back really hurt me. I thought I’d never write again. I had months of over the top despair (granted, some other things were going on in my life but still). 

I took a long break from writing. I nursed my hurt and told myself I’d never be good enough. It sucked, it sucked like nothing else. 

But then, as I sorted out my life, and I found some joy, I found inspiration again and I began to write again, too. I started out with short stories and then I attempted a couple of ill-thought-through novels which I’ve abandoned, then I got to work on the old one. The one which had failed in the National competition. I gave it another edit and I sent it in for a manuscript assessment competition, which I won a place in. It’s been edited a few more times, and I’ve had positive and negative feedback on it. Feedback which hasn’t gutted me, or convinced me I’m hopeless. 

A couple of months ago I self published that book (without the help of a professional editor, mistake mistake). I’m currently reading it as a proof paperback and writing all over it, all the things which need to be updated. I feel shame that I let it out into the world, but overall I’m proud of the achievement I made getting it out there. 

I’ve learned a few things about taking feedback and criticism, and having learned these things, I want to share them. Its’ all about how you frame the feedback. Here’s my tips: 

Think of it as a favour – no one has to give you feedback on your work. In fact, in my experience, very few people will give you useful feedback. So if you get feedback that is technical, that points out that you use dialogue tags wrong, or that your character has been inconsistent, or that you’e contradicted yourself later on, that’s great and valuable stuff! (all real examples). The fact is, you hadn’t already noticed these things yourself, and now some awesome person has given you the feedback. Think of it as a generous favour they’ve done for you, and be thankful.

It’s not personal – when someone critiques your work, when someone finds an error, they’re not insulting you. They’re not telling you you’re a bad person, or a bad writer at all! They’re giving you the opportunity to improve. If you feel hurt by the feedback, take a step back. Move away from the manuscript for a day or three and let yourself sit with it. Then you go back in and look at the criticism again. 

Trust – maybe I should’ve put this one up at the top. But basically, trust the person you are getting feedback from. Don’t give it to someone whose taste doesn’t match yours. Ask for feedback people who are better at writing than you, people who know their shit. Then you can trust that they know something when they give you advice.

You don’t have to listen – just because someone says you should change something doesn’t mean its true. You can disagree with the feedback given. You can ignore it. You can listen, judge if it’s worth it and use it or not. It’s your choice.

Consider if it would improve your work – even if you don’t agree right away, stepping back and looking at feedback objectively is important. A little distance from your words is important, because maybe what they’re saying would make your sentences and your story stronger.

Read and Learn – always be learning. There’s a thousand writing blogs, podcasts, videos, courses and conventions that you can take advantage of. The more you learn, the more you improve your craft. The more you learn, the more you can write without making so many mistakes. There’ll always be mistakes, but you don’t have to make the same ones over and over. Getting third party feedback on your writing can highlight these mistakes for you. 

So… those are my things I’ve learned about taking feedback, comments and criticism. Do you have anything else to add? Comment and let me know your thoughts on feedback.

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Writing in cafes, a review of Auckland options

I’ve been writing out at cafes a bit, here’s my rundown of which ones worked for me and which didn’t so much. Here’s what I’m rating on: food quality, service, atmosphere/noise, how comfortable I was, how easy it was to write.

Disclaimer: I don’t drink coffee so cannot give you a review of how good the coffee was.

Cafe Melba , Ellerslie

Cafe Melba is my favourite cafe chain in Auckland. Whichever one you go to the food is great. Ellerslie is great for friend meetups and taking out of towners for a nice meal, but for writing it wasn’t ideal. I think partially because the tables are quite close together, I felt like I was in the way somehow. The table wasn’t quite big enough for my laptop, too. I love this place, food and service are great but I won’t go back there to write.

Cafe Melba, Hillsborough

The other Melba I go to is a bit more of a trip from home, but it is a blessed space of lightness, inspiration and motivation. Something about the amount of natural light, the high ceilings, the weird geometric shapes on display, it works for me. The tables are big enough to have food and notebook side by side (haven’t gone there with laptop yet) but I’ve consistently got a lot done. Love it here. Staff are attentive and friendly but also happy to leave you to it.

Bean there cafe, Onehunga

Bean there has a great line of giant, sturdy tables, and is usually pretty quiet so you don’t have to worry about where to sit. It’s counter service, so you have to either decide what to eat really fast or go and sit and then decide and get back up again. They have excellent orange juice, but the food’s just kind of okay. It’s kind of good, and kind of not. I actually started feeling conspicuous because it was so quiet, like everyone was watching me, or noticing me or something. Little awkward.

Circus, Circus cafe, Mt Eden

Circus Circus is where my writing group meets up in the evenings, and that is always brilliant. Nice large tables, friendly staff who are willing to add another table to the one you already have (if needed) and fantastic food. Going on my own, during a weekday was a different experience, due to different staff, etc. I did get a lot done, and it’s nice being in the middle of Mt Eden for other chores but overall I didn’t feel entirely comfortable. Not sure why.

Fridge cafe, Kingsland

The Fridge is great. Large, sturdy tables, various rooms, so if you see a bunch of people in suits having a loud business meeting you can just skedaddle into another room and sit in a corner. Sometimes sparrows come in. It’s quiet during the week and the staff have a good level of checking if you need anything else and leaving you alone. Brilliant pies, do recommend. It’s a bit out of the way for me to get to, but if it was close I’d probably be there all the time.

Allpress Auckland Roastery, Freeman’s Bay

The food here is brilliant, you can get soft boiled eggs and toast soldiers. Hot chocolate is good but not awesome. The table was great, atmosphere pretty good. But I happened to open my laptop to start writing just as a guy came in with a friend and he seemed to decide that he needed to impress her and me (he kept looking at me, it was weird) with his knowledge of generic geek stuff like Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings. They sat at the table next to me and he was diagonally across and it was so annoying I couldn’t write anything. On another day this place is probably great.

Onehunga Cafe

Too loud, the music was great but I was singing along to it because it was up that loud. The chairs are comfy, the one/two person tables are a little too small for the laptop though. Although the food is delicious, the staff don’t ask if you need anything else, like a hot chocolate. Disappointing. I mean, probably they were being considerate and not interrupting, but also they didn’t bus the plates away when I was done so. Not ideal. Delicious fried chicken though.

 

Now my conundrum is: do I keep looking at other options or do I just keep going back to Hillsborough Melba even though they stopped having the porridge I really liked?

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How I defeat my self-sabotaging brain

I’ve written previously about Impostor syndrome and the way it’s affected me. One of the really annoying things my brain does is distract me from my goals by forgetting things.

It’s so frustrating, because I’ve missed a hundred different competitions and opportunities because the dates go shooting out of my head. Or even goals like ‘finish this novel’ get forgotten, because I’ll get excited about some other project instead and spend all my time on the new thing.

Once I’d realised this was a problem for me, I used a tool I’d enjoyed using at work for organising projects. Trello. Trello is like a free online to do list, and totally customisable.

Here’s what mine looks like:

writing trello

I like colour coding my works in progress, and it’s very satisfying to move a card from ‘doing’ to ‘done’. It saves all my thoughts for me, and all I have to do is go look at it to see what I should be looking at. You can open the cards and put checklists in it, or due dates or random comments. Very useful stuff.

If you have any kind of organisational problems I recommend trying something like Trello or a personal kanban board to see if that helps.