I recently had a request to review a book. This book was already published in ebook form. Now I was not being paid to write this review and I was receiving no other compensation, which was fine. This was a new, young writer and I wanted to encourage him. Keep in mind, I have written a lot of book reviews. I am normally paid to write what the book is about, not necessarily give my opinions of the content. That is what I did with this particular book.
Since he was a brand new writer and very young, I thought I would include some advice in a private email to him. The advice I gave centered around getting a professional editor and allowing some distance between him and his writing, as some of the events were very recent.
The review I wrote and the advice I gave were both nice. However, he did not take it as such. A return email came very quickly, “No thanks, for the review and the advice.”
I have to say I was quite shocked at his response. He came to me, wasn’t paying me for my time or expertise, and yet he refused to listen to me.
It bothered me for quite a while, until I thought of other writers I have known. Some were open to criticism and willingly reworked their writing to make it even better. Others…not so much. Some writers take criticism as a personal offense when everyone doesn’t immediately fall in love with their new work.
How can you take advice about your own writing? In the words of Winston Churchill, “Criticism may not be agreeable, but it is necessary. It fulfills the same function as pain in the human body. It calls attention to an unhealthy state of things.” And in your writing, criticism is necessary.
1. Be choosy in who you ask to read your work.
You want someone who will be honest, but will offer legitimate criticism. Your mom, who thinks you can do no wrong, may not be your best option. Keep in mind this quote from Benjamin Franklin, “Any fool can criticize, condemn and complain and most fools do.” When choosing people to give you feedback on your writing, think about what you are looking for. Ask an English teacher if you want someone only to look at grammar. Choose a book club group if you want to know what readers think.
2. Keep an open mind.
Not every piece of advice is something you will want to take to heart. However, you should at least thoroughly examine your work upon receiving advice and consider it. If it is something you realize you should change, then by all means change it.
3. Set the work aside.
This is a very important step in your rewriting/editing process. Once you read your work so many times, you skip over things you should change simply because you don’t notice them. Use this same idea with criticism. Keep the notes from other people with your work, put it away for at least a week, pull the work out, read the suggestions, and then reread the work with those suggestions in mind.
4. Don’t quit.
Don’t allow a little constructive criticism make you forget your dreams. Yes, it may take you a little longer to become a published author, but the more you work on your story or article, the better it will be.
5. Choose multiple people to read your work.
Use people that preferably don’t know each other so they can’t discuss your work. When you get feedback from multiple people you can see if there is one particular problem with your work when more than one person points it out. If more than one person says it, you definitely need to consider it. If you hear the same criticism repeatedly, then you will know it is a real problem.
6. Learn from rejection.
As painful as it is, sometimes you just need to scrap what you were working on and start over. If your story or article has been rejected over and over and over again, this is a clue that something just isn’t working. Try a different approach. Write from a different character’s point of view. Change your writing from fiction to non-fiction. Or just scrap the idea all together and move on to something else.
Keep in mind, rejection isn’t always a bad thing. It can be a great learning tool to help improve your writing.
About the Contributing Author:
Ruth O’Neil has been a freelance writer for more than 20 years, publishing hundreds of articles in dozens of publications. Her first novel Come Eat at My Table came out earlier this year. Her second novel, Belonging, is on its way sometime this next year. Ruth sees everything as a writing opportunity in disguise, whether it is an interesting character, setting, or situation. When she’s not writing or homeschooling her kids, Ruth spends her time quilting, reading, scrapbooking, camping and hiking with her family. You can reach her at her website – http://ruthoneil.weebly.com