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Thursday, October 25, 2012

You Made Me Quit Writing

This past week I've been trying to catch up on my editing for my critique group. I've had a lot of help getting JANE DOE polished for contests and EHNAV primped for submission and I feel the need to pay it forward. If nothing else, I need to settle my Karmic imbalance and Do Unto Others.

This last week I ran into something a little different, a newbie writing in a genre I liked who wasn't familiar with all the grammar rules and who wrote like a new writer (go figure!). Writing groups are great for newbies. It's a safe place to learn how to write, get feedback, and learn to edit. When I critique and obvious newbie I try to be gentle, but not too gentle. New writers need honest feedback as much as anyone else.

In this case, the response was an angry email that boiled down to, "I quit writing because of you!"

The author wanted to hear that their work was perfect, and when my critique wasn't filled with praise, the author lost confidence. I was horrified, because I've been there. Every author I've ever known has had a day when they want to quit. We've all had days where we've walked away, and sometimes those days have lasted weeks or even years. It happens.

I rushed to my computer all intent on sending a soothing email about how it really was good and the author shouldn't quit. And I stopped. And I said, "Why should I lie?"

The writing sucked. It might be the best this author could do, but it wasn't ready for prime time.
 That's why it's called a Rough Draft, because it's rough, because it's not ready. In some cases, the book will never be ready. It happens.

A critique partner who lies to you is a thousand times worse than a critique partner who makes your manuscript bleed. It hurts. I know it hurts. You question whether you're a talentless hack who should pet scorpions... okay, maybe that's just me... and it hurts to see all your hard work shredded because you failed to be perfect on the first try. Or the second try. Or the nineteenth try.

But it's better to have your critique partner make your manuscript bleed than to have them lie, tell you your bad work is great, and send that work out into the world so you face rejection and humiliation from editors, agents, and readers.

And, if you can't handle the criticism, you don't deserve the accolades. If you can't do the work to make your book perfect, you don't deserve to reap the rewards. If one critique full of suggestions makes you hate writing, you are not ready to see a one-star review of something you slaved over for years because the reader confused your book with another and reviewed the wrong book entirely (there is no character named Mattie in my book).

Publishing is not an easy industry to work in. Those beautiful books you see lining the shelves were not created overnight. Every single one, from Big 6 to self-published to small press is the results of hundreds if not thousands of hours of work from the author, editors, cover artists... everyone. When you read that book you're seeing the end result of all that work, the blood, sweat, and tears. I promise, that author you loved, they thought about quitting at least once. There was that one day, for just a minute, where they almost threw in the towel.

You get your book published by ignoring the pain, and taking the good advice you get. Even if it means setting down a project for a little but. Even if it means deleting that scene you love. Even if it means tearfully going back to the drawing board and rewriting the One Scene that NEVER WORKS *stab stab die die I hate you* and kick it for good measure.

Because the only way you get better at writing is writing more.

If you asked me to go for a run today I'd probably make it a quarter mile before I collapsed and needed medical assistance. I want to run the Tough Mudder 12k. I can't do it today, but I can walk a few miles, jog for a quarter mile, and come home with shaking legs and tears in my eyes because I'm a pudgy, jiggly, thirty-year-old mother of four who eats too much candy and doesn't get enough exercise or sleep. But if I walk and jog every day for the next year, at thirty-one I won't have shaking legs and jiggly thighs.

Maybe your best isn't competitive enough for the market right now. If you write every day, if you get with a crit partner and learn to edit, you'll get better. Your best will get better. You will be a competitive author, and you will see your pretty, beautiful book on the shelf.

So quit, if you want to. Run if you're scared. But if you're ready for Prime Time, get your butt in that chair, turn the internet off, and write.


  1. The sad truth is if you can't take criticism, then even if your book might one day be ready you, as the author, are not ready to be published. I won't lie either. If someone asks me for an honest opinion, they'll get it. Because I'd hate to be lied to and I don't think it does anyone any good, ever.

    1. I'd rather have my crit partner tell me I'm writing stupid any day of the week. At least I know they'll forgive me and read the next thing I write, readers aren't so nice.

  2. Great post! I always tell my critique partners that I'm tough, but by experience, I know it's better to know, privately, and be able to fix it than for a reader to tear it up in a review that is very public. I'm ruthless and I want them to dish it right back. Unfortunately, I've only found a couple of writers willing to take it and give it. Anyway, you said it perfectly. And I agree with Pippa, too.

  3. Very well said my dear. It is important we give constructive criticism with respect and that we RECEIVE constructive criticism with respect.

  4. Great advice! I will be rereading this when I start querying. :)

  5. It's also important to learn what is and is not constructive and objective criticism.

    I've had a crit done on my work where I was told that I overused a word. That's all well and good but I defy anyone to write any story without using the word "the" a lot.

    Granted that's an example of a really bad critter but it is important to learn how to take crits objectively and see if they really do apply to your work or are simply someone trying to get you to write according to their viewpoint.

    The person who wrote that email obviously isn't ready to go into writing for a living.