Thursday, 27 August 2015

Rhino v’s Kitten – Reacting to Criticism

When I first began writing, and joined a critique group as I believed that to make it as a writer you needed to be like a rhino; that you needed thick skin. However, my experiences with both giving and receiving feedback in critique groups, and having feedback from industry professionals, and more recently having done extensive edits on my manuscript under the guidance of agent Shelley Instone, my stance has changed. 

Me and my rhino skin  -  painting by Me!

I always thought that tough skin was a perquisite of being a writer, being able to withstand the hurt of criticism. Maybe it is, but a Rhino analogy isn’t a good one. After all, Rhinos are stubborn creatures that are aggressive and have a tendency to drop their heads down and charge blindly in one direction. Unless you are a creative genius with the wind of fortune at your back it is unlikely that you will charge directly into a publishing contract. After all it takes more than one person to write a book, and it is rather like nurturing children; it’s not just the parents who shape a child, they need support from family friends, nursery staff, teachers, health visitors, doctors, the list goes on. And that it is the combined efforts of people working together, and the parents listening to people with more experience / knowledge and implementing their advice which gives the child the best possible start in life. Much like children where the parents get all the credit for how well they turn out, a book is written and shaped by many more people than just the author who has their name on the cover. 

When I recently met up with Shelley and her assistant Olivia, they asked me how I kept so positive when they sent me edits, especially when it came to number 11! As, when they were expecting me to go into writer break down, I remained cheery and upbeat. It was then when I confessed that actually sometimes [most of the time] receiving the edits back was difficult, and that I resorted to getting my husband to read them through first and give me the highlights. That way I got what the main points were without getting blinded in editorial headlights! This approach kept me calm, and allowed me to free my mind, looking for ways and solutions to any issues before I read the editorial report for myself. Crucially, I was calm and over any initial emotional reaction to edits and I could respond in a positive and constructive way. 

It is more of a kitten approach, instead of being a Rhino, and not letting the feedback affect me and continuing on my own path, I took time to lick my wounds, (and grieve for cut characters) and then shook myself off, got up and carried on, taking on board the suggestions and advice and implementing it. The’ Kitten’ reaction has made for an infinitely improved manuscript and a good creative working relationship with my agent too. Although I’m not a great fan of cats in general, I am proud to be a kitten. 

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