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ASK THE EDITOR Learning To Take Criticism Key To Writer’s Success

By Susan Malone

June, 2000

Often we have a misperception of exactly how creativity translates to the page. The mistaken belief swirls in the back of our minds that learning the SKILLS of the trade will somehow mar the pristine qualities of inspiration and talent. Perhaps this bizarre reasoning is due to some weird genetic flaw that leads folks to become writers in the first place. I dunno. We don’t see it in other creative endeavors. I mean, reckon that by knowing blue-plus-green equaled shades of aqua harmed Picasso’s creativity? I doubt it.

But writers often shy away from revisions of their stories that make the difference between publication and not. They commonly tell me that their work is too far on the fringes, that they’re out of the mainstream of thought, and therefore some conservative (or liberal, pick one depending upon your predilection) conspiracy is keeping them from print. Or that to become published, they must "spiritually gut" their work, somehow soften it to make the theme more acceptable to the masses.


Red lights and sirens go off in the heads of editors and publishers when they hear this. It tells them that the writer is not open to criticism, and therefore can’t with any semblance of sanity be worked with. And THAT is the death knell for one’s book, rather than any perceived glass wall.

Let’s take for example the issue of Viewpoint, or Point of View. This is the eyes and ears of perception in your story; the filter for the reader to experience the book’s events. It’s the single biggest problem in virtually all of the novels I see. If you’re confused about POV, then you’re in good and abundant company. If it’s new to you, then welcome your new bedmate (God knows you’re gonna spend enough time fighting with it).

The problem isn’t with POV itself. Yes, it is confusing. And yes, it can be quite difficult to master. But mastering a skill is never the hard part. Getting one’s mind screwed on right in order to learn the skill proves the most challenging hurdle.

And the reasons for not learning these skills, and then revising according, rarely if ever hold up. Ninety-nine percent of the time, the resistance comes from not wanting to see one’s work as it really is. Because even that old Viewpoint bear actually exists to make the work BETTER. It revolves around narrowing the focus. Around making certain the reader gets to play, rather than just be told a story. Point of View is that marvelous tool that brings the tale to life as an experiential process, providing an enriching jaunt rather than an empty black hole of time.

Don’t you want that? Don’t you want YOUR book to spring to life from the pages, even if it means a blow or two to the old ego as you go?

Will studying the skills disrupt your creative flow? Undoubtedly. For a time. You’ll struggle with the learning, but ultimately master the skill, incorporating it then into your repertoire of tools that become second nature—yours to USE. Then you’ll have your talent, in all its pristine form, and also the new skill at your fingertips.

As writers, our little egos get to stand front and center. I know that well. I’ve had my share of punches to the gut. And trust me, the longer you stay in this business, the more of those you’ll get. But as with most points of wisdom (a nice word for getting up once one has been slammed to the mat), some perks come with that. You get used to it. You don’t toughen so much as you gain some objectivity—see what proves valid and what just reflects someone’s rantings. The point is to stay open to all.

The initial inspiration for a novel can be heady as hell. It rivals any drug (not that I would know first hand, of course) for producing euphoria. But do NOT get lost in the trap of believing that at the end of that one has is an actual book. No, one has a place from which to BEGIN an actual book.

Learning to truly write is a gut-wrenching process. But once you get past that first getting-the-breath-knocked-out-of-you hit, you can proceed to the part that matters—the implementation of the steps presented for your edification, and for the novel’s success. Do know that ninety-nine percent of would-be writers never get past that initial punch. One of the most difficult parts of the process (and even more so for well-educated, successful-in-other-fields folks) is having to step back and be a beginner again. Learn this early in your writing career. Staying a beginner on this path will serve you well on that road to success. And, ensure that even once you reach that golden ring—publication—you’ll still have lots more to learn, which will only help your stories.

Once you know and accept this, and become open and willing, the punches don’t hurt so bad. And that buys your ticket into the process through which those one percent become successful.

Susan M. Malone is a Contributing Editor to Authorlink.com, a multi-published author, and owner of a successful editorial service. SEVEN books she’s edited have been published or sold within the last two years. Her own newest nonfiction, FIVE KEYS FOR UNDERSTANDING MEN, co-authored with Gary L. Malone, MD, is out now. Check out her listing under Editorial Services, and email her at aaasuz@aol.com