Monday, January 26, 2009

For Better or Worse

So I've talked a lot on this blog about how I think it's important to be open to constructive criticism, and this advice has really hit close to home recently, as I attempt to shape my next book and hopefully grow as a writer as I do so. One thing that I've found myself doing is replaying some of the common criticisms from readers in my mind. (Yes, I know, it's hard to believe but there are folks out there who didn't like TOML! LOL. Really.) The truth is that I think you'd be hard-pressed to find many authors who don't read their reviews and, well, on the internet, people feel free to say just about anything (especially when it's anonymous), so we writers really can see and read how we disappointed readers, and of course, conversely, when we made them happy.

So it's been interesting as I write HAPPIEST DAYS, both in the positive and negative sense of the word "interesting." Because, to be honest, it's hard to erase some of those criticisms from clanging around my brain (they linger long after the positive reviews flee your mind), but maybe that's an okay thing. One thing that a lot of readers have written to me about personally (yes, people actually take the time to write me to air both their raves and their grievances) is the foul language in the book. Huh. It actually never even occurred to me, to be honest, that Jillian's inner-monologue, complete with curse words, might offend people. And truthfully, I felt and still feel that this was her honest dialogue with herself and I wouldn't change that even today, knowing that it upsets some readers. It would be disingenuous to both the character and the writing process. But with Tilly, my next protagonist, I AM keeping this in mind. She's softer than Jillian, and maybe I'd have dropped more F-bombs in this one if not for those readers, but I realize now that I don't have to...and trying to please them is actually okay with me. I can find other ways to say what I wanted to say without swearing.

That's an easy concession. There are other criticism that are harder to accommodate, but I'm trying to listen to what readers had to say and use it wisely. Some readers complain about lack of character development, which I really don't get, but maybe that's because I knew these characters so well in my mind. But I've read this complaint a few times, and thus, maybe it makes it a little more valid, a little more worth considering. NOT that it shapes my writing, but maybe it can make it stronger. Maybe, when I'm thinking about Tilly, I can dig a little deeper to create a more dimensional character. I don't know. The truth is that I truly don't know if I can because I really felt like I laid Jillian pretty bare. But I'm trying to learn from these comments and see what I can do with them.

The truth is that once you're published, it's probably easier to rest on your laurels. But it's also a little scarier. At least for me. I absolutely DO NOT want to put out a book, which I deem as wholly representative of my capabilities, that isn't up to my standards. And thus, it only seems wise to listen to these reviews, and when there is somewhat of a collective agreement on my weaknesses, to see where I can bolster up my writing. I'm not going to get rejected by agents or editors anymore - these objective readers might be my only outlet for honest (and sometimes down right rude! LOL) criticism.

Obviously, there is a fine line to walk here: you can't become so absorbed with these reviews that you become paralyzed. I admit that it's tough: I keep thinking: character development, character development, character development, and it might be hampering me. But better that I'm aware of these things - and at least making the attempt to improve myself - than to have my head stuck in the sand and think that I can't make myself a stronger writer.

So...I don't really know where I'm going with this! :) Only to say that I know that a lot of you guys are still honing your writing and are often faced with criticism. So maybe this is my way of saying, hey, you can use it to your advantage - at least, I'm going to try to.


LarramieG said...

How odd to reprimand an author. What I wonder is, if someone took offense to the language or complained over not knowing Jillian well enough, did they still read the entire book?

Constructive and thoughtful criticism is useful, while simple complaints remind that you can't please everyone. And, with ToML, you pleased a lot of readers Allison.

Anonymous said...

I admire you for being so honest about your feelings and what you are trying to do. I have no doubt that your self-examination and openness to criticism will carry through in your writing. Thanks for posting this.

Trish Ryan said...

So funny to read this, as one of the things I really liked about TOML is that you used language well...if there were F-bombs, they were appropriate, not just inserted to be cool or because it was too much work to find a better word.

But I think your point about dialing down enough to find the nuggets of wisdom in critiques is a great one. Thanks for the reminder :)

Vodka Mom said...

I was sent over here by a friend who adores your blog! I would love some advice. Instead of getting into specifics, perhaps you could take a PEEK at my blog, and then we'll chat.

I'll fix us a martini.....

Vodka Mom said...

I guess the blog would help..

I never said I was brilliant. Did I???

Maya / מיה said...

Wow, I can't believe people feel the need to air this. I can definitely relate to the way criticism echoes in your mind, though-- I have the same thing about other aspects of my life. I find that over time, I can start to understand the criticism and be less haunted by it-- but only after I've actually outgrown it! Good luck, and channel it into your writing.

About the language... one of my nightmares is that I'll get a book published, my EXTREMELY conservative Christian students will rush out to read it, and I'll suddenly have a zillion shocked letters from parents... I think I won't tell them :) said...

Allison, I just started TOML last night so I can't comment on the book yet...but, in general, don't you feel that you grow as a writer with each book that you write? So you are bound to produce a better book each time.

And while it may be valuable to take comments that pertain to the book's construction (character development) you also must write a book you love...otherwise you won't enjoy the writing and that may show up in the book. Enjoy. We can't wait to read the result.