Friday, March 15, 2013

Dealing with Critiques and Rejection

One of the best things that can happen to a writer is getting their worked critiqued by a group of their creative peers, and it is even better to be REJECTED by a publisher. Now, some people are probably doing a double-take, but you read correctly:

Critique and rejection are two of the greatest things that can happen to a writer, but they are only good for a writer if the writer themselves can see critiques and rejections for what they are: a chance to learn.

Nobody in this business does it on their own, and nobody becomes a great writer by themselves. Writing, in its pure essence, is creating something new and beautiful from one's experiences, hopes, dreams, nightmares, and lowest and highest natures. Writing is also a very personal thing, when a person takes their ideas, passions, and the things they love and put them down in a word document which captures their innate sense of excitement. The type of writing a person does on a creative note defines them in all ways. Therefore it makes total sense that having a your work critiqued as being less-than perfect or being rejected by a publisher hurts. To those with the wrong mindset, the judgment or rejection isn't just about your characters or your story--it's about you.

But, my friends, it is good to be rejected as a writer. Rejection, especially from a good editor, is more affirming of where you need to go with your writing than it is about how developed you aren't as a writer. Case in point: I am currently working on a story that was entitled Shallow Bay, which has now been reworked into the The Beast of Shallow Bay, and it tells the tale of an old pirate named Ngala who sets sail upon The Mirror Sea on the quest for riches and rapine. On the way back from a successful raid, his ship The Lion is mysterious trapped in the middle of Shallow Bay, with its deserted coast and dangerous jungles on its white sand shore. Trapped without fresh food, water, and harangued by the monsters of the deep, Ngala and his son Eyos must solve the mystery of their entrapment before it is too late.

This story was rejected five times, each by a SFWA pro-market. And yes, it hurt. I won't lie and say that I am not immune to being told that I was lacking, BUT when I finally got through that one-hour "screw them"-period I always go through, I sat back down and really looked at the comments given to me. Out of all the people who rejected it, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, edited by the very nice and probably very talented Scott H. Andrews, gave me the reasons why it was rejected. First off, the fact that I got a personalized rejection that was not a form letter was a big deal to me, because BCS could have just sent me one and that be it. Instead, they told me what the problems there were with that story; there were many pronoun errors, and the beginning took too long to actually get to what the plot was about.

They were right on about everything they said. I went back and found a section where there were a LOT of pronoun errors, which my critiquers had missed, my first reader had missed, and more importantly, I had missed. In the end, the fault lay squarely upon me. So I sat on it a couple of months, and now I am shaping it up to send back out. I can't send it to Beneath Ceaseless Skies again, but that publication will be one of the big reasons for why it gets picked up, IF it gets picked up. The pronoun issues are fixed, and the beginning starts right where the action begins.

Readers out there have to understand--a lot of these publishers and magazines don't have a lot of money, so the spots that they can give out in their publications are very few, and believe it or not, they get a lot of good stories. This forces them to have to look at every single detail and mistake and weigh it against other submissions, and sometimes you lose. It isn't because you're a bad writer; it may just be you made one mistake and someone else didn't. And that's good in a away. It is part of the learning process of trying to get into this business. There is a time to be angry, but you can't let that anger stop you from moving on and trying again. It may be an old axiom, but the ones who make it are the ones who try, try, try, and try again. Rowling was rejected hundreds of times before Harry Potter was published. George R.R. Martin was rejected 45 times before he even sold his first short story. I am lucky to say that I am having two stories published in 2013, which is a lot more than others in some cases, and some of that may be based on sheer luck alone. Seriously, I was really lucky.

You just can't give up. You need to toughen that skin, remove yourself from the emotional pain, and really sit down and learn to pick your work apart so it can become BETTER. This somewhat segue-ways into the area of critiques, which is the primary function of a group I became the head organizer of in January of 2013, Charlotte Writers.

Now, critiques aren't rejections, but in some cases they can be just as damaging to a writer who does not have the proper mindset. Quality critiques can be tough because depending on who you are working with, the people around you may not have a good grasp of your genre or they are just starting out on their journey as a writer and really don't know a lot about fiction writing, which in my opinion (and my opinion only) is very different from creative writing. So it becomes hard to know which critiques are good for your work and which ones are might not apply. However, before we can continue with this train of thought, some attention should be paid to what makes a good critiquer:

1. A good critiquer is reader who reads your work critically and makes constructive suggestions to make the piece better, while at the same time respecting the fact that it is your work.
2. A good critiquer does not try to rewrite or redefine your work to suit their tastes, as it is your work and not theirs.
3. A good critiquer comes prepared to critique.
4. A good critiquer remains professional and treats what they are doing as a job. Remember, the goal is to get your work ready to be published, and publishing is a business.
5. A critiquer never talks poorly of other writers or refuses to critique based on their opinion of other's skills. A critiquer is there to learn and to help others learn the craft of writing, and should come into a critique session with a positive and helpful attitude.
6. A good critiquer is a good writer, meaning that they are constantly trying to improve their own skills, whether as a writer, editor, or reader.

With that out of the way, not all critiques are equal in value, so therefore it becomes the job of the person being critiqued to unpack all of the opinions they are given and decide which ones are of the most value. This takes a lot of time working in dedicated critique groups, building an honest report with its members, and that sometimes means swallowing your ego and really taking the time to listen to what other people are saying. It is the same method to deal with rejections, but the difference is that you can't go in with the sting already in place. Good critiquers help and never try to hurt.

You, the writer out there who is just like me trying to get your foot in the door of the industry, can do this if you are willing to do what is needed to get it done. Sometimes that means you will have to hear "no" until you heard the word "yes." But we can do it. I believe in me and I believe in you--let's get to work.

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1 comment:

  1. Great article, Jay, and good advice. Stay Stone Green

    ReplyDelete