Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Posted by Laurel Garver on Tuesday, January 29, 2013 18 comments

Putting ourselves out there to be evaluated by others--whether it's for critique partners or blog readers or agents and editors or the reading public--will involve risk every time. We may get all negative feedback, all positive or a mixed bag. Any of these scenarios has the power to eviscerate our productivity, though. In The War of Art, Steven Pressfield offers this wisdom for keeping forward movement and using criticism well:

The professional loves her work. She is invested in it wholeheartedly. But she does not forget that the work is not her. Her artistic self contains many works and many performances. Already the next will be better, and the one after better still.
The professional self-validates. She is tough-minded. In the face of indifference or adulation, she assesses her stuff coldly and objectively. Where it fell short, she'll improve it. Where it triumphed, she'll make it better still. She'll work harder. She'll be back tomorrow. (88)

Pressfield goes on to talk about the proper place of criticism and our work. We use it to change and grow, but don't let it feed our inner insecurities. Because that inner force that Pressfield calls "Resistance" wants more than anything for us to quit this whole writing business altogether.

I especially like the hope Pressfield offers here about our creative selves--that we're capable of many projects, thus success or failure on the work du jour should never have the power to make or break us. The amazing future-you will come into being as long as you keep showing up and working.

Have you struggled with crushing doubt in the face of criticism? What helped you pick up and move on?

If you could meet your future self, what would you ask her? What wisdom do you hope she'll have for you?

18 comments:

  1. All the time. I'm getting better but still have moments. I would ask myself how did I make it through and stay strong.

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    1. Learning any new skills is going to involve some trial and error; I think we're often impatient with ourselves and feel like failures instead of just normal learners when others suggest our work needs strengthening.

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  2. Definitely been there with the self-doubt. And it never totally leaves. I just try to keep writing because I really like to and not worry so much about the outcome. And try to look at it objectively and try to improve my work. Often the criticism is right on.

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    1. I found Pressfield's picture of building toward a future self really helpful in that respect. I remember learning to ride a bike, to read, to play an instrument and how just regularly plugging away DID yield good results. Knowing that critiques help, take them with thankfulness, I'd say. And keep on keeping on.

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  3. Yes...struggling with it today. The funny thing is that my own self-criticism is much harsher and much harder to deal with than criticism from others.

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    1. You definitely would benefit from The War of Art, then. Pressfield reframed my thinking about crushing self-criticism as in essence fear of internal change. Your old self fears who you might become and keeps you stuck. He takes an almost spiritual approach to overcoming it. He calls on his "muse" where I'd ask for Christ's spirit, but the need for divine help to overcome our penchant for doubt seems spot-on.

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  4. I've struggled with it off and on lately. I think it's that right before the book comes out kind of jitters. I keep reminding myself that this is just the first of many and that's I'm not done when it's out and done. I really liked hearing an echo of that kind of thought in that quote.

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    1. Absolutely one project does not define you or your career. The biggest piece of advice I can give before your book enters the world is to remember your identity is in being a beloved child of God. Whatever happens with the book, that central truth never changes.

      Wishing you well, and for peace as you release!

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  5. Funny, I just went through this with my crit partners on my last book. I thought this book was my best one yet. I tore it apart and put it back together twice of my own accord because I just didn't like where it headed.

    When my critters got a hold of it, they both tore it to shreds, something that has never happened before. Yes, I get redline from both of them over various points in my stories, but this time, they both pounced on it as if they were tigers and the book was a baby gazelle alone in the jungle.

    You would think that after so much time together I would be used to the crits, but this time it hurt soooo much more. I don't know why, probably because I thought I had grown so much as a writer, and obviously they did not think the same thing.

    Needless to say, I applied their suggestions and NOW the book is the best it can be. I've learned to push through the self-doubt. Chocolate and Kleenex helps.

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    1. The funny thing about critique relationships is that as everyone develops, the crits can end up going deeper over time. Remember that they are developing as readers just as you are developing as a writer. The net result should be your strongest work yet, if you can keep in perspective that their skills as editors are growing too. What Pressfield said about assessing our work coldly is helpful. If you find yourself getting emotional about a critique, put it down. Go back when you can evaluate the remarks coolly.

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  6. All the time, but then I have to stand back and see if their is any truth to it, if not then I move on.

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    1. A good idea, I think. That's pretty much what Pressfield is advocating too. Weighing crits with a cool head, not having a knee-jerk reaction.

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  7. I definitely struggle with this, and sometime I get crushed without considering if there is any truth to the critter's comments. This is why I won't check the reviews when it comes time to publish my books. It's not worth it, especially when it's too late to change anything. I don't believe in republishing a book after reader feedback. That should have been done with real beta readers. :)

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    1. It's good you're aware of the power others' words have over you. I wish Pressfield gave more guidance on exactly HOW one can become "tough-minded." By that I think he means driven by inside motivation rather than external approval. I see some self-help gurus toss around the term "approval addiction" and have some guidance on overcoming it. So there's that.

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  8. I love this. One of my favorite videos is by Elizabeth Gilbert, called "Keep Showing Up". Over the years, I have to keep learning over and over how important it is to self-validate rather than relying on others to validate us. That never leads anywhere productive.

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    1. I agree. Because we can often get into some really neurotic territory with outside validation, thinking "they're just being nice" or "everyone is out to get me."

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  9. I usually take critiques pretty well. In the beginning, I took them more personally and took it as a sign I had no right to write. Now I am suspect if I don't get too many comments. I want others to point out what I'm missing.

    Rejections bother me more now. Then I reevaluate: is it my query, my writing, me? But usually the melancholy is short lived.

    As you know, this was the perfect post for me today. Thanks!

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    1. Glad it helped you get some perspective. Rejections can really shake your confidence. Sometimes it's this other nebulous thing leading to rejections--"the market" and how well an agent thinks something will sell.

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