On Fear of Criticism
If you are writing your first novel, short story, screenplay, poem, song, graffiti, at some point, someone will have to read it; a group of hand-selected reviewers, a trusted friend, your mother. This may terrify you. After all, your pages represent your most sacred thoughts, a link to your mind—perhaps your soul. I hesitated for a long time, afraid my work was inferior, unworthy, that my grammar was poor, that I'd misused the dreaded semicolon. *Note, potential misuse. Perhaps you’re having similar reservations. Perhaps you’re afraid your soul might bore or offend others, or, depending on genre, even seem black.
Your work is worthy, and your soul is not black—well probably not. I don’t actually know you, nor am I priest, but I’m betting money it's not. Your passion will bleed into your story, and others will sense it, be affected by it. And, considering the very small number of English teachers and the very large population of people who barely passed the subject in high school, most readers won't really care about that damned semicolon. Readers are forgiving—even willing to take huge leaps of faith, knowing you’ll explain it all to them later in the book. They want your story to be good, they want to be entertained or learn something, to cry, whatever. They want to believe in your awesome characters. And if they don't, well maybe they’re just not your target audience. Baskin Robbins has 31 flavors of ice cream for a reason; not everyone likes pistachio eggnog mocha swirl. *Note, second potential misuse. King fans probably don’t gravitate towards Sparks, but maybe some of those readers will be the eclectic sort and will gravitate towards your amazing hybrid: "The Notebook…from Hell!"
So, how do you overcome your fear of exposure? How do you step out onto that stage, naked and alone, hoping people don’t snicker, or worse, give you a weak smile and say, “You look…good.” Personally, I’d rather hear, “Go to the gym, lose twenty pounds, do a million crunches, get some plastic surgery, then you’ll be stage-ready.” Now, that’s useful—painful, perhaps, but useful. Constructive criticism is a gift. Even though it's about your baby, try not to become personally offended. You want your baby to grow up big and strong, don’t you? Well, don’t you?! Besides, your cat loves your story so much, he sleeps on it every day—Ha!
Now, who should you ask? If not friends or relatives, maybe a few strangers. There’s a certain safety that comes with anonymity. I hope you’re on Twitter, Facebook, Goodreads. There are tons of authors out there—many, very willing to take a peek at your manuscript if you ask them. Reach out and connect. They know things. They’ve been right where you are: cold and quaking with fear. *Potential misuse of colon. Besides, what have you got to lose? You don’t have to crawl into bed with them at night—unless they’re really hot and happen to live nearby.
If you’re still not sure about this whole disrobing thing, you may want to attend a writer’s conference, sit in on a few seminars, kidnap an author after a book signing and buy him/her/it a cup of coffee. Also, there are a lot of books out there to spur you on. Turns out, writers like to write about writing. Fascinating.
But, ask yourself the bigger questions: For whom am I writing? *Potentially correct usage of “whom” And what’s my real goal? Is it for the masses, to make a quick buck? If so, find out what’s flying off the shelves and give it to them, speedy quick. If you’re writing for you, and I truly hope you are, then by God, own up to it. You want your characters, ideas, words, story to be loved, embraced, appreciated, right? Well, guess what? No one will ever have the chance to do those things if you don’t overcome your fear, take that next step, and let them see it.
So, write fearlessly, and with reckless abandon; pour out your heart and tar-black soul, and then feed it to someone. *Really, I can't help myself. A few pages at first, then a couple of chapters, the first half—you’re doing great! Okay, ready? Full-Monty!! And know that one day, in the not so distant future, you’ll step boldly onto that stage, do a fancy striptease, and then dance naked before the whole wide world. Congratulations, babe, you’re a porn star!
The influx of self-published books and their success in the marketplace is indicative of an open-minded audience willing to try unfamiliar names not backed by large publishing houses. It’s a truly great time to be an author!