To Listen or Not to Listen

To Listen or Not to Listen

A Lesson by N. C. Matthews
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When it comes to taking criticism, the key is to determine if the criticism is helpful to you, helpful to your writing, or if it is something that you can just ignore altogether. Read more at http://LetUsWrite.wordpress.com

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As a writer, at some point in time, you are going to come across criticism.  You will have those who mean well and will give an honest opinion, and then you will have those people who are just plain idiots, who are angry at the time, or who seriously enjoy the instant gratification and anonymity of slinging s**t at the walls to see what sticks.  You actually will get some good advice, some of which you may or may not want to take.  The question you have to ask yourself is if the advice given will make any difference, if it applies to your particular writing, and if you really give a damn enough to take the advice.

A personal pet peeve of mine is for someone to tell me how to write my own ideas.  But guess what?  Sometimes they are right.  So how do you know if their advice is for you?  Try taking their advice and rewrite the suggested areas.  Is it any better to YOU?  If not, then toss it.  Nobody said you had to take their advice.  If you specialize in a specific genre or idea and feel that the advice really doesn't apply, then don't fret about it.  I have had a lot of "advice" from people who try to impose their own thoughts and opinions on what should and should not go on in my little world of the vampire.  What they fail to comprehend is that I spent YEARS creating the world that my latest novel takes place in.  I wrote down all the rules and regulations that governed what my different types of characters could and could not do long before I created a single character to live in that world.  I may not be an expert on the vampire, but I certainly could argue the point that I am an expert when it comes to my own storyline and the world in which that storyline lives.  But I try not to just toss aside a suggestion.  Any suggestion that I can actually use at a later date is always a good thing.   Most of the time, however, the suggestions given to me really do not apply to my particular genres.  When that happens, I simply ignore it.

Sometimes I get suggestions that fall under the whole, "I don't really give a crap" category.  But what if the criticism is so vocal, or shared by so many people, that they might be on to something?  If I know in advance what others will think when they read my work, then I can incorporate that into my storyline.  For example, I had several people make remarks about how absolutely absurd the names of my characters were in The Red Fang.  I did not just haphazardly pick names at random when I named the majority of my characters.  There actually was a whole vampire culture aspect as to how my vampires came by their names.  This idea was hinted at, but never talked about in detail, and I did not even intend to have any hint of the ideas behind their names come into the storyline until the second novel.  But since I now knew that people thought their names were so stupid and that they didn't understand the great cultural background of how my vampires got their names, I had to decide if including this information would benefit the storyline enough to warrant including it, or if I just wanted to let people think whatever they wanted.  In the end, I included an entire chapter that involved the three main characters sitting around poking fun at the ridiculous vampire names along with the cultural history regarding those names.  In the end, when people who read the story think that the names are incredibly moronic, when they come to the chapter that explains the cultural significance of their names, the readers are the ones who end up with egg on their face rather than me.

In my particular writing style, I have a tendency to write like I am giving a verbal recount of a story.  I use incomplete sentences, run on sentences, have dangling participles and modifiers all over the place.  It is very laid back and low key.  My writing style does not resemble a polished, professionally edited book at ALL.  And that 's the way I want it.  I have had hundreds of readers tell me they enjoyed my writing style and that it really made them feel like they were in the story.  Bottom line, it works for me.  I don't sound like all the cookie cutter books out there and I don't want it to.  So when I get comments bashing my writing style as being 'unprofessional' or that point out all the English rules that I am breaking, I file those suggestions under the "I don't really give a damn" category. 

The worst thing a writer can do is try to embrace a writing style that is not naturally their own.  If all writers sounded the same, how very boring the books would be to read.  I know that I am breaking English rules.  I did it on purpose.  The real question is, does pointing this out actually help me?  If the grammatical errors hinders the storyline and takes away from the action, then yes, it helps.  But if the story reads, sounds, and feels just the way I want it, then no, pointing out that I have disposable adverbs and unnecessary modifiers does not help me.  One has to keep in mind that not everyone will "get" what you are trying to say, will understand your point of view, or will even be smart enough to follow along with your storyline. 

If all else fails and the criticism/suggestions is really bothering you, then take a step back.  Count to ten.  Reread your work.  If there is something that YOU genuinely think needs to be changed or addressed, then by all means, change it.  But if you feel that your work is just fine the way it is, then take all those "suggestions" with a grain of salt.  After all, you can't please all the people all the time.



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Comments

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Posted 5 Years Ago


This is very eye opening for me because now I feel I'm not even getting proper critiques. I get mostly good reviews and some are very heart felt and positive, but sometimes I feel I don't get enough actual help in my writing.

Whenever I get a review that says that they don't understand what I'm trying to say, or just say a simple, "It's good, I like it. Amazing," or some other sugar coated s**t that the previous reviewers wrote, then it makes me think that they hate it, didn't actually read it, or is too lazy to give a constructive review. I mean, I understand if someone has nothing to say about my work, it just shows I need to be more creative in my writing and try to make it stand out more. It'd just be nicer if they would out right tell me so and if they'd give an opinion about it, maybe how I can make it more interesting. Do I need more imagery? Metaphors? Which part was confusing to you?

I just don't want to get a review at all if it's going to be half-assed. But I guess I shouldn't just expect so much from other people. They should say whatever they want to say, whether it's just a couple of words like, "It's good." ....ugh.

Once I start getting proper constructive criticisms or maybe deconstructive criticism, I'll know what to do, so I'm definitely looking forward to reading more of your lessons.

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Posted 5 Years Ago


Ayra,

Read the article "7 Signs of Trolling." I included (towards the end) in that article 2 examples of comments/reviews. One being a 'deconstructive' comment/criticism that has no merit (meaning the review/comment did not say anything that would actually help the writer to become better at his/her craft) and a non-trolling or 'constructive' review/comment that has merit, i.e. gives specifics on what the reader had problems with along with ways that the writer could improve the work in question.


A reader who merely posts something like "I had a hard time reading this" or "This didn't make sense" is not helping the writer in any way. A writer needs to know -why- the reader feels this way and what the reader thinks would help fix the problem. Stating something like "I had a hard time reading this because there were dangling participles and a lot of grammatical errors and verb tense switches" is much more useful to the writer.

These courses are actually part of a how-to guide to creative writing that I have been working on. These courses are by no means complete in themselves; they are basically meant as a snap-shot review of my upcoming guide. They do, however, hold very basic and valuable information for writers in all stages of their craft.

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Posted 5 Years Ago


Dear N.C. Matthews,



I agree with you with most of your ideas, but I only have one question: What is it that you look for in a review?

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Posted 6 Years Ago


One of my pet peeves is to see the words "Well, I would have written it THIS way...." That's when my temper breaks. What I really want to shout at them is: NEWSFLASH! ALERT! YOU did not write the story!

What most people don't get is that if you take their advice and have your vampires doing what all the other vampires are doing, then you didn't write your own storyline, you just rewrote one that has already been done to death (no pun intended). Yes, you can have original ideas and storylines that use some of the same old cliches and it turn out really well. A lot of people are not going to be open to the idea, though. For the most part, I say, "Here's what I wrote. I like it just fine the way it is. If you see a spelling error, fine, thanks for pointing it out. Other than that, don't waste your breath trying to convince me that your way is better. It's not."

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Posted 6 Years Ago


I think you make some really valid points. When I started my first novel and posted it for feedback, I got nothing but criticism about my writing style. Like you, my book is about Vampires as well. And what ticks me off about some of the feedback was people telling me 'vampires don't do that' or 'why is your vampire like this or that' My only reply to those types of feedback is 'it's my story and that's the way I want MY vampires to be.' If I want my vampires to walk through walls then by golly my vampires will. Everyone has their own writing style and their own story lines. As well as their own opinion. Not everyone is going to like your story line but other will just love it.

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Posted 6 Years Ago


Yes, feedback can be helpful, especially if you are just starting out as a writer. What's -really- annoying is when a critic points out the English pitfalls and when I tell them I wrote it that way on purpose, they insist that it is still wrong and not written well. But I figure that if a few hundred people leave comments that they love the work, then that 1 person's advice doesn't really matter.

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Posted 6 Years Ago


Excellent advice. I have two lessons in The Right Way To Write Wrong that address the very same issues. Sometimes you can use criticism to call out your critics and still write the way you want, but with a "screw you, I know it's wrong and I like it that way" twist. Sometimes feedback is helpful...but only sometimes.
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N. C. Matthews
N. C. Matthews

About
My pen name is Nicola Chey Matthews. I have been writing for over 28 years now. I first began writing when I was only five years old. I wrote my first novel at the age of 13, and had attempted 2 ot..