Sunday, March 30, 2014

A Funny Story about Subjectivity and Reputation

If you know anything about me (as most of the random participants of the internet do) you have heard me complain about my intense distaste for my college professors and how they taught me in the ways of dealing with emotionally wrought authority figures without going completely insane.

Case in point:

I was a theatre major, and one of the main requirements to graduate was a directing class. The semester I took it, we had a large group, but there were three major people of note.

1.) The woman we shall hereby dub as Eichmann. Eichmann was a beautiful, kind, sweetheart, who accepted all ideas except for her own. She believed the teachers always knew what they were talking about, trusted them implicitly, and followed orders unquestioningly.

2.) Next there was “Broadway.” Broadway was a fun, quirky girl with powerful pipes in an anti-music theatre department. My professors didn’t hate music, they just took possession of it; it was their thing, and we couldn’t have it. She was interesting in a way, because, like Eichmann, she was very sycophantic, constantly pandering to the teachers, sucking up to them, complimenting them, taking their hostile criticisms with a smile and agreement. But unlike Eichmann, whose full faith came from an honest place of blind trust, Broadway had an agenda. She couldn’t keep it up all the time, and would argue with them to get what she wanted. Her sucking up came more from manipulation than actual hero worship, and I appreciated her for it.

3.) Me. Because, of course. Now understand, in college, I had my head so far up my ass that I was actually taller. Not in terms of narcissism—although that’s true too—but I just didn’t notice the effect I had on people or what they wanted from me. I didn’t realize my teachers just wanted to be told they were right—Not that I would have obliged them even if I had. In any case, I constantly questioned them, not realizing it put them on edge, and it ended up that I scared the crap out of my teachers.

The classes went by as you would expect. Eichmann sat riveted in her seat, leaning forward as our professor redefined and made up words. Meanwhile, I’d be there asking, “If no one else has taken this class, will any of the terms be useable outside it?” And Broadway would switch back and forth between telling me to shut up and going, “Wait, yeah!”

The day of reckoning came quickly. For our final project, we each had to direct and present a scene. I chose Taming of the Shrew by William Shakespeare. Eichmann chose A Midsummer Night’s Dream by William Shakespeare, and Broadway chose The Defenseless Creature by Neil Simon.

Things you should know about our department: Musical theatre was off limits, as I said. Not officially, but you’d never get permission. You weren’t “ready yet.” (Their favorite phrase when reasoning why you shouldn’t do something.) Also off limits was Neil Simon. Again, not officially, because “officially” could cause conflict. You can argue with something “official,” but you can’t argue with something “passive-aggressive.”  But, unlike musical theatre, it was because Simon was beneath us, as was anything written after Death of a Salesman.

Neil Simon is, of course, not a musical playwright. But considering that Broadway was good at musicals, and our teacher wanted to be good at musicals, and Broadway had a reputation for doing things off limits, when she then chose to do Neil Simon, (Ha. That’s what she said) she was in trouble.

The scene I chose from Taming typically hinged on slapstick. It’s a fight scene when the two lovers meet for the first time. Generally, directors have them kicking the crap out of each other, which is, in most circumstances, hilarious. My approach, however, was to do it more down to earth, focusing on the characters’ inner life over external conflict. The argument between them was more realistic in mine than usually done. Was this a good choice? Well, at the end of it, I wasn’t entirely satisfied. It was fine. But it didn’t matter much anyway. I never took school all that serious.

The scene taken from Midsummers was where the love-square meets in the forest and the girls beat the crap out of each other because one of their boyfriends is magically induced into loving the other girl. Eichmann focused on the slapstick, having the characters constantly running around, slapping, shoving, and chasing each other. You don’t hear a word anyone says.

The Defenseless Creature is about a woman who needs a loan and proceeds to beat the crap out of the banker until she gets what she wants. Emotionally, anyway. It is a very stupid short play, but it had me in tears the entire time. I laughed so hard I nearly peed myself.

She had split the stage into two “rooms,” having the secretary on one side and the banker on the other. The Defenseless Creature comes on, goes in and proceeds to make a scene until the banker gives her what she wants. The secretary, meanwhile, ate his lunch, played with ball clackers, and was all around hilarious. When the boss cries for him to remove the woman, Broadway made sense of the secretary’s long absence when he tries to hide his evidence.

Out of the ten scenes, Broadway’s was by far the best, no question. I had zero doubt.

But then we went to class.

A “post-mortem” is a meeting after a show is over where people talk about what happened—what they liked, what could be improved, etc.

Teacher starts with Eichmann.

“Yours was so hilarious. I loved how you didn’t depend on the words to entertain people.”

He tells her only good things.

He turns to me.

“Yours was so hilarious. I loved how you really focused on the words and conveying Kate’s emotions.”

He tells me only good things.

He looks to Broadway.

“Yours was muddled. Distracting. There were some great lines in there and the audience doesn’t hear them.”

You heard that right. Eichmann glosses over Shakespeare, and she’s a genius. Broadway glosses over Neil Simon, and she’s a disgrace.

I say, “Yeah, but it makes it rewatchable.  Now when you see it more than once, you get something new each time.”

He gives me a look. “Yes, but are we really making theatre to be watched over and over?”

For once, I can’t even begin to think what to say to that. Well, I am.

He tells Broadway only his complaints, not saying one good thing, not one thing she did right. She takes it like a champ, meanwhile, I am pissed.

See, the criticism was not about what we did. It was about who we were and how he perceived us. Eichmann was told nice things because he liked her. Yes, I wouldn’t say her play was bad, or even that it deserved hostility, but she didn’t receive any negative feedback even though there were things she could have done better. The same goes for me. There was a lot I could have done, but not a word about it. Not only that, but Eichmann and I received the exact opposite compliments, where Broadway got dinged for the same thing Eichmann was praised.

The reason why Broadway was torn apart had nothing to do with her work and everything to do with her reputation. Teacher wanted Eichmann to be happy. He wanted her to be good. He wanted her to stay liking him. He didn’t like me particularly, didn’t want me to be happy, and definitely didn’t want me to be good, but he wanted me to like him too, and felt that I didn’t. (Which was actually, at the time, a misconception on his part. A misconception that led to behavior that made me not like him.) Criticism is hard because if you’re not well practiced and someone argues with you, it’s difficult to prove your point. I can say I don’t like this character, but why I don’t like a character, or even why it’s important that I do like a character, is harder. He thought I would argue with his opinion, and he didn’t have enough confidence or understanding of said opinion to stand strong if that happened, so he avoided it.

(I’d like to point out that while I can be an unruly bitch, it is not common for me to be an unruly bitch. His belief that I would fly off the handle at feedback was unfounded in experience.)


Head of the Department tries to pawn me off onto someone else when I ask if he’ll read my play.

Head of Department: You should try giving it to Teacher. He’s our playwriting professor.

Me: I did. He doesn’t read them.

Head of Department: Well, he says you’re bad at taking criticism.

Me: How would he know? He hasn’t given me any.

True story. Teacher never gave me a lick of negative feedback because he assumed I wouldn’t take it well. Over time I’ve learned there are people who interpret asking questions as a form of interest, and others who interpret asking questions as questioning.)

In any case, it’s doubtful I would have shanked him with my mechanical pencil if he had said, “Really find the inherent humor and play off of that,” but he believed I would have lacerated him, and that’s the important part.

See, he didn’t criticize Eichmann because he didn’t want to. He didn’t criticize me because he was afraid to. Broadway had the worst of both worlds. He wanted her to be terrible. He was in competition over the whole “who’s better at musicals” issue, he was mad she chose Neil Simon. He was mad because she’d argue with him from time to time, but, unlike me, he wasn’t afraid of her. She would take blunt attacks like the best of them, most occasions agreeing, which made it okay. He could attack her with no ramifications, so he did.

While my situation was extreme, it is a good example to the life of the writer. The worst reviews are online, when the posting is anonymous, where there are no consequences for being a jerk. The most hostile rants are for self-publishers and successful young adult books, where the reviewers want to hate them, where they want them to be bad. There are many people like my teacher, people who want to be writers and so are angry with those who encroach on their “territory,” people who only give criticism when they think they can get away with it, and people who will like or dislike something just because they want to.

Feedback is a wonderful thing, but it’s rarely a good identifier how well you’re doing. In order to be useful, it’s important to not look at the “rating” but the advice itself, and always remember how that person sees you—or wants to see you—before taking them too seriously.

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Sunday, March 23, 2014

Deleting and the Whole “Isn’t Needed” Thing

I know I’ve complained about it before, but I’ve got a new angle! Wow, right? And most of my followers are relatively newcomers and are just perusing the new stuff, so I can sneak in some redundancy, I think. Not that I’m all that subtle.

So you have a scene, someone says to cut it. It “isn’t needed.” And you say, “Your mother. The whole book isn’t needed! What does that even mean?” (Okay, fine. That’s what I do. You, of course, maintain decorum throughout.)

Okay, they’re probably right—Or at least from their point of view (what they find important, their interpretation of your book, and their assumption on what you’re trying to do) they’re right. The problem is, however, this argument isn’t really an argument, and it’s another form of what I call as “problem marking.”

In criticism, the why is more important than the do. When you tell me to cut characters, why you want me to cut them tells me which ones to cut, as well as gives me other options than to just do what you say. If you’re bored because you don’t know who to root for and thus end up rooting for no one, then I would cut the more boring characters, or even go through and make who’s the protagonist more obvious. If you’re confused, however, I wouldn’t be looking for who had the least personality, but confusing names or people who are easily forgettable. I might cut the smaller characters, merge characters, or maybe even just give them more memorable names and descriptions. There’s lots I can do, once I understand what I’m trying to do.

Problem marking is where you don’t discuss what the problem is, you just point out the general area it exists. This can manifest in circling something, or even crossing something out and making the change to however you think it should be. It can be the dreaded question mark, or it might even be when they blatantly say, “Why are you doing it this way? Just do this!”

Problem marking is anything that points out a problem, doesn’t discuss why it’s a problem (it confuses me, it bores me, it muddles the image, etc.) just assumes that it’s correct and that if you just make the suggested change, everything will be better.

I consider “it isn’t needed” as not being a problem. Personally, I define bad writing as a reaction to a choice. Specifically a reaction the reader doesn’t think he was supposed to have. Good writing could make someone laugh, but bad writing could make someone laugh when they’re supposed to be crying.

When someone says, “This isn’t needed,” it doesn’t tell me what their reaction was. It implies a lack of reaction. The problem is, in writing, there’s no such thing. A lack of reaction could mean that, “It doesn’t make me feel anything,” which would actually mean, “I was bored.” And “I was bored because this didn’t make me feel anything,” is a more useful comment than, “It wasn’t needed.” Especially the solution of just removing something is a solution to a lot of different problems.

Knowing the why is important to me because I’m rarely on the same page as other people. I don’t know what it is, but when someone tells me to do something specific, and I don’t get why, I always end up doing it wrong—not how they meant. I’m not a great abstract thinker when it comes to figuring out “If I do A and B, it will end up with C,” but I’m fantastic at knowing, “If I want to get to C, I need to do A and B.” I can solve problems like the best of them, but I can’t predict problems worth shit.

Blah, blah, blah, my point is be specific when criticizing. Tell me why it’s better without it, not just it’s possible to get rid of it. I’m a, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” kind of girl, for lots of reasons. One, organic personal mistakes are less intrusive than decisive external ones—i.e. when I naturally did something weird, it will be more cohesive with the rest of the story, then when I did something weird due to outsider influence. Two, you might not be right, or I might be misunderstanding you. Solving problems are often far more complex than what an hour long conversation can describe. If I misinterpret what I think you want me to do, or you’re wrong about how to solve the problem, or there’s more involved to fixing it, I can’t self-correct. I can’t easily check my formula if I don’t know the answer.

Knowing what’s “needed” is complicated. As I joked about earlier, it’s a fiction book. None of it is “needed.” What is crucial to your story and what isn’t? Why should I get rid of everything that doesn’t talk about what certain people think it should? Life goes on in tangents, why can’t I?

To complicate things, I have mixed opinions about not putting in what’s not needed. I hate digressions like everyone else, and I don’t trust authors who go off in detail about how, yes, their characters do pee sometimes. But I also believe that it’s the little, inane details that make up a world. And, more importantly, make it less predictable. If you have only necessary information, the audience will recognize everything is important, and they’ll start asking exactly the right questions. “What’s with the phone? He’s probably done something to that phone. What could he have done to it? Probably bugged it. He’s bugged it. They’re hearing everything.” Of course, that’s not always a bad thing, but I personally hate being distracted from the characters and the jokes just to be thinking about why he went the vending machine.

Lots of people come up with ways to determine what’s “necessary,” but generally the metaphors seem to be more about proving that you shouldn’t have extra tangents. The most common reason for this, and the motivation I had for this rant, is the hiking metaphor.

It goes like this: You’re going on a hike. You don’t want to lug around anything more than what you need. Do you bring a hairdryer? No. You don’t. Because there would be no electrical outlet.

Alright, that’s all fine and dandy except, 1) I’m not physically carrying this stuff with me in a story. It’s obvious why I wouldn’t want anything more than I needed on a hike, but that doesn’t translate to the amount of scenes in a book. 2) DUH you wouldn’t bring a hairdryer. Telling me what you obviously wouldn’t use doesn’t help with the nuances of “what is necessary” in a book. It’s far more complex than that, and it’s kind of insulting you would think I’d want to bring a hairdryer in the first place.

Would you bring a compass? Matches? A first-aid kit? Those things might be usable. You might not use any of them. If you’re going to use a metaphor to simplify things, at least make it usable. How do I know if I’m going to bring a first-aid kit or not?

I have an answer to that, if you’re interested. Because of course I do. I don’t know what else would be expected of me.

My reply is, for one thing, unlike actually hiking, you can edit out whatever you don’t want either. When you’re writing, I think it’s a good idea to “bring” everything that occurs to you. It’s not until the end of the trip that you can say, “Okay, I can get rid of this, I didn’t use that…” So, okay, bring the matches, bring the first aid kit, hell, even bring the hairdryer. I say wait until you figured out what “C” is before you decide if you need “A” or “B.” Feel free to go off on tangents. They very well might not end up being that later.

Secondly, in a book, you don’t want to carry a bunch of extra crap because it looks like a lack of forethought. Good writing, in most circumstances, is about gaining the readers’ trust. Show them that you have their back, that you’re not going to make them lug around junk they don’t need, but you are actually good at predicting we’ll use A and B. This makes them less inclined to tune out information, and to trust that you’re really know where you’re going. If the audience does not believe you know where you’re going, there’s a good chance they’ll stop following you. We’ve all been taken into a back alley and shot by an author at one point, scorned by a crappy book. Illustrate that it’s not going to happen here, that you got your back, and you know what you’re doing.

Lastly, think about it in terms of the world being real. If the characters were actual people, and if the events actually happened, and a person (the narrator) is actually telling the story, what is his motivation for talking about this? These people have had lunch millions of times in their life; why is this time important?

You always put something in for a reason, you felt, in some way or another, this was important. The questions then become about why is it important, what does it do for the story, and is this still true? Does the reward of having it (the information delivered, for instance) outweigh the consequence (the pacing slows way down and is dull). Ask yourself why, and you’ll figure out if it’s needed or not.

Friday, March 14, 2014

The Benefits of a One-Star Review

Other than some reviews in newspapers and a few… we’ll say enthusiastic Facebook messages, I have as of yet to be in a position to receive any sort of criticism, let alone the “one-star,” or its equivalent. I am not a person who has had to overcome the pain of a bad review yet, so what I am about to say comes primarily from a reader’s perspective:

One-stars can be a good thing.

Okay, now I understand any skepticism you might have, but bear with me. I know they’ll ruin your overall rating, and it can establish a fear that maybe you just embarrassed yourself, and nothing’s worse than being told you’re wrong by someone who doesn’t “like curse words,” but you have to acknowledge the benefits:

1)      They make me spend more time considering the book, benefiting the “three times” rule.

Here’s how I tend to choose my books: raid my friends’ shelves, go to a bookstore, or happen across it online. I am most likely to give the books on my friends’ shelves a try, but you’ll note, I’m also not paying for them. I like to wander around bookstores, but I rarely buy anything unless I have a gift card (Or else I buy everything.) The most common way I find books, however, is by stumbling across them on the internet. I actually purchase far more self-published books than I do traditional ones. I bought three last week.

I’ve notice that for me, in all these cases, the “three times” rule is fairly true. This concept says someone needs to hear a label/name three times before they will notice it/remember it. Many books I will pass up the first few times. I see them, and then, seeing them again and remembering I’ve seen them before, I’ll start paying attention.

The reality is simple: The more I hear about your book, the more likely I am to buy it.

How does this tie into one star reviews? Because I read them.

Generally speaking, the Amazon pages for self-published works don’t contain a lot of information. Often times, we get a vague summary—attempting to keep up a hook and the mystery of the work—a cover, a couple of sample pages, and maybe a page count. You are probably not going to get me with your summary. They contain little information, little characterization, and little indication of voice and atmosphere. I am not a plot person; concepts and main conflicts rarely catch me.

So you have a book that may be my thing. Possibly. Keeping in mind I have twenty books on my nightstand (literally—Although it’s a kitty tree, not a nightstand), I don’t really need something else to read. I wasn’t looking because I need to buy something; I’m likely to pass. But before I do, I can get my jollies by reading some pissy rants. That means I’ll be spending more time on your book.

I’ll note they’re not always fun. They tend to piss me off just as much as they probably did the writer. Sometimes, however, they’re hilarious. But in either case, they make me feel things. And that’s why I like them. So I will entertain myself by reading bad review after bad review, long after I would have probably left your page and forgotten about it.

I don’t read five-star reviews. I might glance at a few. But they tend to all be the same. They don’t deliver new information, they talk about how they fell for the characters and couldn’t put the book down, but are polite enough to spoil it with why. Not only could the five-stars be absolutely full of it, but they’re uninteresting, and they rarely say anything more than what the actual stars did.

Every review I read cements the story in my mind. It makes me aware of the characters, repeats their names, maybe even the title. The more I read about your book, the more I remember it. And while I know I am not always typical, I will say that if people are reading your reviews, it’s probably the one-stars.

This means that without them, I would have given you three seconds. With them, you get ten minutes.

But wait! That’s a bad thing, isn’t it? People who know nothing about your book are reading what the naysayers hate? So your first impression will be about all the bad stuff, wouldn’t it?

Nope, because…

2)      I’m not going to change my personal tastes just because someone else doesn’t like the same things.

There’s a study in which two groups of people are asked to listen to songs they’ve never heard before. One group is told what their friends and peers liked, the other isn’t. What happened? Well of course the first group was more in agreement and the other was much more scattered. People are influenced by each other, there is no doubt.

So, yeah, one of the downfalls of only reading one-star reviews is that you do get a misguided idea as to whether or not the book was “good,” and I’m sure I have judged books unfairly.

But when someone presents their opinions straightforward and openly, many of us are going to argue with them. Sometimes just because we’re contradictory. I’m not going to be convinced that your book is bad just because someone says it is, and if he’s complaining about things that I thought I liked, I’m not going to question if I really like those things. That’s what writers do, not readers. He says, “Stop it with the goddamn love triangle,” I go, “Oooooooooh.” He says, “Way too much gore!” I say, “Ahhhhh!” He says, “There were swear words,” I go, “And?”

Plus, the thing about bad reviews? Most of them are stupid. And many of us recognize that. I swear if I see one more, “Real authors don’t do that, don’t you know?” I might actually respond. (For the most part, I stay out of bad reviews on other’s works.)

Most one-star reviews contain one of four things:

“There were typos and grammar issues.”
“The main character was a Mary Sue.”
“There was swearing.”
“The main male lead was a jackass.”

Okay, I take the typos and grammar thing relatively seriously. I have commitment issues, and I’m not going to place my emotions and faith in an author who doesn’t care enough to take the time making it easier for me to understand him. But honestly, that’s a preventable comment—for the most part. If that’s what your one-stars are all about, you know what to do.

As to Mary Sue and swearing, I don’t care. I really don’t. I’ve read a lot of books that I would have liked better if the main character had, say, a personality, but it’s never ruined a story for me, or made a story for me. And frankly, I like when the characters are overtly “special,” and I want them to be able to obliterate the competition (with some moderation, of course.) Secondly, when a reviewer says something indicating a knowledge and adherence to writing rules—Mary Sues, only use said, don’t have prologues—it says to me, “I’m a frustrated writer, which is probably why I was reading a self-published novel in the first place,” and not, “This will be your experience as a reader.” I don’t take that seriously. If it’s for a traditionally published author, I take it even less seriously, because, yeah, I’m that simple when it comes to reputation.

As for the “main male lead was a jackass”? GOOD. I like that. I’m sarcastic, I’m not afraid of men or assholes, and I have an affinity for people who don’t give a shit.

Which brings me to my point: Someone will write a tirade on how crappy your book is, I’ll read it, and every point they make will make me want to read it, because personal tastes are a thing, and one man’s trash is another’s treasure. Or I agree, I don’t want to read it, and that’s good for you because I didn’t just pick up a book that isn’t my thing, and now I can’t be pissed about it.

In all honesty, most of the current books I’ve picked up, I did so because of a spectacularly bad review.

Because of the passion and conflict and humor, and even at times cathartic trashing, I will have made an association with the good feelings a well-phrased rant and your book. I feel so good after the review, I want to keep reading. What else is there on this topic? Oh, right. The actual story. For the same reason I’ll read comments after an article, I’ll pick up a trashed book because I want to maintain that feeling, even if I know it’s not really the same. (Seriously, what is the point of comment sections?)

Often times it will give me the exact information I need to hear: “Then she goes in there, guns-blazing, fearlessly obliterating the place like a moron.” And I’m hooked. Your summary will leave out the important elements that will come into play later, but many times, that information is exactly what makes me want to read it.

If the reviews are stupid, the people reading them will be more inclined to side with you. If the reviews are accurate, then people who like that kind of thing will realize it’s their kind of thing, even if the person speaking implies they’re stupid for liking that kind of thing.

3)      I don’t trust anything without one.

Being that I buy self-published books, I know having only a few reviews isn’t the end of the world. Having no reviews is an issue, for the most part because again I’m just left to the little information given, and I have to make an immediate decision (instead of having the time it takes to read over the reviews and think about it.)

I’ve never come across a book with a lot of five-stars and no one-stars. That being said, if I did, I’d probably buy it to figure out what kind of shenanigans are going on. I have come across a few with a decent number of three to five-stars. In that case, I usually read the threes and then move on. The threes are generally well informed and genuine; they’re also boring.

If you have no one-stars, it tells me you have no strangers reading it. That makes me even more inclined not to take a second glance at the fives because they’re all going to be insincere. You’re going to get a one-star review no matter what. If you don’t, it’s an indication to me that—one—no one else is wasting time on you, and—two—you’re not doing anything interesting enough for someone to be bothered by it.

So if you have five reviews and suddenly a one star ruins your five star, it’s actually says you’re getting people who aren’t just there to be “nice,” which is important to other readers.

4)      Most people who care about other people’s opinions aren’t looking at the main star ratings.

I’m actually not the sort of person who is… let’s say “a follower,” to put me in good light. I’m not one much for blind faith, I like the security of knowing why. There are benefits and consequences to this, but what you need to know is I don’t spend a lot of time seeking out other people’s opinions on something before I buy it. I like it or I don’t, and I don’t care what you think. As indicated above.

(I will point out I am easily influenced subconsciously, but that’s another issue.)

Certain people in my life are the exact opposite. I pick a movie because I go, “That looks good,” or more likely, “That is starting right now.” My brother picks out a movie because of what Ebert and Rotten Tomatoes had to say about it. (Or did. Rest in peace, Ebert.)

Some people like having someone more knowledgeable inform them before they waste their time on something. These people do care about ratings. But few actually care about the main star review. Why? For one thing, it’s almost always four.

I’m not kidding. Go to and see if you can find anything that isn’t between 3.5 and 4.5. Go ahead. I’ll wait.

It doesn’t matter if it has ten reviews or ten thousand. Humans are relatively simple, and we like simple “Bad or good,” and “Most things are good until proven bad.” Which is one of the reasons why most reviews are either one or five stars with very few in between, and there seems to be five five-stars for every one.

The people who really take ratings seriously are looking for something more valid, something they can trust. They’ll believe book review blogs or their friends’ accolades before they really take it seriously. So it doesn’t matter much if your five-star suddenly became a four. It’s to be expected.

Of course, the downside is if you do have a three star or less, people will notice. But I will say if that happens, there’s something else going on. Lots of horrible books get four stars and very few books get a bad average at all, so whether the book is terrible or not, I’m going to say you attracted the wrong sorts of people (frustrated writers), or just ticked a whole bunch off by something seemingly unrelated.

You didn’t call yourself a “best-seller” with only two reviews did you?

5)      There is no such thing as bad press.

So, Chelsea Handler made a racist comment. You know who I hadn’t been hearing about before that? Chelsea Handler. Do you know who is blowing up my Facebook feed? Chelsea Handler. Of course, I’m a firm believer that no attention is better than bad attention, and there is no way in hell I would try and label myself as racist just to get everyone to notice me. I want to be a full time novelist with the money and reputation to write what I want, but I don’t want Stephanie Meyer’s career of dissension and ridicule, or the reaction to Miley Cyrus.

But after it happens, there is something to be said for embracing the benefits. The hatred of Twilight has perpetuated its name far more than the love of it. Miley Cyrus managed to break the barrier of child-actor into pop-star.

You’re going to get criticized. You have some control as to how, but you can’t prevent it from happening. So when someone gives you a really bad review, know it’s going to garner more attention than a good review ever could, that not everyone’s going to agree with it, and that it’s not the end of the world. In many ways, in fact, it is a good thing.

While there is something to be said for not deliberately attracting bad press, you can embrace it when it comes. It will might be exactly what gets you a few more sales.

Friday, March 7, 2014

How to Cut 60,000 Words

I have a confession to make. Up to this point, I’ve only cut 50,000 words. I know. I’m ashamed of me too. Before I start, I will tell you that the last 20,000 was the hardest part, but the first 40,000 went by in a breeze.

Now, I’m not an advocate for “short sentences are the best sentences.” I could kill Hemmingway, in fact, if he didn’t do it to himself already. With booze I think? Anyway. The following suggestions are for people with books they want shorter. These are simple steps into how I got rid of almost the size of a second manuscript, not necessarily about how to improve your writing.

So what happened?

Last year I finished a book in five months, landing at 180,000 words. For those of you who don’t know, 100,000 was supposed to be my max. Now, luckily it’s science fiction, and that’s a genre that they allow to be slightly bigger than others because you have to go into all these tiny details to explain that there is such a thing as clocks in this world, and they do get their milk from cows. Just cows on another planet. So, while 120,000 is still perhaps too long, it is often considered in the “acceptable zone.”

When I brag about this achievement, people asked me why it matters. Simply, bigger books are more expensive to make. That means that if it flops, the publishers are out even more money. They often have to charge more and readers notice. Secondly, readers have certain expectations, and they’re less likely to buy a very short book or a very long book.

I knew the plot wasn’t set up to be two separate books, so I really only had two options: Wait until I was famous with some of my other manuscripts or cut it.

Step One: Accept that there might be nothing to cut.

By taking a relaxed look at it and saying to yourself, “If I can’t cut it down, then I will leave it as is,” you take pressure off yourself and are better able to make good decisions. The problem with cutting a great deal is you start hacking away at important scenes, or removing “swayers” (Things that subtly influence readers’ opinions.) By telling yourself that it’s not the end of the world if you don’t get it down, and by accepting this will take several reads, you are less likely to take out something important or get overwhelmed.

Step Two: Cut everything you know you want to.

The easiest step for me. Before I even read it again, there were a lot of sections I knew I had started to explore that never went anywhere. There were directions that I started to go that I changed my mind about. There should be a few things about the story that you already know you could probably remove.

Step Three: Retell the story to yourself. Read the story. Which parts did you forget about?

This needs to be done early on, before you’ve read the manuscript sixteen times. Or sometimes it works then too, but it’s most useful when you don’t remember the plot that well. Summarize the story in good detail (maybe make an outline or synopsis, which you probably want to have anyway), then read the book. There are parts that you won’t even remember happened. They might be the perfect place to cut.

Step Four: Reread. Don’t want to read a section again? See if you can cut it.

This was a great step. I would be going through my book, dreading the next part, and then realize that I didn’t have to really read it again. I’d skim it, see if there was important information, and if I could just cut it, I did. Takes out the boring parts and works off your laziness (the only thing more powerful than the ego).

Step Five: Cut down on those scenes you wanted to cut, but couldn’t.

Now, it is sometimes a relief to realize you can’t just go hacking. Being able to slash through chapter after chapter is an indication of something that I didn’t really want to be true. So you might find that boring scene is really important. Then what? Cut it down.

Make the scene as physically short as possible. That includes deleting any lines you can get away with, deleting extra words, deleting extra syllables, etc. By making the scene take less time to read, it is going to be less boring, so again, killing two birds with one stone.

Step Six: Line cuts.

Now we’re getting down to the grind. It’s time to start shortening as many scenes as you can. This is the place where “kill your darlings” might come into play. If you have a line you love, you don’t need to cut it, but if it’s the only reason you’re keeping a huge section of unimportant dialogue, then yes, it’d help.

Focus on the beginning of conversations and scenes and see if you can’t start further in. If you have places where you told people what you just showed them, delete that too. I ended up deleting a lot of emotions, internal thoughts, and descriptions of pain, leaving only action. It was distancing (the reader knows the character worse now) but it was more atmospheric, especially for the tone I was going for, so I was happy with the results, even though I probably would have preferred it the other way if I didn’t need to shorten.

Step Seven: Pay attention to “transitions” and “explanations.”

Transitions are the bane of my career. This is a section in a book when you’re trying to get a character from Point A to Point B, either in physical location or emotional. How do I take them from lovey-dovey to furious? How do they get inside the fortress? How do I get them out of jail? Blah, blah, blah. Most of the story is about convincing characters to do things, or enabling them to. A lot of the time these scenes only exist to explain something to the audience and holds no other purpose. I want to get rid of them, but I can’t.

Or, there are scenes that I call “explanations,” in which I have to spend the time dealing with the ramifications of previous event… Ramifications that aren’t necessarily important. Having a whole scene dedicated to convincing someone to not be mad anymore (someone who has every right to be), is a waste of word count for me.

This is where you have to get creative. You can cut down on these scenes, which helps, but it’s really useful to find either quicker ways to transition, or start combining scenes. I have the problem of what I call, “There and Back Again,” (in honor of The Hobbit) in which characters will go someone where else then come back. Over and over. If I can make everything that happens there happen all at once, then I try to do that.

Combine information from another scene to make it have more of a point and cut the other completely. Move scenes around so that the explanation or transition isn’t necessary. Or, the hardest one, change the original concept. (She’s not there at all to see the event, so she can’t be mad.)

Before making a big change, save as a new draft. Then go for it. What I do is make the change then wait a couple of days and see if I still regret it. If I do, I go back to the original draft and put it back in. This has only happened once.

Step Eight: Look for “stalling.”

“Stalling” is where the author is trying to figure something out, but still writing. An excellent technique in the process (nothing inspires you like being in-world and making decisions), it is useful to watch out for in the editing process. Especially when a book is too long.

This manifests in information delivery; do your characters keep retelling the same information in different ways? You were probably not satisfied with the way you said it. Take the last way you said it, replace it with the first, and delete the others. Do you spend a lot of time not giving out information? Are there scenes where nothing is answered? Did you not know the answer at that time? Those are stalling scenes, and you can get rid of them.

It also comes in the form of word choice. I remember I once watched an actor performing my play, and I sat there thinking, “Did he forget his lines, or is that how I wrote them?” I couldn’t tell because how he stalled—adding in extra words, taking more time to say things—is how I did. It looked the same to me. Apparently this is called “sticky words.” This is where your English class comes in handy. While “excess” words and phrases like, “In regards to,” “very,” and most prepositions can be perfectly fine, if you are trying to cut a big chunk, this is an easy way to do it without changing the story itself.

Step Nine: Phrase cuts.

Which brings us to step nine. Phrase cuts are where I found a series of words that minimally influenced (or sometimes not at all) the sentence.

I often go through and look for prepositional phrases. In most context, prepositions clarify things, and sometimes you can get away with not clarifying them at all. The line that stands out most to me was, “she looked at the paint peeling on the wall.” Paint could be anywhere, but considering they were in the room, the assumption would probably be that if she watched paint peeling, it was not on the ceiling, or on the dresser if I didn’t say otherwise. So, “She looked at the paint peeling,” was fine.

You’ll note in doing this the sentences might start to sound funny. “He thought,” is an unusual sentence, but “he thought about it,” is fine. You do have to look for cadence when removing prepositions, not just meaning. Also, there were times when I thought something was obvious without the preposition, but it did confuse matters. Remember, you put the phrase there for a reason, so consider what the reason is before hacking away at it.

Another big one for me was, “started to,” or “was beginning to.” I just clicked Control-F and went through the whole document finding all of them. I got rid of 500 words by changing, “The ground started to shake,” to “The ground shook.” I also cut  a lot of “for a moments,” and "for a second."

Of course, it’s a very different image, one being abrupt and one being gradual, so not all of them could be changed. Many of them, however, I didn’t care.

Also, you will probably be able to get rid of all “was –ing” phrases. This only gets rid of one word, but it adds up. So “He was swimming,” can be changed to “He swam.” Again, this affects duration of the moment (He was swimming implying he swam longer), but question how important it is before you get stuck on it.

Step Ten: Word cuts.

The most tedious and painful part of the cutting process. I got to this point at about 20,000 words left. It took forever. But by the time the story couldn’t have any more scenes cut without it making sense, and it had gotten to a place where I really liked the pacing and plot mapping, it was really the best way to not risk the story for stupid word count.

I calculated how many words per page I had to delete—78—by taking the amount I wanted to delete by the number of pages there was. Then I went in and copied out a single chapter, times the pages numbers of the chapter by 78, subtracted that product from the total, and deleted until I got down to that difference.

So, for example:

 # of words to be cut (20,000) divided by # of pages in book (say 300) = 66.66666666667, so 67 words.

Grabbed one chapter. # of pages in chapter (say 5 pages) times by 67 = 335 words. # of words in chapter (say 2,500) subtract 335 = 2,165. So I delete words in the new document until the word count says 2,165.

So now I’m going through, chapter per chapter, slowly whittling it down. I’m 8k away from 120,000 words, and about 1/3 of the way through the book. I will say that, because of certain choices I’ve made, I’ve found I can get the book down to 115,000 words just in this method.

Why did I do it this way instead of just deleting extra words as I saw them? Because it took away the pressure of making decisions.

The one thing I found out was, in most circumstances, the sentence was perfectly fine either way. Sometimes it was much better. Sometimes much worse (and I’d change it back), but mostly it just didn’t make much of a difference to me. When I don’t have a low arbitrary goal of numbers, then I look at a sentence that is perfectly fine the way it is, and I can’t predict if it will be better, worse, or the same. Not until after I have changed it. You can’t do that with every single sentence you read. In this method I was able to skip over the sentences I had questions about, then, at the end, when I didn’t have enough cuts, I’d go back and change it. I didn’t have the pressure to make the decision right then.

I always err on the side of leaving things the way they are, and I knew that if I just deleted excess words, I’d hit the end far off than my intended goal. I’d have to read the whole book again—but this isn’t reading. You don’t get to get enamored in the story, and the moment you do, you stop cutting. So it’s a very painful process, and it’s much easier when you cut down on your options.

Words that I cut a lot of: “That,” “the,” quantifiers like “a little,” “a few,” “a couple,” “very,” “about,” prepositions like “around” and “back,” and pretty much anything that an English teacher would tell you. Sometimes I had to leave them. Sometimes it ruined the cadence or mudded the meaning, even changing the meaning, but being open to removing them was very useful. (Here’s a sentence I might remove “the” “a” or “his” from, if you were wondering: “He ignored Raiden, hand over the wound in his chest.” I believe it was originally “a hand over the wound.”) Does it sound weird? Yep. That’d be the risks.

The main rule of thumb when cutting is to relax. Don’t stress out about if you’re cutting enough. Don’t worry about keeping everything in its original incarnation. Remember quality is flexible, you can always put things back, and by having the arbitrary demand of “shorter!” it stops being about “right and wrong,” and you’ll be far more willing to take risks. This is a good thing.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Knowing When to Reject Feedback

In my writers’ group there was the most by-the-book kind of guy as you could get. His favorite phrase was, “I just haven’t seen it done that way before.”

Well, as a person who believed the experts and followed the rules, he listened to every piece of advice gotten. Even those he didn’t fully understand. He’d write it all down, take it home, change it, and come back to show us again. And it was always worse than when he had started. Always. Every single time. No exaggeration. Literally. Immaculately.

I am not being extreme.

BUT, we all know if you take all advice thrown at you, you will become homogenized and safe, conforming to sometimes undesirable standards. Then there’s advice that comes from a place of competition, or ignores certain niches in favor of more popular audiences (or the critic's own kind). And even when you do get good advice (and this is the worst part) if you don’t fully understand it, you might implement it poorly.

Unfortunately, criticism helps, and it's hard to tell the difference between hearing something bad, hearing something wrong, and not wanting to hear anything at all. The hard part of writing is learning what criticism to take. In many cases, knowing you made a mistake would be easier than not being sure you made a mistake.

There’s a lot of advice on the internet telling you how to appropriately take criticism, so here’s a list on knowing when to take criticism (and giving you permission not to).

NUMBER ONE: Remind yourself it’s probably not a make-it or break-it issue.

Most criticism is flexible, often times subjective, contextual, and about personal tastes. It is less often “right or wrong,” and more “This is what I noticed when looking for something to talk about.”

Does that one word have to be changed? Do you really need to answer that question more quickly? Do you need to make a character more likable? Cut characters? Cut words?

It won't kill you not to take the advice, even if it is good. Even if you are just being a big baby, you'll do more damage to your reputation than to your book by throwing a fit.

Sure, the change might help. It might even help a lot, but likely the influence will be minimal, especially if the edit is minimal. Usually the problem isn’t large enough to make or break the book, and even after you do fix it, there’s another problem waiting for you. Sometimes, all these issues could be killed with one stone. Sometimes you solve the first problem only to have the solution become an issue after another change. Problems come and go in strange ways, so, if someone tells you to add more happy scenes, and you don’t agree, it’s not the end of the world to not take the advice.

Also, by giving it time to gestate, you’re more inclined to understand it and apply it well. For another, unless you have reason to think the feedback is well-thought out, it probably isn’t. This doesn’t make it wrong, but it does make it more malleable. There are other solutions to the same problem, and, quite frankly, this solution might not be the best in the grand scheme of things.

People evaluate things in an, “I’ll know it when I see it mentality,” so yes, it’s likely that they honestly acknowledged, “I don’t like this.” And maybe it is consistent with other people, and maybe it is the best solution. If it is someone else will say it too. In all honesty, it’s not necessarily accurate in why they don’t like it. In many cases, people don’t like things because it’s not their cup of tea. I’m sorry, but I can and have loved a crappy book as long as it has the three elements I look for.* I can also be bored out of my mind in a fantastic story. When I give it time to think about it, I might recognize that, yeah, it was a good book, but when I just gave it a quick glance, my reaction is, “Bleh!” Now give me three seconds to explain to you why I felt “Bleh,” and we’ll see how much of it you should actually be concerned with.

When faced with a criticism you don’t want to take, don’t take it. One of two things will happen—the problem will not come up again, or it will. You might very well understand it just by giving it time to settle. Remember, if an issue is important, someone else will say it better later. Yes, never taking feedback is an issue (flaws add up), but that's different than ignoring a specific piece of advice you're not certain about.

(Although, I would like to note, if you are self-publishing and the book is about to go up, waiting might not be the best solution.)

For that same reason, you might consider just trying the advice out, doing the workload so that’s not a factor anymore. Save as a new draft, make the change, and see if you care enough to go back to the original. Most times, this works for me, and I know when I regret something enough to go back to the first copy (has only happened once) it’s because it really is important to me. Most circumstances where I actually do this, I forget about it. I’ve come to find, (and this lends to the flexibility thing) most advice doesn’t really change anything; I like it fine either way. But when it does benefit the story, trying it might be the only way to find out.

NUMBER TWO: Why don’t you want to take it?

It’s hard to ever know for sure if you’re being honest with yourself, but because most criticism is pretty flexible in its truth, you get to go with your gut on most things because your gut is more likely to know something you don’t. If your instinct is saying don’t change it, then there’s a good reason not to. Your gut might be telling you no for a stupid reason, but there is still a reason, and it’s best not to act until you figure it out.

Understanding why you don’t want to take the advice is useful, but difficult. If you’re anything like me, you’ll probably go, “I’m pretty sure I like stylized dialogue… but maybe I don’t. Maybe I’m just trying to be right?”

This is difficult, because, honestly, both are sort of true. There are a lot of things I know I wouldn’t care about nearly as much if someone else hadn’t said, “YOU ABSOLUTELY MAY NOT DO IT THAT WAY.”

So, ask yourself that question, find an answer, and try to see what your gut says. Hopefully, you’ll be wrong about the criticism being unnecessary, then dead honest with yourself about it, and the conversation will stop there. In all likelihood, this won’t be conclusive, but it will reveal more about you and what's important to you. (And whether or not it should be.)


Odds are you don’t know a lot about this person, so we again play on the high margin of error. Feel free to profile the person criticizing you, and take that into consideration. If they look like they have no sense of humor and don’t get the joke, then ignore it until someone else says something similar. If they say they aren’t a fan of fantasy and then claim they’re confused, go ahead and assume it’s because it’s fantasy until indicated otherwise.

Consider what you thought of them before they gave the criticism, and make a point to predict what they’re going to say before they say it, if you can. You can judge the sort of feedback you’re going to get from people, and if it’s not the sort of feedback you find important, or you feel they’re going to be competitive/closed-minded, you’re in your right to not give the manuscript to them for precisely that reason. Even if they’re the only ones agreeing to read the book, you can say, “This isn’t the sort of readerwho will help me write the best book in my eyes.” Or, you might be able to manipulate the situation and say, “I do not want line-edits,” knowing they’re the sort to rewrite it for you.

Yes, it’s hard to listen to things you don’t want to hear, but you’ll be more inclined to hear it from people you think are actually trying to help you, or are of enough of the target mind-set to be more relevant.

If they are your target audience, take them more seriously. If they look to have a good sense of humor, just assume they do. If they seem like a stick in the mud, they are. Stop thinking about it so hard, and go with the evidence you have.

You might try to change your opinion of them afterwards, or be afraid you’re trying to change your opinion afterwards. If that is the case, then strip the profile all together and go to the next step.

NUMBER FOUR: Assume no hyperbole, misinterpretation, or misdirection.

A lot of constructive criticism has hyperbole, misinterpretation, and misdirection. Most people are trying to be nice or they’re trying to be clever, which actually muddles things. In many circumstances criticism is “wrong” because it’s too exaggerated or simplified or even deliberately leaving out information. And I’ve been in a lot of situations where someone was telling me something completely different than how I was understanding it, making it good advice interpreted wrong, which was why I disagreed with it.

So, ask yourself, “If this was exactly how they meant it, would it be a problem (for me)?”

“I don’t know if you knew this, but Russia is a really big place.”

Yes it is.

“You have too much hook and too much tension.”

I don’t see there as being such a thing too much hook and tension.

“You have too many characters.”

Alright, I can imagine some problems that might go hand in hand with having too many characters, though I don’t think having “too many” is a problem in itself.

“I have a hard time picturing which characters go with which name.”

Okay, that’s an issue.

You’ll learn four things by doing this:

One: The sort of person he is.

There’s no real instruction or revelation in “Russia’s a big place.” If it doesn’t make sense taken literally, he’s obviously trying to be clever. That means he’s competing with you. That means that, while he might have a point, it will be diluted by trying to be right (see Number Five), which means that when in doubt, throw it out. If you don’t understand him, ignore him. If he makes sense, then be the bigger person. You don’t have to let him know you took his advice, but you don’t have to go out of your way trying to understand unless you want to.

Two: There is being information left out.

In the case of “Too much hook,” I seriously don’t see how that would be a problem, which indicates that’s not what he means. This requires more explanation. It says you really don’t understand what he’s talking about—not that you’re being defensive—and you have a clear reason why you might not agree with him. This might be a person to spend more time trying to understand, because there is a good chance he’s trying to be nice, which means he really is trying to be helpful, which means he probably does believe what he’s saying, which means it’s probably true on some level.

Three: It’s a quick way to understand if it’s subjective.

If you recognize that the criticism makes sense on its own and is clearly a problem outside of context, then take it seriously. There is still a chance that is not the common reaction, i.e. it’s subjective. But now you know that’s the question on whether or not you should take the criticism. It becomes about seeing what the “normal” reaction is in your target audience, not figuring out if that person is full of crap or if you misunderstood them. Go to Number Six.

Four: It shows the difference between a solution and a problem, and a solution and a self-insertion.

The main reason why I didn’t understand why someone found something so important is because they were indicating a solution, not a problem. And, unfortunately, solutions and, “Write my way!” or “I have an idea!” can look identical.

Because “You have too many characters,” isn’t a problem outside of the other problems it may cause, it’s actually a solution. He’s suggesting to cut characters to solve Problem Blank. This means you don’t need to take the advice, but rather figure out what Problem Blank is, decide if you care, and come up with your own solution if you do, or even implement his now that you understand why.

Sometimes, what looks like a solution is really just someone coming up with ideas, or trying to make you conform to their tastes, which is different. This is actually easy to spot out as long as you trust your gut; if it’s a matter of opinion or him trying to write for you, there won’t be obvious issues.

“Too many characters,” might mean he thinks it’s boring or confusing. “Too much tension,” might mean “There isn’t tension, you’re trying too hard,” or it might even mean, “I don’t do violence and you shouldn’t either.” Sure, you might be missing a problem caused by too much tension, but AGAIN, it’s not necessarily a big deal if you did.

NUMBER FIVE: Is he trying to be right?

This is the big one. Currently being right is the most important thing to many people. We fight about things that don’t matter. Our political and academic debates focus on proving the other person wrong, not giving evidence for our own points. Grammar Nazis ruin discussions by illuminating typos rather than discussing the actual subject.

Which leads to this: If you catch someone prioritizing being right over being useful, feel free to ignore him. Because the reason why something is a wrong is more important than that it is wrong. So it is likely he will use an argument he doesn’t believe, and if he doesn’t believe it, it’s not true. And it does matter if the argument isn’t true even if the topic is. The argument tells you what it should look like, why it needs to be that way, while the topic tells you how to get it there. So you can suggest to “delete some characters,” but which characters I delete changes if you said, “When I realized there were returning characters I didn’t remember, I stopped paying attention to what was going on and kept trying to figure out where I’d seen them before,” or “I had no idea whose side I was supposed to be on, so I didn’t take any, and so didn’t care.”

He is probably right in some way, but when his arguments start to contradict each other, it’s contaminated, and it will be far too much effort to sift truth from fiction.

NUMBER SIX: Ask other people about the criticism.

The common recommendation for feedback is if more than one person says something, it means to look harder at it. I’ve found this doesn’t work for me because they rarely overtly agree on anything, (the actually consistency being in why they made suggestions), and even when they do, it tends to be on ridiculous or superficial aspects—superficial aspects no one would be concerned with from someone they respect.

So what do you do? Ask someone about that specific criticism. Retell the feedback to a person you know is sympathetic—preferably someone who’s read the book, though it isn’t necessary—and have them explain it to you. If they don’t understand it either, give you a totally different reason than what the original speaker indicated, or even tell you they don’t agree with it, you get to reject the advice. The best part is, if you still aren’t sure whether or not you should take it, you can go to far more people to see what the common denominator is. (But if you find yourself going to more and more people just to get the answer you want, it might be time to go back to Number Two.)

If they are fairly consistent in their interpretation and the people in your target audience see what he’s talking about, take it seriously. If they don’t, don’t.

NUMBER SEVEN: Look at the people you love and admire.

When it comes to what you’re “trying to do” writing can be pretty convoluted. Most people will assume your third-person story is from the protagonist’s perspective. Are you wrong if you see the narrator as a different person? Many people don’t like “fluffy prose,” are you an idiot if you don’t want to write like Hemingway? People say no one likes vampire books anymore. Should you not write one?

Come up with a list of books you love, whether or not they’re well written. Come up with a list of books you admire whether or not you actually enjoyed reading them. Now, take the criticism you got (such as you’re supposed to write dialogue the way people actually talk), take what you believe you like (such as stylized dialogue) and see what the people you love and admire actually do.

Often times there will be consistency. In the case above, I found that the things I loved most (Calvin and Hobbes, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Gilmore Girls, The Black Cauldron, and many fantasy novels) usually had unique or verbose vernacular. The stories that I admired, despite usually hating (Waiting for Godot, Shakespeare, Pride and Prejudice, the movie Brick, and many noir novels) had poetry or unique voice to them. So when people kept telling me that no one liked dialogue that wasn’t realistic, and I severely started questioning myself, this was a good way for me to identify that—whether or not I was doing it well—it was what I wanted to try to be doing. I confirmed I wasn’t insane or stubborn in that stylistic goal.

If you find a consistency, especially amongst the stories you loved, then it means you aren’t wrong in wanting to do it. As long as you’re honest about your favorites (lying will do more damage the good), you’ll see that you’re not just trying to be weird.

If you realize that no one you like does it, or worse, they do do it but you always hated it, you might reconsider it.

NUMBER EIGHT: You are not obligated to prove you can take criticism well.

Not everyone works well together. Some people are cruel and rude. Some people are more abrasive than others would like. Some people love aggression and hate passive-aggression. I personally am far more offended by, “Please don’t take this personally, but you have a little too much dialogue in this scene,” than “Cut some of this dialogue.” I know others who don’t like overt instructions. You’re not going to get along with everyone, and if you’re putting up pretenses, you won’t be able to get to the level of trust required.

One person’s opinion is rarely so important that pandering to your spite is detrimental. You have the option to ignore an asshole, and it is unlikely that doing so will kill your career. Especially because, if he has a good point, someone more sympathetic will be clearer later on.

Of course, if everyone who gives you negative feedback is an asshole, it might not be entirely them, but you really do have to be able to accept that it’s okay to refuse cruel advice. And by acknowledging that you have the right to be insulted, you are far more likely to relax and take things objectively. I know from experience.

Remember: Not burning bridges is in your own interest, so you get to decide when it’s acceptable.

In essence, trust your gut, give it time, be open minded, respect yourself, and remember there’s a huge, blurry line between being “wrong” and being creative. Generally that line is a publisher’s logo. Taking or not taking advice isn’t the end of the world as long as you’re working on it.

*The three elements that I look for in a story are at least one over-dramatic, sarcastic character, a supernatural setting, and some romantic plot. Yeah, I'm that kind of person.