Six LDS Writers and A Frog

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Special Order a Thicker Skin

Since my new novel, Time Will Tell has been out for a month now, I’ve started to get some feedback on it—some good, some not-so-good. And if there’s one thing I’ve learned as a writer, it’s that if you have a thin skin and you want to be a writer, you better special order a thicker one. There’s always someone who has an opinion on your book, and it won’t be the same as your mom’s opinion of your work. The trick is, to use the feedback you receive, whether it’s positive or negative and make yourself a better writer. The positive feedback is really easy to hear, "I loved your book,"-- type comments are part of the reason why we become writers. Yet, the most helpful feedback is to say what you loved about the book. Did you love the setting? The dialogue? The characters? It’s the same on the flip side. If someone says, "I hate your book," then, as a writer we take a deep breath, smile and say, "Oh really? What did you hate about it?" When we’ve gotten specifics, then it’s our job as a writer to take those opinions and where possible, use it on our learning curve.

In our quest to use the feedback and make yourself a better writer, however, you can’t be a people pleaser, or you’ll end up insane. For example, a reviewer recently said that she didn’t like my happy ending. Yet, fans tell me they really like the happy ending. I had someone tell me that my books make him tired with all the action and suspense, and several other men tell me that’s why they read my books. If I tried to please everyone, I should definitely have alternate ending chapters so the people who wanted a happy ending would be happy, and the ones who wanted a more gritty ending could be happy, too. I would also have a lot more down-time for my secret agents to rest, play some checkers, get some strawberry frappucinos, you know, relax a little more before jumping out of tall buildings and saving the world from mass destruction. I guess my point is, it would just be hard to use every bit of feedback and still stay true to myself and the characters I’ve created. So, I take the feedback, use what I can and smile and thank everyone else.

Where it gets hard to paste a smile on your face and thank someone is usually when they are saying what they didn’t like about your book. I recently had someone tell me that they thought one of my characters was possibly gay and my villain had a personality disorder. Since I created the characters and knew neither of these things were true, I felt compelled to defend myself. "He’s not gay," I said. "He just has piano hands. Long, slender, fingers. That’s all. And my villain doesn’t have a personality disorder. He just got in over his head." And she said to me, "Well, being the writer you know what’s in the minds of these people. As a reader, I’m telling you what I thought." So true. It’s amazing to me how different perspectives there can be on storyline and character and while I know what I meant, a reader’s opinion is no less valuable and shows me where I could be more clear next time.

A friend of mine recently saw a really negative review about his book, and he made a comment that I thought was especially telling. He said in essence that a few years ago, comments like that would have really hurt him, but now he wishes the reader would have given him more specific suggestions so he can help his writing. That is the place every writer wants to be—where you use criticism and feedback to help your writing, and it goes beyond the personal level.

So after you’ve taken all the criticism, defended your characters and writing, used all the feedback to become a better writer . . .that’s when you need to stop and take a deep breath. Build yourself back up, remember why you wanted to be a writer in the first place and shed your newly special ordered thick skin as you dial your mother’s number. Then you can smile, knowing that if nothing else, you’ll always have one person on the planet who thinks you’re incredible just the way you are.


4 Comments:

At 4/15/2006 11:24 AM, Blogger C.L. Hanson said...

Actually, I kind of like getting feedback like the story you describe of the woman who interpreted your characters wrong.

A story that is rich and realistic naturally will have multiple possible interpretations, including themes and ideas that the author didn't necessarily develop deliberately but are there nontheless. It fascinates me to see what unexpected things an attentive reader will get out of a story I've written.

That said, if you really didn't mean for the ideas she stated to be possible interpretations of your story, then yeah you need to work on clarifying... ;-)

Still, bizarre interpretations are more interesting than the usual constructive criticism such as when people tell me "your story needs more visual description," which is true, but which I already know. ;-)

 
At 4/17/2006 11:50 AM, Blogger Julie Coulter Bellon said...

I also thought it was great that she felt comfortable enough to voice her honest opinions. It is always amazing to me the different interpretations people have of my work. It makes it all worth it when people remember the book because it touched something in them, though. I love that.

 
At 4/18/2006 2:00 PM, Blogger annegb said...

Brace yourself, Julie, I'm going to buy your book. I'll be honest and nice.

 
At 4/19/2006 12:02 AM, Blogger Julie Coulter Bellon said...

Which book are you going to get? I hope it's Time Will Tell or On the Edge. I'll be interested in what you have to say. And thank you for being nice! :)

 

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