(Dealing With) The Inevitable Punch(es) In The Face

Every now and then among writers on Twitter (which I still scroll, although I no longer tweet), we see a “viral” tweet like this:

[From Twitter.]

First, every writer must accept there is no “safe space” when it comes to writing that is composed for the public. Anyone anywhere using any media may decide to take issue with even just a sentence or two of what you have written for any reason that they feel like doing so, and some of what may be said may well be vicious. Your book(s) WILL invariably be criticized – and even (if the authors feels) perhaps unfairly so.

Second, that above is also (to me) a PERFECT example of why to not let so-called “beta readers” anywhere near your work in progress. They are being allowed “inside” to see your “process,” but who the hell are they? Someone(s) you “met” on the net? Seeing how you work, and using such “insights,” an unscrupulous one may well decide to let you have it in public – for possibly petty and personal reasons all their own.

I do post on here as you may know excerpts of what I might have just draft-written – shared just to give a sense of what is coming. No one I don’t trust 100 percent ever sees my full unfinished manuscript. After all, I may decide to change something radically pre-publication simply because I had come to believe it does not work, was told that privately by someone I trust who had read it, or is just not what I feel I want to say.

This response to that tweet from someone I follow (and who follows me) was (unsurprisingly) dropped by Twitter into my timeline:

[From Twitter.]

It is easy to find that book reviewer’s site. It just requires a Google of the name she shared. I did and quickly found the excerpt of her book.

Frankly, I don’t think what he lifted would be actionable for copyright infringement because it is merely a few paragraphs for a “review” (and he surely knows that).

She is undoubtedly correct, though, that what he thinks does not matter. (How many blog readers he may have is beside the point; but that said, based on the number of comments he gets, and assuming he is not “sockpuppeting” on his own site, he seems to have some readers.) It is indeed all purely his opinion. For instance, he did not like her book’s cover, and he is entitled not to like it.

He also had noted her opening with a flashback had removed the tension. That seems possibly fair criticism – again from his personal perspective. I also know I made an authoring choice with my fourth book: to write it as a flashback in which “the present” is set in “1840” while most of the novel takes place in the late “1700s”:

[First paragraph. Conventions: The Garden At Paris.]

With that first historical novel, I decided on framing it as a flashback because I felt that mechanism provided a better means to sum up several major historical events that form pivotol aspects of the tale’s pre-story backdrop. Much of the second and third chapters is actual history – the historian coming out of me somewhat – with which many readers (non-Americans in particular) might not be all that familiar. Presenting such in that manner I hoped would get readers “up to speed” immediately with, as “1787” is reached, a basic understanding of themes and issues underscoring the tale to come.

I also thought of myself as a reader in that while I do NOT like incessant jumping around in a timeline, I find a flashback tale overall in some ways to be “comfort” reading. From that start we have a much better idea how it “generally” turns out. I had also felt (also I hoped) that the flashback opening would pose questions in readers’ minds, draw them in, and get them turning pages to see what happens… especially after they find we are now in “1787.” However, we don’t want to spoil all of the fun, of course, and there also have to be surprises and revelations to keep us reading, so I decided, for example, to be a bit cagey in making sure that a reader does NOT learn the FIRST NAME of “Mrs. Rutherford” in the opening chapter.

I felt some readers might like that flashback and historical chapters interwoven approach; and I also suspected of course some might not. But with all of those opening chapters visible online in the Amazon free sample, they should be no shocker. I just made a creative editorial call of how I thought I could best share the story in a readable fashion.

[“Me in the reflection”. Rotterdam in the late 1700s. June 2021.]

We (should) all know this too: anyone who does anything creative is bound (at least initially) to take criticism to some degree to “heart.” (As that first tweeter evidently did.) After all, you created that. Naturally you see at least a reflection of yourself in it, so in it being criticized you tend to feel YOU are being attacked personally.

How to deal with the inevitable punch(es) in the face is one of the first things anyone who writes must learn. There is no one way to do it, but writers must find a way to cope with receiving possibly incredibly harsh – even personal – criticism. Thinking “Write your own damn book” may be an appropriate way to blow off your steam PRIVATELY if the critic never has. Regardless, a writer must NEVER publicly challenge a bad review. NEVER. NEVER. NEVER. Doing so just makes matters worse… for you… especially if the “critic” is looking to get your personal attention and a rise out of you and create a public scene.

With all that in mind, you may also recall I had a couple of years back had a bit of fun “tearing apart” an F. Scott Fitzgerald paragraph in his Tender Is The Night novel, which is considered one of the 20th century’s great books. I decided to apply some of the “criticisms” tossed at new books we see commonly offered on the net now from “reviewers.” I underlined here – in just this one paragraph – adverbs, possible ambiguities, certain awkward phrasings, etc.:

[From Tender Is The Night (1934), by F. Scott Fitzgerald. Underlining and photo by me, 2019.]

And these were my observations:

  • 1) “Unpleasantly.” Is that an adverb? Mr. King has decreed now and for all time, no adverbs!
  • 2) How does attention “slight sway?”
  • 3) “Obviously each family…” Another adverb! And it’s not *obvious* to me.
  • 4) “Was strewn?” Too passive. Seek a more active form.
  • 5) “Flesh as white.” Hmm. Flesh is not white.
  • 6) Does it matter they aren’t “beach umbrellas?” Unnecessary.
  • 7) “Obviously” a second time in the same paragraph? You need a real editor. Find a synonym. And Mr. King is not going to be happy about a REPEATED ADVERB!
  • 8) “Less indigenous.” Are these Native Americans you are talking about here?
  • 9) “Dark people.” That’s on the line. They had better actually be gloomy or morose or mysterious or similar people! Find a synonym.
  • 10) “Peignoir?” God, that’s French. Do NOT ever be pretentious. Ordinary readers won’t understand it. Write in American.

On sites like the awful Goodreads, and among the now uncounted internet blog reviewers out there, any writer’s work can be skewered. Writers, though, should not be spending time searching out if your books are being “reviewed” anyway. You should get off Twitter and Google and write your own next, uh, damn book. 😉

Hope you have a good weekend. 🙂