Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Sticks and Stones?

-- Sticks and stones may break my bones (but words will never hurt me) --

It's a cute saying. False, but cute nonetheless.
Photo credit: Photoshop Player 2009 on Flickr

The fact of the matter is that the impact of words last far longer than a bruise or a broken bone. Words can shatter. Words can alter. Words are powerful.

Think of the words that continue to haunt you since high school. Think of the word that your significant other said, only once, but you never forgot. 

(Before you lecture me, yes, I get it -- the rhyme's goal is to encourage the reader to not allow words to hurt them, because after all, they are only words... audible expressions of air... tell me how that works out for you)

As writers, we have a fundamental issue to reconcile. We aspire to get our work in front of as many readers as possible. But do we really? Are we ready to take what comes with the territory?

I've met some writers, and know of many more, who have yet to put themselves out there. They don't like to share their work with others, afraid of the feedback. They don't want to be critiqued publicly. Not yet, they tell me.

Then there are those who do have their work our there, and the first negative comment on Amazon, or critical book review by a blogger causes a meltdown. Their reaction is either a public embarrassment or a psychological breakdown that throws them off track.

It seems to me that a successful writer is the resilient writer. 

FADE IN: Definition by dictionary.com

    adjective /riˈzilyənt/ 
    1. (of a substance or object) Able to recoil or spring back into shape after bending, stretching, or being compressed
      • (of a person or animal) Able to withstand or recover quickly from difficult conditions


    I used to say that athletes were the most resilient type of people out there. Have you seen how a football or rugby player gets squashed by another giant? The very next moment, they're up on their feet, spitting out a tooth, then smiling. 

    But I've come to realize that if a writer wants to last and produce material for a few decades, then they have to become the poster boy/girl for resiliency. 

    My friend Webster says a resilient person can 'recover quickly from a difficult condition.' Check. Writers are bombarded by the most damaging type of 'difficult conditions.' We are judged and punished by words for our words, for our art, for our babies. 

    They're judging us! Us! Who do they think they are?

    Reality check, the best are judged and critizized. King, Rowling, and everyone before them and after them have been told and will be told they suck. This is the nature of art. More than ever, everyone is a stinkin' critic. And you can't stop the democratization of opinion. 

    How will you handle it? Will you implode, or will you sit in front of your computer and produce more? 

    Butt in the seat, or your face in the sink? Choose.

    Only one will produce art and make you better. Only one will stop you from pursing your dreams.

    Words by others will hurt. And that's okay. We need to absorb that, acknowledge them then move forward--always move forward. If we're going to let words hurt us to the point that they stop us, then maybe we should consider an easier vocation. Maybe rugby?

    Fight the good fight!


    1. Here! Here! Great post! I have been thinking on this very subject. I also think it applies to life in general.

      1. Thank you, Krista. You are absolutely right. In all aspects of life, from writing to living, we have to build that critical ability to take on anything and yet continue to move forward towards our vision and goals. As always, thank you!

    2. Hey "Bluddy",

      Missed your WORDS of wisdom... excellent as always, and right on the money :)

      1. Marcus my man, it's great to hear from you too. I've been buried deep on various things. I am now found :) If all goes well, I should be back on a regular schedule.

    3. Ara, it's not about judging the writer but judging the project. Writing at a marketable level is a collaborative effort. You'll get feedback from agents, from editors, from other writers, and most--if not all--comments will be made in order to move your project to the next level, to make it the best it can be. Criticism is about story, never about the writer. That's one of the earliest lessons a writer has to learn. Everyone who can move your story a step closer to success wants only the very best for it. If words sting, they're meant to better, not to discourage or destroy.

      1. JJ, I completely agree with you. I have a tendency to agree with you on everything... there's bound to be something we could disagree on :).

        As you say, "Criticism is about story, never about the writer." It is surprising how many take any input as a personal attack.

        Many get stuck and don't see the gem that was placed in front of them. I can tell you without risk of being wrong that every feedback I have ever received not only improved my story, but also improved me as a writer -- if that's not a gift, I don't know what is.

        The game of writing is a team sport. If we break each time a suggestion is made, or an element in the story questioned, then we will not last long. The road to publishing is a long and daunting one. And once published, that's just the start. Because now, it's a career that must be sustained and improved with each novel.

        Thank you, JJ. Can't wait to see you again in September.

    4. Great post! I tend to think the answer to every problem is to write. Have a rejection? Write. Struggling with a plot point? Write. Think your books will never be published/sell/be loved? Write.

      Off to do some more writing today ... :)

      1. Susan, this is brilliant. In sports, the coach will tell the athlete, "Walk it off." For writers, maybe the advice is, "Write it off." I love it :)

    5. Ara, as always, your posts are inspiring. As writers, we have to put ourselves out there, again and again. And if we're doing our job and evoking emotional responses in our readers, some of the feedback is going to be negative. But much better to have a love/hate response than a lukewarm/who cares.

      One thing I would say, though, in response to JJ -- while you're absolutely right that the feedback we get from professional sources is never personal, many published authors do receive very personal attacks in the forms of bad reviews on their work. Unfortunately, it happens, and this requires resiliency as well.

      Thanks Ara!

      1. Susan, thank you. You make such a great point. Because anyone can be a critic, they take any opportunity to attack on a personal level. And my heart goes out to the writer who decides to fight back. It never ends well. The resilient author will recognize the difference between honest dislike vs personal attack.

        And it's one thing to say, "I don't like the main character. Came across as weak and lost, etc." But some of the reviews I've read on books that I've enjoyed have actually angered me!

        Cowards work that way. They are hurtful because they can hide behind their username. I hope they sleep well at nights ;)


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