When can you dismiss criticism?

Taking on board criticism is an important part of life. As writers in particular, we need feedback to grow, improve and potentially perfect our craft (as the marvellous Mary @Mary and the Words talked about recently). It’s therefore no surprise that it’s become a cornerstone of modern writing advice to get that crucial reader response.

AND YET, not all of that criticism is going to be worthwhile. Let’s be real: it’s not always going to be constructive or helpful or relevant. This may be an *unpopular opinion* right now, but you don’t always have to listen to it.  

Sometimes you just have to *take the advice from whence it comes*. If someone, however nicely, says that the style is just not for them or that they don’t read this sort of thing- that’s fine! We all know that taste is subjective, so not everyone is going to be the right reader for your work. Heck- there are plenty of bestselling authors that I don’t jibe with. That’s why you have to be cautious with this kind of advice (And on the offchance, as has happened to me, someone doesn’t like the genre/category you write in and wants you to write to suit their tastes… well they can kindly sod off).  

There is also the issue that not all criticism is designed to be helpful. Especially if they rouse a hate mob against you. Call me a cynic- I just don’t think people trying to destroy a career have an author’s best interests at heart. I know there’s a lot of talk about “learning” and “growing” from those experiences- nonetheless it seems the vast majority advice being doled out is to *run and hide* (in far less friendly terms). And, going beyond this specific example, I think it’s fair to dismiss critiques designed as an attack. Insulting, degrading or being downright abusive are not productive (as the wonderful Rain @the Withering discussed on her blog). On the plus side, those kinds of critiques can get you in the mindset of proving the bastards wrong! 😉

I’d also add that sometimes the criticism is coming too late in the day ie reviews. Yes, you could learn from reviews as an author, buuuut at that stage the genie is well and truly out of the bottle. If you read them, you’ll just waste lot of time wishing you’d written that book differently. Best to leave them alone. After all, reviews are for readers– not the author (and thus shouldn’t be sent to them unsolicited).

Ultimately, criticism can add some much-needed spice to your work, though it’s still worth taking it with a grain of salt 😉

What do you think? Do you agree or disagree with me that there are times when you can dismiss criticism? And are there any other times when you should just ignore the advice? Let me know in the comments!

Writerly Benefits From Reading Widely

As a reader, I’ve never been a fan of genre snobbery. It’s limiting, makes reading less fun and means missing out on whole worlds of experiences. But what about for writers? Surely, if you’re an aspiring writer, you need to focus on reading obsessively in your own genre? Wouldn’t it be better to not get distracted by all those shiny titles outside the category you’re writing in? Well, while reading books in your own genre is *a must*, I’d argue reading widely is also vital for a writer’s development. Each genre has something special to offer and lots of unique lessons to learn. And even if successfully pulling off a technique is not guaranteed by simply knowing it exists, being exposed to a greater variety certainly helps! Let’s break it down by genre, shall we?

lily and jamesRomance– I mean the clue is in the title… romances teach you how to develop a romance. Whether it’s hate to love, friends to lovers or anything in between, all the tropes have been tried and tested in this very broad category. And it’s such a long-standing genre, so there are *countless* classics to choose from (not just harlequin novels with topless men on the covers 😉). If you want more banter and happily ever afters, then you need to be checking this out! What’s more, it doesn’t stop with the romantic relationships. Friendships and family relationships are a strong element of this genre- even if they’re dysfunctional (because, yes, you can learn how to write toxic relationships from this too- even if it’s just an accident of bad writing 😉). Basically anything related to relationships are going to be explored in this genre- so unless you’re writing a book about a hermit, you may want to at least try a romance sometime.

dragon gifFantasy– ahh my genre of choice. I could rave forever about why this genre is *out of this world*. Perhaps just one of the reasons I find it so rewarding is that, in some ways, it’s the purest form of storytelling. With more mythologically based narratives and archetypal characters, it can give an idealised version of reality (if not a real one). Plus, all that magic world building is great inspiration, because even if you’re setting it in the real world, you need to have a sense of place. It also has a great tradition of the pure evil villain or the fascist archetypal dictator- even if it’s not as good at the more human villains (although GRRM is a good example of someone breaking that mould). That said, it’s solid in the anti-hero department these days. If you need flawed, but lovable characters, then this is a great genre for it. 

spaceSci fi– this offers a lot of the same things as fantasy in terms of getting a sense of place… though it’s more rooted in reality (which is ironically very useful for fantasy writers!) I’m not a big sci fi reader, but even I can say it’s amazing for philosophical and existential discussions (not just cos this genre includes dystopias… though that’s a big pull!!). Plus, many space operas in particular know how to pack in *action*.

enchanted castle victorian homeHistorical– for me, this is another genre where the strong suit is the setting. Yet what I also like about historical fiction is how it brings facts to life. I also personally love how lots of historical fiction works so well as genre-crossers, blending lots of different categories into one. I’ve read so many that manage to be historical and a thriller and a romance. While every book should manage to do this, I’d say that I particularly love how historical fiction balances its themes and subplots.  

dr-evilThrillers– for me, thrillers are hands down the best for villains. A lot of the time you’ll have the opportunity to get in the head of some sick mothereffers. Thrillers also allow for sparser writing and occasionally atmospheric reads. It’s also good if you’re looking for some more of that realism (eek if a thriller spins into fantastical territory!). Plus, if you need a clue how to get plotting, pacing and twists right, then boy is this the genre for you!  

read-fastNon-fiction– well, for starters there’s nothing stranger than real life. Given that non fiction is factual (or at least it should be) you can get *actual knowledge* from them to use in your own books. Personally, I’ve learnt a lot about characterisation, people and the nature of evil from both memoirs and psychology books. But obviously, there’s so much more you can discover!

Of course, this was not an exhaustive list, but I hope it was inspiring! Do you believe there are writerly benefits from reading widely? What do you think they are? And what else do you get out of different genres? Let me know in the comments!

Don’t Write X

thoughts orangutan

A couple of months back, I did a post about taste. But when I did it I was thinking more about readers than writers. Now, I don’t talk about this much, but I do actually write a lot (I know, what a surprise, the book blogger writes 😉 ) and I’ve thought an awful lot about what it can be like navigating the landmine of opinion pieces on what you should and shouldn’t write. I don’t know about you, but I personally think there’s a helluva lot of confusing advice out there, mostly of people telling others what to do according to their own taste. There’s a lot of “DON’T WRITE X”, “WRITE MORE Y”, “DON’T WRITE Z UNLESS YOU ARE Z”. In truth, I find it somewhat exhausting, especially since my view is pretty much write whatever the hell you like. To clarify, I’m not telling writers to ignore criticism (errr yeah, do that at your own peril I guess) and I’m not telling reviewers not to review (this is not me hanging up the bananas!!!), merely suggesting that sometimes a lot of the forceful generalisations are more a matter of taste. And I think some people would be well served if they knew that- which is why I decided to devise a list of instructions… on how to not take instructions (that made so much more sense inside my head). Here’s some of the ways you can avoid falling into the my-personal-taste-is-better-than-yours trap:

people pleaseDon’t try to people please. I know a lot of people go into it wanting validation from millions of people- however the thing is even if you get to be a bestseller, there will be people who hate your work. It’s a sad fact of life. One thing I’ve noticed whenever I do some piece where I talk about what I don’t like, like my least favourite fantasy tropes, is that someone will read what I’ve written and be discouraged. I always want to tell people that I am just one person and while I’m not going to pretend I’m  into things I’m not interested in, there are plenty of other bookworms out there who I’m sure will love it. This is something I try to do with my own work, because honestly I don’t see the point in pushing my writing on people who will hate it- that’s a road to ruin! So fly your freak flag and write whatever you like- just don’t make demands or be insulted if people don’t want to read your work.

colouring inDon’t try to do “paint by numbers” writing- I see a lot of people breaking down *exactly* how they think a novel should work. And while there’s a lot of good advice there, take it with a pinch of salt. Cos I’ve read some of the books based on those standards and yeesh– they’re boring. Again, this is my personal take, yet there’s no easy instruction manual when it comes to writing. Be prepared to mess up and to fail, but don’t be afraid to experiment. Incidentally, one way to get round this problem is…

read-fastDo read lots of books– I mean this is a no brainer, but I always have to put it in because there are still writers who say they don’t read and GAH I CAN’T EVEN! That said…

 

coolDon’t worry too much about being original– or being too original for that matter. I kind of wrote this one for me, because I have a freakout about this on a regular basis to be fair. But it’s silly, because, to use the corniest quote in the world “there’s nothing new under the sun”. I think it’s important to strike a balance- don’t be afraid to do something different, but don’t worry too much if something’s been done before. There are always those who will like either or both!

style orangutan logoDo understand that there are different writing styles and that *it’s okay* to employ one of the less popular ones. This is probably one of the issues of taste I see around the most and have been trying to address this for a while with my “differences in style” series (okay not recently, but I hope to rectify that soonish). I find a lot of people favour particular styles and then turn them into *universal rules*- which only work for said style. One of the best ways to combat this is to know about a variety of different techniques, so you can deliberately choose the best ones from your arsenal, rather than being subject to the whims of fashion or personal opinion.

bad writing gigDon’t get bogged down by pedants. Again, this comes from some criticism I see about a lot and usually comes down to things like specific word choice in world building. An example of this could be the widespread criticism of the word “hell” in Zenith, because it was space fantasy (which I personally didn’t agree with, since it was written in English and as one of the critiques said “every culture has an idea of hell”). We all have things that bug us, and that’s fine, we can’t help having pet peeves- however as okay as it is for someone to critique a word choice, I wouldn’t take it too much to heart.

choose books2Don’t steer clear of controversial content (aka “don’t listen to moral busybodies”). We all have our personal limits and every individual has content they don’t want to read, however, there are also people who take this one step further and say “my personal taste is more important than your art”. For instance, I have seen people saying things like “I object to the book because it has such and such theme”. Again, this is not to say you shouldn’t critique it, in whatever terms you like, yet it’s not a good reason to avoid writing about what you want. Even if it doesn’t resonate with one person, someone else will like it.

writingDo worry about your own personal experience- and don’t get bogged down in trying to make it universal for everyone. This is very similar to the last one, because I know there are a lot of people who will tell you “ah but it didn’t speak to *my* experience”. Well, I hate to break it to that hypothetical person: there are billions of other people on the planet. The idea that a book has to speak to every single individual experience is frankly absurd. The only reason to get offended is if you commissioned said book as a biography 😉 If you’re concerned that it’s not going to be “real” for everyone… good news, it’s not real! So this kind of goes back to #1- it’s not worth seeking validation from everyone. As cheesy as it is, you’re not writing for everybody, you’re writing for you.

And that’s all I have for now. I have a few more personal ones, but I thought I’d leave it there, or I wouldn’t be speaking to a universal experience- JK! 😉 Do you agree or disagree with any of these? And do you have any other ideas to add to this list? Let me know in the comments!