So somebody read your writing, and they had some things to say about it.
Things they thought you should *gasp* change.
Oh, the horror!
You probably think you’re good at accepting constructive criticism. You’re open-minded and willing to listen to others. But you might not be open-minded enough.
Here are ten signs that you’re ignoring constructive criticism of your writing. If you find yourself saying any of these things, you need to take a second look at your work and what people say about it.
1. “They’re not familiar with my genre.”
This is a common defense mechanism writers use when they don’t want to listen to a critic. But good writing is good writing, whether it’s a detective novel, a romance, a Christian living manual, or a paranormal scifi thriller set in 12th Century France. There are things that cross over all genres, and most readers can sense when a piece of writing doesn’t meet the bar.
If you actually have a problem with a beta reader who isn’t familiar with your genre, like a romance fan who said your action novel is too violent…why did you ask them to read it?
2. “They didn’t understand the character.”
Even if this is true, it’s 100 percent your fault.
Yes, yours. You’re the writer. It’s your job to make sure your readers understand the characters. If your critics don’t get the right impression of your characters, you need to edit your book to make sure they do.
3. “It’s just part of my style.” or “I wanted it to be that way.”
Somebody criticizes your writing technique, and you brush it off. “That’s just how I write.”
That doesn’t mean it’s a good part of how you write.
If people complain about your stylistic choices, you can choose between maintaining your style or having readers. Nobody reads a book if they can’t get past the way the words come together on the page.
The same thing applies to the content version of this excuse, “I wanted it to be that way.” Readers say your protagonist is a hateful, bigoted idiot, and they hope he dies at the end of the book. You grin and say, “Excellent. I wanted it to be that way.”
That doesn’t change the fact that your readers just said they don’t like your protagonist and don’t really want to read about him. Intentional or not, you’re alienating your customers, and that’s not great for continued publication.
4. “They don’t appreciate my narrative voice.”
Any variation on this theme of “they just don’t appreciate me!” is dangerous. It implies that you know better than the reader, and readers can sense that kind of arrogance. You’re letting your ego get in the way of improvement.
Art should never overshadow substance in your writing. If your narrative voice/tense choices/descriptive prose/blah blah blah gets criticism from your readers, it doesn’t mean they’re beneath your level of culture. It means you’re trying too hard to be an artiste and not hard enough to tell a story.
5. “This is the way the story came to me.”
Your subconscious mind is brilliant. It gives you great ideas and sometimes delivers an entire story like you’re watching a movie.
Your subconscious is also an incoherent mess, with rambling plot detours, unrelated ideas, and characterizations so out of the box that they make you look insane. It needs editing to make it presentable.
You wouldn’t do anything else in life exactly the way it comes to you through instinct. (At least, not in public.) Why would you write that way?
6. “Who are they to tell me how to write? They’re not famous authors.”
If famous authors are your only target market, good luck. You might sell two whole dozen copies.
But probably not, because famous authors tend to be cultured readers, and if you can’t even please the general public, you’re unlikely to please them.
Readers are just as qualified to give you constructive criticism as are authors. They’re the ones you’re writing for, after all. Listen to them.
7. “[Famous Author Name] did it this way, and he/she was a success.”
Are you [Famous Author Name?]
Oh, you are? Will you blurb my book?
For the rest of you, though, the answer is no. You are not [Famous Author Name].
Just because somebody else sold a bestseller using a style choice you like, doesn’t mean you can do it, too. Maybe your story doesn’t work the same way. Maybe you’re just not good at it. Maybe it only worked for [Famous Author Name] because it was something the world had never seen before, and they did it first.
Point is, one example does not a precedent set. If you want to be read, find your own voice that works for you, and stop trying to mimic somebody else.
8. “They have to get through this part to understand the good stuff later.”
Nobody will reach the good stuff later if they stop reading because they’re bored. At no point should reading your book feel like work to the reader.
9. “Readers are impossible to please.”
You are an author.
They are your audience.
That is your job.
10. “If this is what it’s like, then maybe I’ll give up writing entirely!”
Don’t do that.
First, you’re not hurting your readers if you threaten to stop giving them something they don’t like to begin with.
Second, writing is easy. Writing well is stupid hard. You have to work at it to create something truly marvelous. And a lot of that work involves listening to things you don’t want to hear and learning from them.
All of these excuses allow you to keep writing poorly and insist it’s the readers’ fault that they don’t like your work.
Wouldn’t you rather write something other people enjoy? Wouldn’t you like to convey your vision clearly and effectively, and have readers sit back and go, “Ah, that was fun”?
Then stop using these excuses, suck it up, and listen. Apply what you learn from your critics. Dig deep, rewrite, and your next draft will be better.
It still might not be good enough.
But after enough iterations of “write, critique, revise,” you’ll create something great.