The pain of criticism: Let’s face it, that soul-shattering rebuff of something you’ve poured your heart into is responsible for millions of dried-up hopes and dreams around the globe. It happens more often than not, even for a writer who has had some success getting published, like myself for instance. So what do we do when faced with criticism of any variety?
We write a blog post about it.
But we also learn from it, whether we agree or disagree. The trick is knowing how to take it like a boss. How many great authors out there have we lost to rejection or criticism? How many that went to college, paid big bucks for a degree in some form of literature, and learned how to put down a beautifully crafted string of sentences that is most certainly fit for public consumption? How many of you who simply decided to try writing a story one day and discovered a natural talent for it? The answer is more than we can afford, because it takes more than learned or inherited talent to make it in the published-author industry. I look at the cover of Romance Writers Review and I see a woman staring out the window, pen in hand, a soft look of whimsy on her fresh, innocent face. She is what symbolizes romance and the romance writers of today. Right?
Yeah, that’s not me. I see her and wonder if that’s how our love stories are expected to read, too. Based on feedback I’ve received from industry professionals, it’s a darned accurate assessment. This compels me to crack open a Kathleen Woodiwiss or a twentieth-century Johanna Lindsey (which, let’s face it, wasn’t that long ago) and I am blown away by how many modern rules were broken on one page alone. And I loved those stories. Still do. I eat them up like candy. They are the reason I wanted to write romance in the first place.
Does that make me old fashioned? Maybe. I’m only a few years shy of 50, after all. I get that times change. Rules change. Environments change. But in the age of the PC police, our acceptable conflicts have dwindled down to some pretty slim pickens. My advice to all writers is that if you feel so strongly about the story you want to tell, then tell it the way you want. For example, maybe what you’re writing isn’t a historical western romance. Maybe it’s a western saga, meant to be gritty and uncomfortable and make the fresh-faced idealists squirm in their love seats. We can’t change history, and the fact is that back then most women got married and had sex before the age of 18. Gasp! That’s against the rules of romance! But someone out there will agree with you and enjoy what you put down on paper.
So instead of caving to the rejection and hanging your dreams up like a ristra of dried peppers, try meeting all of your needs. Keep those peppers plump and juicy by broadening your scope. This will take an equal measure of talent, persistence, and backbone. Sure, if you want to be published that bad you can submit the vanilla romances for your agent to pitch. But if you have the desire to, write those other gems that truly stand out; are unique enough to satisfy a tougher pallet. They may not be romances, but they fit somewhere.
The moral of this post: It takes more than talent to survive this business. If you represent the majority of authors who don’t have the connections to slip through the back door of publishing, it will also take an enormous amount of ball-sweat to make those dreams come true. And perhaps some thinking outside the box. (PC Police Disclaimer: I have always enjoyed the word “balls” as a metaphor for strength. They don’t have to mean man balls, they can be nice, big, girl balls. Because let’s face it, “ovary-sweat” doesn’t quite roll off the tongue the same way.)
The purpose of this post: to make me feel better. And I do.