A quick post on receiving criticism:
When I first started sharing my writing online (because I couldn't find any real life writers in my area) I begged for feedback. And I got it. But it was all over the board. I remember printing out those first responses, reading and rereading them, and trying to incorporate every single change they suggested in my manuscript.
Yes, imagine that. Among a myriad of smaller suggestions, there were issues with POV and tense. You can imagine how I edited myself silly in those days.
I was so new to the critique thing that I assumed if a reader suggested it, it must be so. I was letting the wind blow me any way it wanted to. I ended up with a messy pile of words and a discouraged heart. Needless to say, that first manuscript is still on life support in some dusty corner; a cautionary tale in how not to receive criticisms.
I LOVE hard critiques. Lay it on me, baby, it's the only way my writing will get better. It's one reason my family doesn't critique for me. After my early days trolling for feedback in forums, I have since found a community of people who offer helpful, trusted feedback. Here is what I've learned over the years:
First of all, after reading the critique once, set it aside for a day or so, let it settle, then reread it. You'll find different parts jump out at you for your consideration. Read it several times (though not obsessively) to make sure you're getting everything out of it.
Read between the lines. Even if you ask for a hard critique, some people have a hard time giving them, or give them in a roundabout manner. Try to determine what their real meaning is. Don't be afraid to ask for clarification.
Don't make every change that's suggested. Duh. I don't know how I didn't get that in the early days. Not every suggestion is helpful. Especially minor things that don't ring true to you. Have your salt shaker nearby and take a grain or two with everything you read.
DO listen for things you hear over and over again. Critiquers will not all say it the same way, though. One may say your MC needs more depth, another may say they don't connect with her, and still another may say she's pathetic. This will all be woven in with critiques of different aspects of your novel. Pick them out. Taken all together you should get the gist that your MC needs some work. Sometimes the pattern shows up over the course of a few years of revisions. Always keep your ears perked up for criticisms that you've heard before: they're telling you something.
To sum it up, you will receive criticism all over the board (some directly contradicting others), so in the end you have to go with your gut instincts. But look for a pattern in the critiques; what themes are recurring in the majority of them? Be open to suggestions you hear over and over again.
Above all, be thankful for and hold dear those readers who offer honest feedback. Untainted impressions are worth more than gold to me. They are tools to help you make your manuscript better - and that's utterly invaluable.
Monday, June 28, 2010
A quick post on receiving criticism:
Monday, June 21, 2010
I've made a big decision. I have unlocked some previously friends-only posts on my LJ blog in the interest of showing the ugly truths on my road to publishing (much of which still stretches before me). Knowing how much I benefited from reading the good, bad and ugly of other writer's journeys, I have decided to lay it all out there in the hope that someone may recognize moments of discouragement similar to their own and decide not to give up. . . after all, though it's been somewhat gruesome at times (or at least my display of emotions have been), I'm still making progress toward my dream. Not sure I'd call it inspirational, but I know my misery appreciated company over the years.
Read it here. Search for the entries tagged "the journey". And try not to cringe.
Friday, June 18, 2010
When I was in England last year my passport was stolen. While applying for an emergency passport at the U.S. embassy an agent asked, "Have you ever used any other last names?"
"Just my maiden name, Morlan."
"Are you sure?"
"Uh, yes," I said, my brain frantically searching an index of my life and any details I might be overlooking. My last name was Morlan growing up, and then I got married and it became Boman...is there something in between I'm forgetting?
"You've never used another last name?" she asks again, looking at me importantly, like a contestant on Password trying to coax the answer out of their teammate.
I start panicking. Is this some sort of test? Am I supposed to read between the lines? What does she really want me to say?
"No," I answer, sweating.
"Not something that starts with an "R"?"
"Uh, noooo . . ."
"Fine," she huffs in frustration. "Have a seat."
I did eventually get my passport and the "R" word never came up again. It wasn't until weeks later that it hit me.
I grew up Stephanie Elena Morlan, but I was born Elena Stephanie Rajcic, which is the name on my birth certificate, and which, as far as I know of, is the only place it has been used. Why? Well, my mother had divorced my older sister's father and was still legally using his last name when I was born. My "father", Edward Morlan, didn't marry my mom until she was pregnant with my little brother two years later. Yeah, great guy. Being traditional, my mom took the last name of the man she married, so at that point, she, my brother and I became Morlans.
I knew my name on my birth certificate was different from the one I used growing up, but I never thought much of it. My family called me Steffie, not Elena, when I was little for reasons I'm not completely clear on, and the only last name I ever knew to use was Morlan.
So yes, there was an "R" name in my past, and it had completely slipped my mind. The agent must have okayed my passport, thinking my given name must be some family secret I hadn't discovered yet. She must have feared instigating a life-altering identity crisis would cut into her afternoon tea.
I go back and forth on legal documents, sometimes using Stephanie Elena, other times Elena Stephanie...it can get a little sticky at times.
I'm thinking about names because when I was younger I hated the last name Morlan, and decided when I was an author I would be Elena Dahl (Dahl was my mother's maiden name). I loved the sound of it, it had special meaning to me, and I'd be shelved right next to one of my favorite authors!
When I started blogging I used my current name, Stephanie Boman, and registered it as a domain name. I developed a website and contributed to forums where everyone knows me by that name.
Recently, while fantasizing about getting a book published, I imagined my name on the cover, and remembered my desired nom de plume, realizing too late that I can't use Elena Dahl when all my networking has been under Stephanie Boman! Not that I don't like the name Boman, which, apart from the fact that 99% of people insist on inserting a "w" in it, is a perfectly nice name. But the name Stephanie Boman doesn't roll trippingly on the tongue as does, say, Melissa Marr, Holly Black, Judy Blume, Cassandra Clare, Libba Bray etc., etc. . . .
But even if I got over the awkward rhythm of it (Stephanie Boman has the same number of syllables as Stephenie Meyer after all) there's the whole other issue of identity. What name do I most identify with? My signature is S Boman. I like the sound of S.E. Boman, but of all my names, Stephanie is probably the one I identify with the most, so I don't really want to hide it as an initial on a book cover. For many years I was "Steffie" (which became "Stephi" when I entered high school and wanted a more "mature" spelling), but as an adult most people who know me call me Stephanie.
What about you - have you given much thought to your author name? Happy with the one you use already? Are there any author names you particularly like?
I guess in the end, a rose by any other name . . .