Writing is hard and intensely personal, which is why writers have a habit of taking criticism — any criticism — to heart. There’s a funny side effect of being an agent who blogs. On more occasions than I care to mention, I’ve gotten emails from my clients after a post, asking if the post was about them, specifically. (And, clients, if you have done this, then yes, for probably the first and only time, this post actually is about you! Now stop reading my blog and go write/revise/be brilliant!)
While I don’t make it a habit to write thinly-veiled posts about clients or writers and I don’t think I’ve said anything that would greatly offend clients or writers on this blog, this little quirk does drive home a big point: writing is extremely personal.
Writing is Hard (And Extremely Personal)
Writing is hard from a craft perspective, but it’s also hard from an emotional perspective. A writer is putting their imagination, their hopes and their dreams on the line when they sit down at the keyboard. This is a deeply sacred and important thing. No matter how far along a writer is on his writing journey, no matter if she’s writing her first book or her tenth book, the act of writing and creating is absolutely essential. And every day that I sit down to read a submission from a writer, I honor the sacred bond and trust that writers expect from me when they reach out to share their creative work. Their creative passion — even if the writing isn’t agent- or editor-ready just yet — is what makes them tick. I would never do anything to break their trust and risk hurting their creativity. (Read some constructive feedback examples.)
At a conference one time (and yes, this is a specific example…I hope this writer would allow me to talk about this in the hopes of illustrating a very important point that could spare the next writer some heartache), a writer told me that a creative writing teacher of hers had once taken her story, held it up as an example in front of the entire class, and completely ripped it apart. It took this writer twelve years to bounce back from writing rejection and type another word after that day.
Sure, this writer is an extreme example of taking rejection personally — she could’ve been overly sensitive to her teacher’s comments or excessively shy or whatever. But it only goes to show how much power a person-perceived-to-be-in-authority has over a person’s writerly self-esteem. This isn’t something anyone, whether a critique partner or a teacher or an editor or agent, should take lightly. (Check out more advice on how to deal with negative criticism.)
Writing And Sensitivity
People have all different levels of sensitivity about all different sorts of things. But because writing is hard and so personal, because it deals with hopes and dreams and deep, creative desires, it is all the more fragile. It’s easy for writers to slip into a mindset where they’re taking rejection personally — which makes them all the more protective of their writing. And I am always sensitive to that fact.
I’ve said this in my disclosures on the About Me page, but I think it bears repeating here: I will never use a specific or identifiable example on the blog unless I have permission from the writer to do so (like with questions emailed to me, the workshops or contests, for example). Stuff asked and shared at conferences is fair game because conferences are a public setting and a lot of good stories come out of live events. If I want to illustrate a craft point, I will make something up (usually exaggerated) to suit my purposes. I will never cull directly from slush or from client manuscripts.
Where Do I Get My Post Ideas?
From questions people ask at conferences, from questions people ask via email, from issues that come up in the comments. Between the publishing business end of things, the craft side and the agenting side, I don’t think I’ll end up running out of things to talk about anytime soon.
And if I do discuss a particular craft issue, it is never unique to any one writer. First of all, that would make the post a lot less universal! Second of all, there really is a list of common craft traps and pitfalls that most writers fall into, if they’re going to fall. Believe it or not, but I find myself giving many of the same writing notes over and over. I end up seeing many of the same writing issues in 10-page sample after 10-page sample. When you read as much unpublished writing as I do, a writer’s unique strengths and challenges often match up pretty well with other strengths and challenges that you’ve seen before. If there’s something wonky with craft, it’s usually pretty universal. So work on not taking rejection personally — most likely, you’re among lots of other writers who have received a particular piece of feedback.
The only things that really stick out, usually — and the ones that I will obviously not blog about because of that trust I mention — are zany story ideas. The plots and premises that NOBODY has ever come up with before (usually not a good thing because they’re too out there to be widely commercial). But these types of slush gems aren’t for Twitter or the blog or Facebook. They’re just between me and my cat.
I know that writing is hard. Hire me as your book editor and I’ll give you constructive, actionable feedback that’ll help make your writing stronger.