Hot on the putrid heels of a bout with food poisoning is the latest installment of Bread Crumbs from the Void. Drafting an entire column on a cell phone whilst dealing with immense stomach cramps and legs which have long since nodded off is not quite the enjoyable experience or easy feat one may imagine. Fear not my frenzied following, for an insidious bug of explosive proportions is not enough to keep me from discharging another bowlful of chunky advice on writing.
Suppress that gag reflex and follow me down the rabbit hole. There is no place in this industry for a weak resolve. Or a weak stomach for that matter. If you are afflicted with either of said conditions your best course of action would be to follow a less treacherous path to spiritual fulfillment such as gardening or scientology. You know, an endeavor where your precious fucking feelings would never be on the chopping block.
As I touched upon the topic ever so briefly in my previous article covering self-evaluation (http://five2onemagazine.com/2125-2/), receiving critiques on your works-in-progress is essential to your development. Counterintuitive as it may appear, suffering the slings and arrows of outrageous script is always beneficial for the immortal expressive soul.
I know, your mommy, grandparents, best friends, etc. have all convinced you that you are nothing less than a rare unicorn of blinding luminescence and wonder. They capitulated under your suffocating and constant need for approval, relinquishing any attempts to keep you grounded or pragmatic about your own abilities. Unfortunately for you, this bubble does not render you invulnerable to the outside world’s prejudicial opinion. It also does not extend to shield you from the harsh rebuke of the prying eyes flouncing about the interwebs.
The decision to unleash your work and your words on the unsuspecting inhabitants of the online wilds will attract some unfavorable opinions. This is not conjecture, it is a guarantee. How you choose to react to such derision and scorn is a litmus test for your professionalism.
The Gut Reaction
A beta reader, freelance editor whom you foolishly paid an exorbitant fee, high school English teacher’s aide, etc. has just sent you a response to the piece which you submitted for their review and/or notes. Possibly contained therein are some vague compliments on your endurance in the face of overwhelming odds (and marginal talent) or failed attempts at wordplay. Do not allow such seemingly disarming pleasantries to distract you. What lies ahead are most certainly perilous words assaulting the very foundation of what you believe to be your winning literary qualities.
First of all know this: You are not as good of a writer as you believe yourself to be. I am sure I have imparted this nifty tidbit before but it bears repeating. If there comes a time in your artistic development when you believe to have achieved some upper echelon of enlightened fucking mastery then your next move should be to quit on the spot. You should have confidence in your work, but there is a world of difference between comfort in your own capability and being an egotistical, misguided douche-nugget.
This does not mean that it will not sting when you come upon an unkind word related to your work. Embrace the anger, disappointment, projectile vomiting. Punch a hole in the wall. Hurl refuse at the neighborhood kids making a racket outside. Allow yourself to experience each barb of disgust, every pang of revulsion. Do not react by composing a scathing response to your critic. Remember, you invited the feedback. Have some god-damn dignity when dealing with the outcome.
Once you have cooled your heels you can progress to the next step.
Sifting Through the Wreckage
To be fair, only a fraction of the critiques you receive will be of value. One of your strongest assets as a writer will be learning how to sift through the rubble to extrapolate the beneficial analysis from the merely subjective nitpicking. Self-proclaimed pundits solicited online for reviews can easily fall into either category.
For instance, at times your only recourse might be to rely solely on the input of critique groups. This may be nothing more than provoking the hellfire of fellow scorned scribblers. While there is nothing ostensibly wrong with said online assemblies or forums, a portion of the congregation will be comprised of other aspiring writers deluded regarding their own proficiency and seeking to annihilate the competition. Obvious personal affronts directed at you as an artist or critiques which employ disparaging remarks without offering any useful resolutions should be discarded. That said, a unanimous note received across multiple syntax savvy partners could prove to be advantageous and should not be so easily dismissed.
Editors of literary magazines and established publishers will provide the most useful feedback. That is if they decide to provide an in-depth response. More often than not the optimum rejoinder you can expect from one of the aforementioned genera is that of a personalized form rejection. This cadre gets their occupational rocks off consistently and has no time for a piece of side ass. Moreover, if they are compelled to offer encouragement via an evaluation of your aptitude as a wordsmith you would be wise to heed the advice.
Damning or poisonous as their guidance may be, you lube up with some spittle or baby oil and brace for penetration. Just be certain to bring a cum-rag as it will assuredly be messy. For better or worse, criticism from seasoned veterans will make you a better writer.
Now that you have accepted the fact that you are not the profound talent you once imagined yourself to be you can actually commence with improvement. Gather up the minimal constructive evaluations received and implement the inherent wisdom. Acknowledge there will never be a point in your career when refinement and augmentation becomes futile. Revise your tone or style. Substitute or eliminate superfluous punctuation. Vonnegut famously said, “First rule: Do not use semicolons. They are transvestite hermaphrodites representing absolutely nothing. All they do is show you’ve been to college.”
I would implore you to pay close attention to any outside observer who coaxes you to shed the cocoon of conformity. The remaining appraisals where detractors used the forum to rape and pillage your handiwork can be utilized for kindling during your next barbeque.
Ultimately the decision to accept or reject such admonishments is entirely up to you. Use your instinct when it comes to modifying or completely overhauling your personal joie de vivre. Considering most of your instincts will be shit, particularly for the first few years, finding a small number of confidantes whose opinions you know are objective is integral. Once you have a more refined gauge your intuition will be a powerful ally provided your egocentrism and narcissism can be inhibited.
Write for yourself, but craft as though someone else is reading.
If you would like to hear me elaborate a bit more on my own process, you can find links to a couple of interviews conducted recently with me on my website at: https://alexschumacherart.com/about/. Drop me a line from the contact page if you have any other questions, complaints, or declarations of lust.
Bread Crumbs from the Void will return in two weeks with another thrilling edition of hard-nosed reality for you big-talkers and wannabes. Until next time, keep scribbling you freaks.
Alex Schumacher has toiled away in the relative obscurity of minimum-wage jobs and underground comics longer than he cares to admit. Currently he produces the weekly feature Decades of (in)Experience for Antix Press, Bread Crumbs from the Void and The Fucking Funnies for Five 2 One Magazine, and Mr. Butterchips for Drunk Monkeys.
Stalk him at http://alexschumacherart.com/