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Humility

May 25, 2011

            I’ve been thinking of a good first post for my new web site and the first thing that came to mind was a subject that I think all writers must learn up front. Humility. What do I mean by that?

            As writers, we express ourselves through words. We tell stories, pour our hearts out, put our hearts on our sleeves for you, the reader, to slice and dice and tear us down without thought for our feelings, hopes dreams…

            Okay, I’m laying it on a bit thick.

            To some writers, what I just said is the absolute truth.

            I’ve got news for you. In this sometimes ugly business, you have to develop a thick skin. When you write something and put it out for everyone to see, you must be prepared for unfiltered responses. It’s just like when a woman puts on a dress and her kid says “Mommy, you look fat.” Or when a teenage boy thinks he does something heroic and the girl of his dreams yawns and says “Joe, that was really stupid.”

            Humility.

            When we write, we have to be prepared for both sides of the coin, the praise and the criticism. No matter how hard you work at something, no matter how cool the inspiration, at least half of the people are going to love it while the other half hate it. Count on it. While one person is going to slap you on the back and tell you how great it is, the other is going to slap you in the face and tell you it sucks.

            That is just the end result, what your final audience is going to see.

            What about your peers, other writers? If you want to be a really great writer, I’ll repeat this—You have to learn humility. No matter how long you’ve been at this, no matter how much practice you’ve had, you are never going to be perfect.

            As an editor, I know this first hand. I do a lot of editing for member of my writers group. In my 17 years at this, I’ve learned a lot about writing, both personally and professionally. I put it to practice. However, I also know that when you are too close to something, you can’t see the forest through the trees. I know that’s a cliché, but it’s true. I even wrote a separate article about it which will feature later on in my On Writing page. When I write, I try to follow all the rules I’ve learned over many years of practice. However, during my creative process, I follow a stream-of-consciousness and sometimes skip over a few of those rules. The idea is to get the ideas down while they’re fresh in my head. I’ll worry about fixing the manuscript later. I write much cleaner than I used to, but I still make many of the mistakes I find when I edit other friend’s manuscripts. Does this mean I’m a bad writer? Of course not! That shouldn’t mean you are either. That is what editing and writer’s groups and reading buddies are for.

            When you write something and give it to someone for a critique, don’t get all bent out of shape or want to quit writing if you get it back covered in red ink. Humility.

            If you are searching for someone to critique your work and they give you the “tough love” treatment, belittle you, give you harsh criticism, or make you feel like crap, run, don’t walk away from that person! You are NOT getting a good critique! There is a difference between constructive criticism and being demeaned by an asshole. The world doesn’t need these people. Trust me on this. If you consider sharing a manuscript with someone and you ever hear the words “tough love,” “brutal truth,” or “blunt honesty” in the conversation, you don’t need to be dealing with that person. You’ve learned one thing. They don’t have a clue how to be constructive and diplomatic. You’ll just get frustrated dealing with someone like that.

            Say you find some great people, get past all the editing and your story or book is published. It makes it to Amazon and the reviews start rolling in. Now is where you see the real unbiased reviews by total strangers. They can be really good or very cruel. The cruel ones can be personal attacks, attacks on your writing style, holes in the plot or story that nobody else noticed, or something completely out of left field. My personal favorite is something to do with Kindle that has nothing to do with the story. Be prepared. Humility.

            Writing has a lot of ups and downs. I’ve weathered the storm, so far. Here I am 17 years later. You can do it too. Just learn a bit of humility.

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10 Comments leave one →
  1. May 26, 2011 9:59 pm

    Fred, cool website. I might be looking for some tips on blog sites from you in the near future. Looks like you worked out all the snags and figured out what to do with the bells n’ whistles.

    Great blog today. Humility. I can’t think of a more apopros subject for writers new or established. There’s no place in this business for the thin-skinned “I just want to hear good things” type of writer. And you’re so right about the merits of constructive criticism over the harsh criticism that may shut a writer down. We’re all sensitive, no matter how long we’ve been writing or how many publications we have under our belt. The good writer learns from his mistakes and rewrites. No writing is ever wasted. You’ve always been a kind, yet valuable reader and critiquer of my work. I only hope I’ve reciprocated in kind with your work.

    Onward.

    • May 27, 2011 1:03 am

      Carol,

      I can’t even begin to decribe how much help you’ve been to me. If not for your kind and gentle but firm guidance, I would not be here, with 11 books under my belt, writing this blog! I just hope I can live up to your standards as I help others find their path!

      Thank you!

  2. Luis permalink
    May 27, 2011 12:34 am

    Fred,

    You have been around this business far longer than I have, yet your comment seems so harsh. “…the other is going to slap you in the face and tell you it sucks.” I don’t know, but I sure hope that there is no one in this business whether, writer, agent,or publisher who would take such an extreme position and speak such callous words. I realize you are speaking metaphorically too an extent, but it still sounds harsh to me. Then again, I don’t have your experience.

    Yes, humility is a tool we all need.

    Luis

    • May 27, 2011 1:00 am

      Luis,

      I appreciate your take on things but I must tell you that I HAVE received those exact words. In fact, I have actually received far worse. Though I was actually being facetious in this case, truth be told, I have received comments from agents and one publisher that were far worse than that. In fact if someone not already a bit jaded had recived those harsh words, they might have quit writing. I, however had already been around the block a few times. Though it pissed me off, it just made me more determined to go on. Part of the reason I reach out to others is to make sure I’m there, so other writer’s have at least someone that isn’t going to tell them garbage like that. Yes, my friend, there still ARE people out there like that. You will sometimes find their names in RED on Predators and Editors too.

      Thanks for writing!

  3. Ann Marquez permalink
    May 27, 2011 5:56 pm

    Humility. Perfect. 😉 Your site is beautiful and I look forward to reading future posts. Thank you for creating this venue for sharing your advice and experience with all writers. (And thank you for linking to my blog and for giving my book a shout out.)

    Wishing you the best of luck, always. ~ Annie

  4. May 28, 2011 4:04 pm

    Harsh words in a critique? One reader wrote “DUMB!” across several pages of my manuscript. She also said she couldn’t read any more, it gave her a headache. That was on my novel, NIGHT PASSAGE. Granted, the work in progress had problems, but c’mon. . . .

    • May 28, 2011 9:29 pm

      One publisher gave me some “tough love.” He told me I should give up writing. I had no idea what I was doing and should leave it to people that had at least a little bit of talent. Soon after I got that “honest” critique from him, his publishing company folded and I never saw hide nor hair of the one book his company finally published.

      Another time, I had a lady read one of my short stories and then told me how to rewrite it. She changed the whole plot into something else. That story was The Walk Home and was the second story of my West Virginia Trilogy, published in Writer’s Bloc I. Go figure.

      Carol, thanks for the feedback!

      I would love to hear publishing or agent horror stories from anyone else out there. Please speak up.

  5. May 29, 2011 1:25 am

    Very nice site, Fred, and great post! Luis, I got a rejection once that you wouldn’t believe!

  6. July 8, 2011 5:31 am

    Hi Fred,

    I thoroughly enjoyed your “POV” and once again realized you’re a “true” writer. I’ve never considered myself a writer, more an untrained storyteller who managed to get the message across.

    Congratulation for another fine piece. I look forward to all your works.

    Felix

    • July 9, 2011 12:22 am

      Felix,

      Don’t kid yourself. You are a WONDERFUL writer! Keep doing what you are doing. You’ve told some great stories. I’m honored to know you and to have worked with you. Thanks for taking the time to read my blathering. I really appreciate it!

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