How do you take your truth? Sugar-coated, sweet through and through, or like a shot of freezing water, not what you want, but getting your attention?
My beautiful daughter came home one day, her once striking blonde hair dyed black. Before I could open my mouth, she asks, "How do you like my hair? Isn't it cool?" Her smile beamed as she flipped her hair over one shoulder. Well, what could I say? Obviously, she loved it. I knew I had only a few seconds to answer, and in that time I debated between honesty or telling her what she wanted to hear.
I went with diplomacy. I said something like, "Looks good," and she said, "You don't like it, do you?" She pushed for more, right? I said, "It's not that I don't like it, it's just that I'm used to seeing you with blonde hair, yada-yada..."
She expected raves. "Everyone at work LOVED it!" she said. So I guess that meant that I didn't know what the hell I was talking about, or, maybe the people at work realized that hey, they had to work with her everyday, so they just kept it unreal. Better to hide true thoughts than upset the work place.
I suppose it's always easier to tell a person what you think they want to hear. But, on the other hand, when asked "What do you think?" I take it as a person looking for an honest opinion.
Or are they just fishing for compliments?
As a writer who thinks her work is Nobel worthy, I, too, like to hear accolades. However, over the years I've developed a thick skin. I had to because not everyone thought I deserved a Nobel. What I've learned over the years is that whenever you seek out opinions, be prepared to accept them all. ALL OF THEM.
The first time I entered a writing contest I received some "in my face" comments. At the time I was flabbergasted. Crushed. How dare that person say such a thing?
Did I want to smack that person up the side of her head? Yep. Did her comments stall my writing? Only for a day, and then I got back on my bike and decided to view it as a challenge. I worked harder. I had something to prove, not to the contest judge, but to myself.
As time went on and after several contest entries, I learned that if you want to play in the big leagues, you have no choice but to take the harsh with the good. Contests were a great lesson in developing a thick skin. They prepared me for the next step: being viewed by agents and/or editors.
I believe that to achieve greatness you have to take the bumpy path. The pain of it all. Small steps first; one toe in testing the waters. Little by little the writing improves until you hear more nice things than bad. And with every step the skin gets thicker in preparation for the day your book ends up in the hands of a reviewer.
Thick skin is a by product of honesty. Criticism can be a harsh mistress, but it's the nasty tasting medicine that makes you better. It's all part of the process. As writers, we know this.
Then why is it when asked for our opinion, we take a step back and worry about hurting feelings? Shouldn't the writer asking for the opinion expect honesty? Maybe not. Perhaps the writer just needs their ego stroked. But does that do him/her any favors? It's only human to want to be great and to think your work is the next Nobel winner. But if the story you've been requested to read barks, what favor are we doing the writer by saying, "Oh this story is fabulous! Pick out a new dress, honey, because I hear Oprah's people calling your name."
No favor at all in my opinion. Just speaking for myself, but if the story I want to submit to agents or editors has some in-your-face issues, I want to know about it. I'm not turning my work over for opinion just so my ego gets a stroke. Hell no. I can handle it.
In fact, I recently was subject to scrutiny in the form of a writing contest. One of the judges first pointed out what she loved, and then she got down to the nitty-gritty, pointing out the flaws. And she was spot-on with her observation. Valuable advice that I'll always adhere to.
That particular judge was akin to Randy Jackson of the American Idol judging panel. You know the types. They'll give you props for the good, but not hold back on telling you what needs work.
Yet, in my experience over the years, I've found many writers can't handle the truth. One writer once told me that she quit writing for ten years as a result of bad comments from a contest judge. Said judge indicated that in her opinion, the story wasn't any good. Maybe that writer would rather have a Paula Abdul on her side. You know Paula. She always slurs some sweetness, never saying anything critical because she's afraid of destroying "The Dream."
Ten years of no writing only tells me that the person wasn't serious about it in the first place. Tell me my story is bad, and I'll first ask for another opinion, and then rip it apart to make it better, not toss my entire dream out the window. Only the weak do that.
And in the writing business, weakness has no business.
Sure, criticism's effect has a lot to do with its delivery. But I'll say this, and I've given it plenty-o-thought, if someone credentialed in the business tells me my story sucks ass, I'll take it.
But I'd be kidding myself if I said harsh words don't bother me. They do, but if coming from a reliable source, I can take it. And like I said, harsh hurts and it used to really hurt, but I started getting over it when I began studying Simon Cowell closely on American Idol. His words, that is. Okay, I sort of like looking at him, and I hear his girlfriend dumped him. Hello, Simon...if you're free I got a manuscript needing some ripping apart, maybe over cocktails...?
Back to my point. American Idol's three judges' opinions differ in every degree. Each has a different way of pointing out flaws, and no one does is with as much zeal as Simon Cowell.
Simon Cowell. The man is a mega-mogul in the music industry. The credits to his resume could fill a ream of paper, maybe two. His comments are, at times, caustic. He makes artists cry. But the ones who never shed a tear, took his comments, sour as they were, and learned from them. Maybe at times he forced some to want to quit all together, and if his words had that sort of power, then maybe the artist was in the wrong business all together.
Because if you can't take the heat from someone who knows what they're talking about, it's time to re-think your profession. That's the nature of the beast - taking the bad with the good and knowing the difference. Cowell is harsh, but he also gives props where due. His sincerity is as strong as his digs.
I like that in a person. But then again, I'm a person who prefer honesty over omitting the truth. If I know my potential, I'll most likely agree. But I'll only take harsh truth from a person who has been in the business, has more knowledge and credits to back up their claims, than I do.
And I'll take any other opinion, thoughts, criticisms, etc., that are given by people whose opinions I value. I want to succeed. And I want do it with eyes wide open, taking the harsh with the good. It's a valuable part of reaching my dream, and I want to get there based on hearing the utter truth from whomever happens to view my work.
Thoughts? How do you take your truth?