Experience and Learning, or There’s Always a Lesson to Learn

The first Beta reading of the “Aanora” story has been done and I’ve received the feedback. I have to admit that I was surprised. On the one hand, my set-up for the climax had been extremely successful. On the other hand, a couple things I’d thought I’d made clear — important details — had been missed, leaving my reader confused during the last act of the story. What?

I spent a good deal of time going through the novella with slow and careful attention, looking for where I may have missed something myself. But everything was there. My reader should not have been confused. I made some changes to clarify some details and also some continuity corrections. Then I put the novella away. I sent my Beta reader an email thanking her, and also included a response to some of her comments. Then I moved onto Perceval’s Shadow.

This past week, I was reading the October issue of The Writer and came to an article by Susan Breen about dealing with criticism, “Thin Skin: How to Deal with Criticism as a Writer.” Breen writes about the difficulty of being bombarded with criticism at all stages of a story’s life — Beta readers, editors, agents, publishers, reviewers, friends, well-meaning fans, and the list can go on and on. Each believes, of course, that they’re doing the writer a huge service by offering their criticism. Then Breen goes on to list 9 essential things to remember when dealing with criticism.

As I read the article, I realized that I knew everything that Breen was saying, and I’d been very good about doing everything she suggested, i.e. listen, write down notes, wait (give it time to ferment), use the criticism to make it better, look at the big picture, consider the source of the criticism (how trustworthy?), never take it personally (even though it can feel that way), pay attention to the positive things, the praise (it can get lost among the negative stuff), and remember that real writers are the ones who are criticized, not those who never commit anything to paper. I also realized that I had not done a very good job of accepting the criticism I received from my Beta reader.

I had chosen this particular reader for the first reading because I knew that she knew the sci fi universe in which I had set the story. I had asked her to watch for anything that could be out of place, and she pointed out several things that were very good catches. She also reads widely. I trusted her to be honest with me and she was. Where I fell down in this process was to give her comments time before I responded to them. Then I needed to go back to her and ask some questions about those things that she had missed. For example, what had she thought when she’d read that section? Why had she thought in that direction and not some other direction? I realized that I was the one who needed the clarification from her, not that she needed clarification from me to explain those things she had missed. There was a reason she’d missed them, even though I had set them up earlier. Clearly, I had not done a good enough job of setting them up so that they wouldn’t be missed.

I’ve been writing for decades now, and I continue to write a lot in a lot of different genres. My experience over the years has given me knowledge and skill. However, it doesn’t matter how many years or how much experience or how much skill, there’s always something to learn — or re-learn — in writing. So if someone says to me that they’ve been writing so long, it all comes really easily to them and they really don’t have anything more to learn, I don’t believe them.

Life and living is learning. As part of life, writing is the same thing.

3 responses to “Experience and Learning, or There’s Always a Lesson to Learn

  1. All the best with the Aaanora story–I’m glad you got useful feedback, and am sure you’ll be able to apply it to create another wonderful book! Being able to take criticism is gold for any author.

    • Thanks for your kind thoughts, Damyanti! The thing that shocked me about myself is that I knew everything that I read in the article and yet I fell into the newbie writer trap of reacting emotionally to the feedback — at least initially. I’ve stepped back now, put the novella away to ferment, and I’m certain that I’ll return to the feedback with a more open eye.

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