Constructive Criticism My A@#!

Critiquing Song of the Day: “Everybody Hurts” by REM

I’m not a perfect writer.

There. I admitted it. I mean, that’s why I went back to school to receive my MFA in creative writing. I still have a ton to learn about my craft, and I’ve enjoyed my workshops and professors and recommended reading (okay, that may be a lie). Simply put, my MFA program has been very helpful…

Until I decided to make my creative thesis a contemporary YA novel.

You see, I didn’t apply to one of those graduate programs that focuses on children’s writing. Why? Because I didn’t know that writing YA was my calling until after a month or two after I started classes.

Don’t get me wrong. Despite not being familiar with YA writing, both my professors and classmates have given me lots of substantive feedback. They taught me how to build characterization, how to avoid cliches–to push myself to be a better writer.

But recently (like last week), one of my “older” classmates read a chapter in which one of my teen protagonists used curse words and had sex. She went on to not offer constructive criticism–only to tell me that not all teens do these sort of things and I’d be ostracizing my readers who were actually “good boys and girls.” Oh, and she went on to tell me that her teenagers never engaged in these activities, so why was I so obsessed with making my characters unlikeable?

How did I react? I laughed. Then I got pissed. Then I tweeted about it. Then my tweeps made me laugh again (you guys rock, by the way).

And now? I’d like to thank my lovely classmate. You see, once my novels hit bookshelves (notice how I didn’t say “if”–I’m feeling bold today), this is the type of feedback that I’ll probably get from many parents. Why are my teens engaging in these wreckless behaviors? Furthermore, why am I promoting sex and drug use?

No matter what we all decide to write, it will never be universally liked–but that’s what makes reading so great, right? We have choices, so if we don’t want to read about teens cursing or having sex, we can always grab another book.

So kudos to you, dear classmate, for making my skin even tougher and preparing me for the real world. Have any of you experienced criticism for your writing yet? How have you handled it?

*BTW, don’t forget you still have time to submit your first few lines in our First Lines Critique next Monday!! πŸ™‚
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21 thoughts on “Constructive Criticism My A@#!

  1. Genius. "No matter what we all decide to write, it will never be universally liked–but that's what makes reading so great, right? We have choices, so if we don't want to read about teens cursing or having sex, we can always grab another book." YES YES YES

  2. How great of you to turn the other cheek and find the silver lining in her harsh criticism. And you couldn't be more right…we don't all have to read/like the same things. If we did, there'd only be one book on the shelves. Excellent reminder post, Pam!

  3. Your classmate's reaction reminds me of why I love my pure, sweet mom so much – she might blush while reading a YA with sex or cussing but she accepts that teens do these things. And I don't think "good" girls and boys will be ostracized. It's completely insulting for her to lump teens that way, like sex or cussing = demon children.And ditto to Erinn and Jamie's post – we have choices and if we all wrote about the same thing, it would be slim pickings on the shelf.

  4. Good for you, Pam! You are 100% spot on. Not every book is for everyone, and that's ok. Just find another.BUT … The "I never did X," or "My kids never did X," so therefore "You're going to ostracize readers" argument is bullshit. As is the "You're going to encourage kids to engage in reckless behavior" argument. I was a freaking SAINT in high school, but you'd better believe I read books about people engaging in a whole host of activities that were completely foreign to me at the time. Such arguments really are just a sign of people not giving teens credit for being normal human beings capable of rational thought, and that sucks.

  5. LOL, love this post on so many levels. I've taken some criticism that didn't make sense, and even hurt my feelings, but you're right, it only thickens your skin to the eventual criticism you have to endure to be a career author.And I was a good girl, but, oh, boy, did I like to read about BAD girls. πŸ˜‰

  6. Great post. It's true. Even published authors have to face criticisms of people who don't like their books. It sounds like you are confident in the what you have written and that is important.I think it is a bummer that the people in your program haven't familiarized themselves with the YA genre more even though it isn't a writing for children program. I don't know what your reading habits are like but you have probably read in the genres they write in. If they haven't read a YA book since they were teenagers a lot has changed.

  7. Whoa! Okay, I need to get on blackboard and set someone straight! I can only guess who said that. Seriously, I KNOW who said it without even looking. Okay, first you're right. I do agree that not every teen is engaging in sex, drugs, etc. I know this because I was a teen once. HOWEVER a good majority of them are. It's something that IS happening. What we also have to understand is that times are changing. We have got to accept that in order to keep an open mind. Second, of course your book will be hitting the shelves! (And mine and Quita's!) It's like you told me, these people are going to be so sorry when they see how rich and famous we all become! Lol. We'll show em'! Third, I feel personally attacked, I'm going on there and saying something. πŸ™‚

  8. There will always be poeple who have thinsg to say about your writing….no matter what genre you write. About every aspect f it. I got some pretty nasty comments about my cover…something in which I had zero control over. And it hurt…bad. Especially when it was negativity form close friends. Do you follow Kody Keplinger's blog…she wrote The DUFF. She just posted this week about sex in YA….great post!!! She is 19, only 17 when she wrote her book..so she had some great thoughts on the topic.

  9. Great post! I think it's such a misconception that YA literature is always squeaky clean. I personally don't write sex into my stories but that doesn't mean I think teens don't have it. I think it comes from people thinking they know YA without ever reading it.

  10. I think I take criticism really well, I try to look at it objectively and if it makes sense then I agree, if not then I make fun of you until I feel better.The teens in my YA wip cuss, have sex, drink. That's not promoting it, it's being realistic. I remember my own teen years and I was considered a 'good girl'.

  11. Thanks so much for your feedback everyone! I was a very shy, reserved teen–so much so that my mom had to push me out the door to have a social life! πŸ™‚ But I did like to read darker items–and guess what? I never did anything "stupid" after reading them.Stephanie, I did read Kody's blog post–it was great! :)I'm also glad that you that don't include sex and drinking in your manuscripts understand where I'm coming from. πŸ™‚

  12. That's great Pam! Really. I would have been defensive and pissed off too. But to take an experience like that and grow from it, instead of being tempted to change your work, is awesome. And you're right, when the book gets published you are going to get a lot of flack, so thicken that skin right up πŸ˜‰

  13. I love you a thousand times over for this! You may be *feeling* bold today, but I think this post shows exactly how bold you are. So many writers use excuses like, 'You can't teach writing,' or 'They don't understand my writing,' and never improve because they never get feedback and only end up hurting themselves. Even I've thought, Nah, I don't want to study Creative Writing, I'll end up hating my classmates and never sharing feedback and it will be like a hippie commune and ruin what I love blah blah blah.You are VERY bold with VERY good reason to be, and you kick ass, and your book is going to OWN those shelves. And a few words on alienating readers who don't engage in sex and drugs and drinking and cursing: Jersey Shore. The demographic is really fucking wide.

  14. Oh I really LOVE your conclusion. While I agree with you that sex and drugs on a YA book is completely normal, I think that ONCE we get published we'll have to deal with TONS of angry mothers that will rant on and on about how we are corrupting their kids… So yeah, we better get used to it! πŸ˜€

  15. I love this! I have an MFA in children's book writing and I've wondered what it would have been like had I been in a fiction program instead with non-kidlit writers. Your perspective on this is awesome. All writers receive criticism and you have to be able to take some of it with a grain of salt. Good for you for having such tough skin and turning this into a positive thing.

  16. You're on the money here. In my old crit group, I'd always come away ticked because they would say something like this. Sometimes it's also hard to distance ourselves from our project to take in what people are saying.Great post, Quita.

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