Every writer has critics and opinion minions. In fact you could just be thinking about becoming a writer and someone will have a comment about that. So this blog post is going to cover the Level 1 Critics (level 2 coming in a later post). Level 1 Critics are the people who just have to say something about what you’re doing.
In a world where everything is up for review from your meal, your hotel room, the new stapler you just bought – it’s not surprising that everyone has an opinion and wants to express it – whether you ask for it or not.
This is where the Level 1 Critic lives. They are usually not the ones you have asked to read anything, they have just found out you are a writer or want to be one and so rush right in with their opinion on that. I find Level 1 Critics are particularly active with their unasked for opinion with young writers starting out.
THE WHY GUY (or GIRL)
This can often be a friend or family member. No matter how it comes up that this is what you want to be, they are ready with a crooked frown and the “why do you want to be a writer?” question. It’s funny but I’ve not seen people ask the Why question to friends who wanted to be doctors or teachers… but apparently being a writer is so “out there” it deserves to be queried with disdain.
It’s not as if we have proclaimed we want to be Martian Gardeners… that I could maybe understand… and I say maybe because hell, they are looking at sending people to Mars so who knows! Maybe in my lifetime someone will be a Martian Gardener!
But despite the fact that many people make a living out of being a writer or even support themselves part time, it will just be beyond them.
To these people Writer is like Rock Star – it’s impossible to achieve (in their eyes). It’s as if we have to be born with the writer gene to manage it.
How to cope with this Critic – However you want. You can smile politely and ask them why they wanted to be (insert their job). I’m guessing almost all the answers can be used the same for a writer. For example if they say “I wanted to help people” – writers do that by connecting with people, showing scenerios that people can relate to, given people somewhere to escape to. Children’s book authors help kids to read… so already a writer can do that There are different levels of helping.
“I wanted a career” – writing can be a career, look at George RR Martin or the late Terry Pratchett, writing is/was their career. “I wanted a steady job” – in truth no job is steady, some of the biggest companies have fallen, people are made redundant all the time…so really, what is “steady”?
My preferred method is to state that I want a career doing something I love…and I love writing.
THE IDEA GENERATOR
This person is what I consider the passive critic. They often start by giving you “ideas” for your stories. While they may have the best intentions, to a writer this can be a little insulting. It’s as if we don’t have ideas of our own. If you want to be a writer it’s almost always because you’ve got a story inside you that you want to tell.
In the end if these ideas are that good, they should be writing their own story. Anyone can be a writer if they have a story and the strength of will and determination to tell it. But these people don’t want to write it, they want YOU to write it. Or worse they think you won’t have good stories so are plugging you theirs.
They are also the ones that if you tell them about your story, will always have a thought to “improve” it or a “better idea” that you should do instead. Forget the fact you have only given them the bare bones they know their idea is better.
These people are mostly harmless but pretty fucking irritating.
How to deal with this critic – Stop that shit instantly. As soon as they start with their ideas, if you did not ask for them speak out immediately before they have even finished their idea and calmly but firmly state you already have your story and it’s the one you want to write. If they keep pushing, just tell them to write it themselves – that’s usually when the excuses will come out. But in the end if they want their crap written, they need to write it themselves. Period!
THE IT’S A PHASE CRITIC
This is almost always parents (though sometimes other family members or even teachers can jump onto this bandwagon).
It’s the people who think your “love of writing” is just a phase that will pass when you get older. What they mean is they HOPE it passes because they want you to get a REAL job and be NORMAL. (What the fuck is normal!?)
There are a few versions of this critic, there are the ones who just outright don’t like you “messing about” and think you should get your head out of the clouds and work hard on a real job. These are usually overbearing parents with no creative flare at all and really like to tout the benefits of being an accountant or patent attorney or any other job that will probably pay well but sap your soul.
These people can get pretty crappy as you get older. Especially when they realise this “phase” you’re going through is not ending. They will continually push you away from more creative endeavours and downplay anything you say to people about your writing. They can often treat your story writing as an embarrassment.
The softer version is the ones that think it’s nice you have a hobby but don’t think it’s really going to become anything. They usually haven’t read anything you’ve written so have no idea of your talent or skill but want you to be more secure in your future. They may be like this due to a fear of failure on your part.
They are the sort of person that when you get a rejection letter will say that maybe it’s time to stop writing and focus on something else.
How to deal with this critic – Because it’s often a parent, you just have to thicken your skin and just not let that get to you. You can still go through college and uni and even get a job, none of that has to stop you from writing. It’s not an ‘either or’ option. Also, understand that parents always want “what’s best” but that comes from measuring your life against theirs.
Parents often want their children to do better than them, which often means a better job, more money, fancy car and all that jazz. The idea of you pursuing a writing career is almost horrifying to them. This is because it’s a risk and they don’t like risks, not for their children’s future.
Accept that they might not change a) ever or b) until you publish your novel and even then it might not be enough. But you can’t live for other people’s approval or to do what they want. Yes you will probably have to get a job because even published writers had to support themselves while they write. But that does not mean those jobs are going to be what you do forever – that depends on you.
THE GENRE HATER
This is someone who “doesn’t care much for your genre”. Genre is a loose term anyway because many books these days can’t be so easily categorised. But this person will probably sneer at your chosen “genre”.
Those who fall into this group I have personally found that they usually hate fantasy. They don’t like that lack of realism and can often see this as cop-out writing. After all it’s just “making shit up right? *facepalm*
You usually find these people have not actually read any fantasy or whatever genre they claim to hate – but maybe they have seen some movies with fantasy elements and didn’t like it. So apparently that makes them great at telling you your genre is rubbish.
Now let’s remember, everyone is allowed an opinion – I am not into romance or horror stories and so I don’t read them. However I have no interest in going up to a writer who does write romance or horror and telling them that their genre is crap. It isn’t.
This critic will feel the need to share with you all the reasons why your chosen genre is rubbish and why you should write something else. They will sometimes state that for the big bucks you need to write ‘X’ genre. As if you are writing purely with financial gains in mind (If you ARE, then wow are you in for a shock!)
Another version of this, is the Classic Lover – this is the person who only reads the well known, big name books such as War & Peace, Crime & Punishment, Wuthering Heights, Foust, Utopia etc. Firstly, there is nothing wrong with these books or any of the classics. But some people only read these and compare everything to them! There is some great literature from years past, there is some great literature now. But this idiot just likes to drivel on about the classics as if anything written in the last few decades is not worth reading.
How to deal with this critic – don’t bother, this person is not worth your time. There are better readers who deserve your attention.
THE TIME KEEPER
This person can sometimes be a supportive friend or family member, I’m adding them to the list because they can be pretty erksome. They are always non-writers and so have no concept about how writing works or how long the process can be (especially if you are writing a multi-plot novel).
You may tell them you are writing a novel. Two months later they will be asking if you’ve finished it. Even when you explain the level of depth, the research, the plotting, the fact you are also working a full time job, managing a house and running errands for your extended family this will still not be clear to them that it’s going to take some time!
Now Time Keepers are often supportive, they may just be really excited to read your story or they could be one of the people who after they realise it’s not going to be completed in a month, will start being snide about it.
The supportive ones deserve your patience. Just explain that it will be a long process and that you’d rather not talk about it. Then if you DO want to talk about it, you can start the conversation. Because nothing gets irritating fast than “Have you finished it?” every time you see them! As if you AREN’T going to tell when you’ve finished it! They don’t need to keep pestering you.
How to cope with this critic – Be nice, tell them you appreciate their enthusiasm but that it’s going to take a while and to check back with you in X number of months/years. Whatever you feel comfortable with.
If they are the more dickish version who sneer at the fact it’s “taking you forever” then just tell them to shove it and ignore them.
THE COMPARES TO GUY (or GIRL)
This one is tricky. As humans we see patterns and base our opinions on experiences, so sometimes you will get someone who compares you story (whether it’s the idea, the character or even the plot) to something else they know.
It could be to another book or a movie etc but they are going to make a point to state the comparison.
Now this can be from something as basic as you’re writing fantasy fiction and it has dragons – suddenly your story is like A Song of Ice and Fire, or like Eragon or any other book that ever featured a dragon…EVER.
Or maybe you have a theme where your character is travelling so it has a quest feeling – well then it’s obviously JUST like Lord of the Rings, right? (err nope!)
I remember writing one of my early stories that was a sci-fi. I let my dad read a chapter or two. He got to a part where one of the characters got into a car – a flying car. The car was lifted and manouvered using multi-directional boosters placed where the wheels would have been. Immediately my dad mentioned it was “just like Blade Runner”. It then became my “blade runner” story.
Now I was probably about 11 or 12 and had never even heard of Blade Runner. But to have this one bit picked up on and then compared to something else was pretty disheartening. When I eventually watched Blade Runner I found the only part that was remotely like mine, was the flying car. One tiny point had been blown up to define the story.
He hadn’t meant it in any negative way, but we creative folk can be sensitive about our work. It also didn’t help that it was the first thing he mentioned – not the characters or plot or ideas but some little thing. It was because he could relate it to something, and he did.
This is why you get people who compare your story to others – even just some small insignificant point will allow the Compare Guy to hone in.
How to deal with this critic – often these people are not trying to be dicks. However there will be some who are, you can tell by their voice and the sneery way they compare your work to something else. You don’t want these people around, if you can, ignore them. Don’t spend time arguing with them. If they can’t see beyond such a small similarity to something then they are not going to be swayed by clear arguments. They are probably just trying to piss you off. Don’t let them (or at least don’t let them see you getting pissed off).
Stand up for your writing, your desire to be a writer. It is not an easy goal to reach but neither is being a rocket scientist or a brain surgeon but people do it. Just like people become writers. Only you can stop yourself from achieving it.
Remember that non-writers just won’t get you, they won’t understand. But that’s okay – they aren’t writers!
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mentioned should be treated politely but firmly. Always be nice (to start with) but then if they keep pushing you back with their crap, trying to convince you that you’re wasting your life or that writing isn’t a “real job” leave them behind.
You need to live your life… not theirs.