Sunday, August 12, 2012

When The Critics Get You Down: Sail Away With Me (Or Them...At the Bottom of This Post...They Look Like They're Having Fun, Whatever They're Doing)

When I was a junior in high school I took crafts.

I come from an extremely artistic area. People don't mess around when they're making their crafts.

It was a really normal thing to see a gorgeous girl with long, flowing hair sporting amazing metalwork jewelry...that she'd designed herself. Or a guy would come in with these incredible leather boots that he'd learned to hand-stitch while apprenticing himself to a cobbler. So, I was running with the big dogs.

And crafts were NOT my forte. My craft teacher would set his mouth in a firm line and shake his head over my ghoulish projects. They had no symmetry. They had no elegance. They were poorly done and often cracked in the kiln or got knotted in a lopsided macrame explosion.

This is actually a project by a 4th grader who was supposed to make an 'ugly jug.' This young person did a fine job. I did something similar when I was a junior, but, um, mine was NOT supposed to be an ugly jug. Even to this day...I still find this 'ugly' jug pleasant to the eye! Yes, you can totally call me crazy!

Crafts wasn't the first class I was awful in. I was a junior who also had math class with sophomores. I was used to big red x-marks on my papers. But I didn't care too much about math. (Sorry, Mr. Warwick. You were amazing, and I should have paid more attention. Now I have to count on my fingers when I add the tip to the total at a restaurant.) And the x-marks on a math paper just said that I hadn't done the problem correctly. Okay. I could see the mistakes I made. Nothing personal.

My craft teacher's critiques were a little more difficult to take. I think he thought I could do better. I think he thought I was messing around. I think he thought I was wasting his time and mine. He wasn't a fuzzy, sweet, encouraging teacher. He said things like:

"This piece is hardly worth grading."

"You tried to combine colors to make a statement. Instead you made a mess."

"You have no eye for the aesthetic."

Ooooh. Burn!! But, you know, he made some good points.

So, that girl with the gorgeous necklaces and the boy with the boots would come over and re-adjust my clay pieces or walk me through thread patterns until I got it. A little. Slowly.

When I said maybe I should quit crafts because I clearly wasn't cut out for it, they'd jangle their silver rings and toss their manes of always gorgeous, beaded hair and say, "If you want to be an artist, you have to do it in the face of criticism. You have to do it because you love it. And, if you love it enough, you just keep doing it."

Sitting with them, watching them do what they did with such passion and purpose, made me try harder. I put all my efforts to making a fabulous art project.

Yeah, this is what my high school art classes looked like. I was usually sitting in the corner with an extremely well made, gorgeous dunce cap on.

Um. Yeah. My craft teacher won that round.

My skills were negligible and, even though I stuck with crafts because I loved the people, I moved on to poetry. I looooved poetry. But it still wasn't right.

Finally, one day, when I was supposed to be writing a term paper, I wrote a book.

My craft teacher would have had a field day with that baby!! One-dimensional characters? Check! Wooden dialogue? Check! Complete lack of plot? CHECK!!


But I met other writers. I read books. I grew my skill base. And, finally, I was ready to publish.

In the back of my head, I thought there would be criticism. But it couldn't be much, right? Because I loved doing this so much, and I was so proud of what I'd done. It had to be something everyone would love...right?

Um. The answer is a firm 'no.'

Some critics were nice. Some were harsh. Some picked apart the book. Some picked apart me. Some made me tear up. All made me a tad obsessed.

So how do you deal? How does it work when someone doesn't like what you do or say or just plain old silly you?

C'mon! Who could hate this little guy? Who? (Maybe someone...but not me!! Awww! Look at those eyes!!)

Now, this is only my advice, but I think it's pretty good.

Remember my craft teacher? You know what I said to him after I'd gone to college and came out with a shiny art history degree with honors?


I went back to high school and rubbed shoulders with all those teachers who had been sweet and encouraging. Like Mr. Warwick. Man, that guy never gave up on me! I'm so sorry I still run screaming when I see the Pythagoras Theorem. I talked to the teachers who saw my weaknesses, pointed them out, then held a hand out and helped walk me through getting better. My craft teacher and I never got along, so why waste time hanging with him, when I could hardly see and thank all the people who cared about seeing me achieve?

And remember the books I wrote? When my rank is amazing and my selling is great, you know what I say to the haters?


It's cool to have your opinion. Some people are really good at writing clear, respectful reviews even when they didn't like a book. Others aren't. In the end, there are so many well-wishers, critique partners, readers, other writers, supportive family members, whining pets, bouncing children demanding attention...I honestly have no time for anything but the good!

And it's been so good! So, so, so sweet and good!

If I focused on the bad, I'd be giving a ton of attention to one small sliver of reality that comes with writing. I don't even have time to focus on all the good! Right now there are books on my dining room table waiting to be sent out to readers who took the time to enter a contest to win my book. MY BOOK!! There are emails from readers who loved the story I wrote. Enough to EMAIL ME!! There are other authors who have the most amazing conversations with  me about craft and life and what we do and why we do it. And they are my fangirl-squealish FAVORITE WRITERS OF ALL TIME!!

Life is amazing. I. Have. Zero. Complaints.

This happy! Deranged 90s cartoon happy! Happy happy joy joy happy!! Don't even test me, because I will sing and dance and draw you into my weird, crazy happy! I'm serious! So happily serious!

Well. Maybe I have a few complaints. Like, could a hard-working writer get her husband to help fold laundry once in a while? And how did I miss the ENTIRE Olympic games on TV? And could my kid stay little for just a while longer, because it's all going by too fast.

Life is going to throw me some wicked curve-balls.

It's done it before.

It will do it again.

But now?

Right now?

I feel like the luckiest girl in the world. I feel good. I feel like sending some big love to my craft teacher and the people who write angry reviews, because, c'mon guys! Loosen up! My craft teacher only had me in class for one period a day for two years. That's not so much time spent looking at my ugly work (even if it was really, really, really ugly!).

And people who hate my books? I put my name on the cover of every single one, so you will never have to read a second if you didn't like the first. And there are so many great books out there! So many! Do NOT waste time with authors who don't ring your bell, for whatever reason. I don't! I barely have time to read all the books I just KNOW I'm going to fall in love with!

There are so many others to choose from, and, I say this with total happiness: GO READ SOME AMAZING AUTHORS!! If you need some excellent recs, I have them all over my Facebook page. There are so many on my Kindle, I'd need a separate HOUSE to store them in if I owned them in paperback.

In short, my optimism is just bordering on ridiculous. How could it not be? Things are pretty damn awesome at Casa de Reinhardt. And we hope, here amid the dog farts and unfolded laundry and crazy happiness, that things are just as good for you. (Even if you hate my anthromorphic clay pot or my teen angst book. Even still. Find your happy, baby!!)

Hey, it's not my personal idea of fun...but these people look like they're having a blast! So, more power to them! And, you know what, maybe whatever they're wearing on their heads IS fun to paddle around in. I try to keep an open mind!