Friday, November 29, 2013

Guest Post by Jennie Bates Bozic

In addition to being a writer, I’m also a visual effects artist for film and television. I like to tell people that I blow things up and shoot zombies for a living, which is true but far from the whole picture. I went into visual effects because I love storytelling. However, I didn’t expect to get a crash course in dealing with heavy criticism along the way.

I became a professional artist about five years ago. I was also writing at the time, albeit quietly and by myself. I didn’t have critique partners and, quite frankly, the task of writing a novel felt so huge and unattainable that I decided to focus on another career entirely. I would be an artist! I would embrace my sensitive side and surround myself with people who loved beauty and art and good stories!

Um…no.

Most visual effects studios host daily critique sessions where the latest version of your work is shown to the entire company, and everyone tries to find every single thing that’s wrong with it. When done right, these sessions are constructive and helpful, even if they are a little nerve-wracking. In the wrong hands, they can utterly destroy your morale…or give you incredible perspective.

I thought that I had developed a thick skin until the company I was working for came under a very difficult deadline despite working tons of overtime and my boss (who was usually hard to work with anyway), went on a tirade saying we should all be ashamed of ourselves. He went on and on until I was literally shaking from stress. A few weeks later, I tried to tactfully tell him that I wanted our relationship to be a good one, and I wanted to make him happy, but this approach was really hurtful and inappropriate.

He told me that maybe I should go be an accountant if this job was too much for me.

I smiled, stood up, and went back to my desk with my head high. From then on, everything he said grated at me. He told me I should use more nouns when I spoke, that I should use fewer words when I explained to producers what changes I had made. He constantly tried to force me to conform to his own artistic preferences even when producers had given me license to do things as I saw fit. He was an all-around insufferable douchebag, but I eventually figured out something really important: He was often right about his technical suggestions for my shots. If I ignored what he said because he was a horrible human being, I would hurt myself as an artist and sabotage my own career.

So I gritted my teeth and tried as hard as I could to find the gems of advice among the heaping piles of shit. It certainly wasn’t easy and working with him actually took a toll on my health, but I learned a lot.

Years later, I am no longer working there, but I’m applying what I learned in taking criticism to the writing and reviewing process. There are lots of people out there who, for various reasons, want you to feel bad about your mistakes and/or artistic vision, but that doesn’t mean that their criticisms are wrong. It just means their motivations for telling you are, well, less than honorable. You will be hurting yourself if you disregard any criticism that comes your way with malice behind it. Will all of that critique be helpful or even applicable? 

Nope, but that’s why it’s so important to get feedback from several people (preferably some of those are writers you respect) so you can sort it out.

I’ve given a lot of thought to the idea that we writers all need to have incredibly thick skin. I’m not sure that I agree, but I definitely believe in the value of perspective. I’m a big fan of feeling all my feelings and trying to understand them. I think that makes me a better writer, even if it takes more effort. Does it hurt when someone says your work is awful? Yes. Does it really help when someone reminds you that not everyone will love your novels? Sometimes. Sometimes not. I think that’s okay. There isn’t always a comforting thought that will make the sting go away, but that’s life. That’s part of why I write – to tackle the tough things head on.

The next time someone hands you a shit-and-criticism sandwich, I hope you’ll take the time to dig out the edible parts, say thank you, and cross that person off your Christmas card list. Then grab a beer/pint of ice cream/glass of wine and pour whatever you’ve learned into writing that next chapter.

About Me:
My name is Jennie Bates Bozic and I write fantasy and science fiction for young adults. I decided to self-publish my debut novel, DAMSELFLY, and its companion novelette SUGAR PLUM, because my agent, Steven Axelrod, is a very smart man and suggested I do so when we were unable to find a good home for it. I currently do visual effects for science and history documentaries. You can see my latest on BIG HISTORY and some of my older work on my website!

Thank you so much for reading my post! As a thank-you, DAMSELFLY is only .99 for Thanksgiving weekend! It’s also available in print and enrolled in Amazon’s Matchbook program. If you choose to get the print version, you can download the ebook for FREE. I hope you will check it out. And don’t forget, SUGAR PLUM will always be free on Smashwords (and hopefully on Amazon too by the time this posts!) in case you’d like to get a taste of my writing before handing me a dollar.

Damselfly’s Description:

In 2065, the Lilliput Project created Lina - the first six-inch-tall winged girl - as the solution to a worldwide energy and food crisis. Isolated in a compound amidst the forests of Denmark, Lina has grown up aware of only one purpose: learn how to survive in a world filled with hawks, bumblebees, and loneliness. However, on the eve of her sixteenth birthday, she discovers that she’s not the only teenager her size. Six 'Toms' were created shortly after Lina, and now her creators need to prove to the world that tiny people are the next logical step in human evolution. In other words, they need to prove that reproduction is possible.

Um. No thanks. Lina's already fallen in love with a boy she met online named Jack. Only he has no idea that thumbelina1847 could literally fit inside his heart.

When her creators threaten to hurt Jack unless she chooses a husband from among the ‘Toms’, Lina agrees to star in a reality TV series. Once the episodes begin to air, the secret of her size is out. Cut off from any contact with the outside world, Lina assumes Jack is no longer interested. After all, what guy would want to date a girl he can’t even kiss?

Slowly, very slowly, she befriends the six young men who see her as their only ticket to happiness. Perhaps she can make just one guy’s dream of love and companionship come true. But her creators have a few more twists in store for her that she never thought possible. 

She’s not the only one playing to the cameras.

19 comments:

M.C. Ward said...

Great post, though the message at time leaves me a little torn. I think accepting criticism is always hard for writers and other creative types. We tend to be thin-skinned, protective of our creations, and we conflate criticism directed at our work with criticism of our abilities. It’s a great message that we need to constantly work at disentangling our own emotions about critiques and try to look at them objectively, and one that we should try and remind ourselves of periodically.

But that said the point of criticism is to make or suggest ways that something could be better. That impulse isn’t the prime mover behind the sort of assholery exhibited by Jennie’s former boss—and by internet trolls and so forth. Those sorts of ad hominem driven attacks are about power, control, and provocation. They’re about elevating the critic, not the creator. And these sorts of tear-downs don’t deserve a pass just because there might be some nugget of insight buried amongst all the vitriol.

You have to be at least a little bit tough if you put something out into the world for people to read, watch, or listen to. Not everyone is going to like what you do, and you shouldn’t expect them to use kid gloves when they tell you why. But there needs to be a balance to accepting criticism. You have to know when to swallow hard and admit that a critic is right, but you also have to have faith in your abilities and know when to ignore them when they are wrong or just purposefully being cretins.

Anonymous said...

I second what M.C. Ward wrote.

R.C. Lewis said...

I tend to think of being thick-skinned like this: It's not about not feeling the hurt. It's about trying not to let these things permanently harm and damage you. Learn from them, sure. But if I'm not careful, these things could push me into a hole where I'm too afraid to take risks and put myself out there anymore.

Or worse, my focus turns completely to pleasing others to prevent the hurt (impossible) rather than being the best I can be.

Maybe a better term would be "strong-skinned."

Great post, Jennie. :)

M. Louisa Locke said...

I liked the post, it was thoughtful, and helpful, as was MC's comment. However, I was struck by the statement that writers tend to be thin skinned, because it struck me that most people are thin-skinned about the work they do--unless they are so well-balanced, or so cynical that they are able to maintain complete detachment.

What parent takes criticism of their kids well, what teacher likes to be evaluated by the principal (who hasn't been in the classroom in 30 years), what football coach can completely ignore the boos of fans. And hose clerks and truck drivers with the tags and decals that ask "Tell me how I'm doing?" or websites that ask you to rate the service you just got--I can guarantee that it was the bosses that decided those were a good idea.

Maybe it isn't that writers are particularly thin-skinned, but that they are one of the few groups who voluntarily ask for criticism. Which makes us pretty darn brave!

M. Louisa

Jean Oram said...

I love the covers Jennie! Congrats on getting book two out!

Yes, sometimes the hardest critics have valuable things to say. So hard to take though!

Thanks for sharing your wisdom. :) All the best with your books.

Colin M said...

Hi Jennie,

Thanks for the post and your words of wisdom. It sounds like you had to look pretty hard to find the "Gems" in your last job. Although I agree that through criticism we should try and gain some insight that helps us improve, it sounds to me like you paid a Hell of a price for that growth.

Studies show that a person's happiness is strongly correlated to the amount of control or choice (or at least our perception of control/choice) that we have over the situations we find our selves in. The situation you were in sounds 99% negative with you having very little control over it. I think there are many better ways for you (and the rest of us) to learn and grow, that are positive, motivating and that we have control over, to some extent at least. It's one thing to have the option of reading reviews or posting on a blog and getting feedback, but another altogether to take the abuse you did. Nobody deserves that, and you are much too good to be slowed down by a parasite like that.

It is my sincere hope that you will be a huge success with your writing so that you never have to put up with crap like that again.

Congratulations on your new book, and on the new path you have chosen.

Colin

Anonymous said...

I am glad Jennie that you survived. That you are no longer with a person who has talent but no love for human beings. To have both, that's the true ticket to ride. Good luck on your books.

JP McLean said...

The skin's getting thicker every day. Not sure that's a good thing, but c'est la vie. Just downloaded Damselfly. You wouldn't believe how perfect that image is for my own books. Good luck

Jennie Bozic said...

Thanks everyone!

I agree that the situation I was in was 99% crap and I wouldn't recommend seeking out that sort of abuse or staying in it any longer than necessary. I got out as soon as I could without financially ruining myself after I had tried other ways to make my work life more pleasant (after lots of complaints, that guy was removed from his supervisor position for a while).

I'm not thankful that I went through that, but I'm still glad that I learned what I did. Sometimes we can't remove ourselves from a bad situation right away, and I tried my best to check my ego at the door and learn as much as I could.

I really appreciate the kind words. :) I wish you all success with your books as well! Those of you who bought my book - thank you so much! :D

perkofashion said...

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Anonymous said...

I think there are many better ways for you (and the rest of us) to learn and grow, that are positive, motivating and that we have control over, to some extent at least. It's one thing to have the option of reading reviews or posting on a blog and getting feedback, but another altogether to take the abuse you did.

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