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!
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.
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.
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.