Learn Or Die: Criticism, Setbacks, and Process

If you’re not learning, you’re dying. If you’re not willing to seek out and take criticism, you’re not learning.

And if you take criticism personally, you’ll never learn.

It’s a lesson I wish I learned fifteen years ago. Who knows where I would be? Instead I let my ego get in the way, imagining that I already knew everything, and thereby stagnating. Hey, at least I felt good about myself!

This lesson hit home when I got edits back from Brian Niemeier on one of my many works in progress, The Rust Man.

Brian, an author I greatly admire, was brutally honest, frank, and helpful. You can tell he wants to help.

Anyway, after reading his edits and his notes, I’m going back to the drawing board on the book. The funny thing is that I stared writing The Rust Man (name subject to change) before I started getting into the PulpRev and it’s ethos.

What ethos? How about clarity over cleverness and short and punchy beats “epic” and bloated. A lot of his suggestions, I’d say 85% or so, are things I was planning on doing anyway as I thought about the book in the months since I wrote it, edited it myself, and sent it to him. My goal is getting it down to 450 or so pages from its current 850.

This also ties into process, which we’ll get to later.

See, I was weaned on epic fantasy, brick-sized tomes by authors like Robert Jordan, Tad Williams (a highly underrated author) and George R. R. Martin. Sure I loved Tolkien and Lewis and even enjoyed Lloyd Alexander, but Big was where it was at. More = better.

But you know something? People generally aren’t buying doorstop-sized books, especially on Kindles and other devices, and especially not in fantasy and sci-fi. And if you want to sell books and build an audience, you do have to give them what they want. There is no shame in this.

Critica by Julio Ruelas, ca. 1907

So back to process. Brian’s criticism, and my experience with National Novel Writing Month last year, have cured me of what writer Kitten Holiday calls “arrogant pantsing.”

I outlined my NaNoWriMo book and graphed out plot points, and the book just flowed. And made internal sense. And wasn’t overlong. And I still had enough flexibility to improvise.

So that’s what I’m doing with The Rust Man and another finished work, going back and planning them more.

My release schedule is pushed back–a setback, sure–but I’d rather do something right.

Setbacks can actually useful. Maybe they shouldn’t be called “setbacks” then, but I’m not ready to create a new word right now.

Follow me on Twitter @DaytimeRenegade and Gab.ai @DaytimeRenegade

My YouTube channel is here.

And check out my Instagram here.

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