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You Are Not a Good Writer: A Lesson in Being Critiqued

28 Comments 15 February 2012

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So, this weekend I got my first, “you’re not a good writer” comment.

KA-POW!

Straight into the nuts.

Sheeeeeeeiiiit that stung like a whoopee cushion exploding against your bare ass after you stuck it in your underwear.

I pouted like a little bitch about it for the next two hours. I looked to my boyfriend for child-like affirmation and even took to trusty ol’ Twitter to share my lament. Who the hell needs a psychiatrist when you have social media to tell you exactly what you want to hear?

I already emo’d about the negative comments I’ve received lately in another blog post, and you were all nice enough to write sweet comments to make me less butt hurt. I’m not writing this to fish any additional saccharine from you. I’m writing about this now because this is the first time someone has attacked my writing capabilities, and in that I realize it will be the first of many times that happens.

Because I’m fairly new to this whole freelance writing thing, I’m like a child being expelled from the womb for the first time, and realizing that the world is an angry and critical place. I’m like the high school student that looks up to their inspirational teacher only to find out that they’re a raging drunk that captures squirrels (not purple ones) and beats them on a daily basis. Because I was only writing on my blog previously, I was shielded from the fact that the Internet is a battlefield. Similar to when I would ask my mother if I was mentally challenged and I figured she was just too afraid to tell me the truth, I feel like most people have been kind enough not to tell me that I suck ass at the one thing I enjoy doing most in this world other than eating sweet potato tater tots.

I’m in the early stages of attempting to be an artist where you go, “Whoa whoa WHOA! Wait a minute! You mean not everyone likes what I do?” After hearing from other writers on Twitter and Facebook, I’m learning that this will be a string of many put downs and heartaches that will lead to a life full of drinking, talking to feral cats and developing a wide-eyed, vacant look on my face.

The commenter who told me I was not a good writer kind of has a point. I’m new to this. I’m still in my twenties. If I were good at it, I would probably be one of those annoying folks who were quoting Shakespeare at three years of age (those people are boring). Even some of the folks that got published at a young age- let’s look at Bret Easton Ellis, for example- were still at the very bottom of their game. I don’t think Bret Easton Ellis looks at Less Than Zero and goes, “Shit, I plateaued at twenty. I’m just going downhill with my talent from here.” Or maybe he does. Maybe he has one massive ego. Who knows? All I know is that right now I just feel comfortable enough calling myself writer with no adjective in front of it. Maybe in ten years I’ll be good and maybe in another twenty years I’ll be amazeballs (will a phrase like amazeballs even make it 2032?)! I come from the mindset that an artist gets better with experience and so far my experience is minimal. In my early twenties I didn’t even bother writing because I felt I had nothing to draw from other than the “problems” of a whiny, middle class white girl. I’m not one of those lucky few who have an overactive imagination and can write epic science fiction or fantasy stories. My overactive imagination mostly leaves me in a perpetual state of Deer Caught in Headlights Stance. I figure that at any moment I’m going to be killed, so writing, “Oh my GOD! A solar fire is going to strike me down!” over and over probably isn’t that interesting.

On a side note- I don’t have anyone to edit my shit and I’m still trying to recall the very little I learned in English class. All my English teachers, but one, gave us A’s as long as we turned in our work. I probably have the grammatical education of an eight year-old. At least that is something I can learn, which is why I would like to pay $25,000 that I don’t have to go back to college to make sure I’m putting commas in the right places. I also read and write every day which has helped significantly.

I figure that real talent comes down to the way that you regurgitate your experience and make your work relatable, which is something I’m growing in. Or just having the confidence in yourself to keep going and know that one day people will be saying, “Holy shit! I’m blinded by how awesome your writing skills are!”

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Your Comments

28 Comments so far

  1. Caitlin t says:

    OK so I’m a writer too… who’s written for some pretty big sites (so the comments can be BRUTAL accordingly–I don’t check them anymore really). But here’s a nugget of wisdom an editor told me when I was pouting about getting ripped up:

    Everyone wants the opportunity to express their opinion… to have their voice heard by an audience. A lot of times, people can get angry/confused/dare I say JEL? at writers who have that opportunity or forum available to them, or who make a living expressing themselves! Think about all the times you tell people, “I’m a writer,” and the personal interest they express (even though we know it can suck and we don’t get paid anything, wee!).

    Commenting is a forum for people to share their opinion. And some of those people are just jealous and angry.

    This all sounds pompous, kind of like when you think, “That girl must hate me because she’s JEALOUS OF ME!” But yes, a glimmer of that is necessary because you’re going to surely get ripped up many, many more times in the future and you have to be confident in what you’re doing and just keep growing and learning. End rant.

    • hipstercrite says:

      Thanks, Caitlin. That was great advice and I needed to hear it. Thanks for also reminding me that I’m not alone. Good for you for keeping at it!

  2. mike g says:

    The growing sense of entitlement created by technical “innovations” in communication has a bitter side effect. Without any significant reason or justification, more and more people are feeling entitled to share their “expert” opinion. Their plethora of online posts, troll behavior, and increasing blog readership is equated to a PH. D in English Literature. In all reality, literary critiques in the form of a blog comment are the equivalent of soapbox politics conducted from a couch cushion. It’s very true that we all have a voice, but we need to admit that we should never treat everyone’s opinion as equal. There is merit in honest and constructive literary feedback. However, this is rarely the goal of the new generation-e(ntitled), they feel their voices are expert testimony on any subject even though their resume couldn’t get them into the door at Jack in the Box. Quasi-intellectualism is the new internet meme.

    • hipstercrite says:

      Thanks, Mike. Hey, do you want to ghost write for me? ;)
      I know that you’re right, but it’s hard to remember that all of the time, you know?

      • mike g says:

        You know how there are “fiscal conservatives”? I consider myself a “pontification” and “self-promoter” conservative. People only critique harshly to fulfill some sort of deficiency in their ego’s satiation. I’m sure Freud would have a field day with this age of communication.

  3. Amanda says:

    I’m a new writer as well, just getting started in the freelance world. Last year I did a poetry competition at my college and took 4th out of 60. I felt pretty good about that until my friend who took 1st started teasing me about losing to the girl who took 3rd (which was a fluke due to stupid judges and a secret plot the rest of the poets had tried and failed to over throw the judges). It hurt that someone looked at me and told me that I just wasn’t good enough. But then I went back to my poems that I was writing then. And oh goodness! I don’t cringe to read them but I do not like reading them. I found that as writers we continue to get better as long as we keep writing. And if the day you die someone stops at your side and says “Shit, you were a bad writer alllll your life” well then that is something to cry about. Its only by giving up what makes you happiest that they will win. Oh and here is a great video I think you might like right about now. http://vimeo.com/24715531

    • hipstercrite says:

      Hey Amanda! Thanks for sharing that story. I have to remind myself about not giving up. That would be giving in. Why the f would I give in to a-holes? I agree with you about getting stronger as we age. If someone does tell me that I suck at writing at 80, then I will know not to give up my day job (which will hopefully be being retired).

  4. Ivan Toblog says:

    Heck! My writing’s so bad I can’t even read it. Worse, I can barely type

  5. Blake M says:

    Couldn’t have said it any better.

    I haven’t had a ton of experience writing, but I’ve been writing enough to know that people will try to tear you down simply because they can.

    Also, I’ve made peace with the idea that I am not going to write Pulitzer prize material, and I will even write some pretty awful articles. It just comes with the territory.

    • hipstercrite says:

      Thanks for sharing that, Blake. I feel the same way. I’m not striving for the PP, but it does sting when people say mean shit. Just tonight, after I wrote this post, someone commented to me about a certain article I wrote and said, “Your writing is terrible. It’s embarrassing to read.” Of course I mostly get those comments on more controversial articles.

  6. i’ve a;sp recently started into the freelance writing business. more like scary business!

    that being said, keep at it. you deserve it. if for no other reason than you typed “amazeballs”….and by the sounds of things, you put a whoopie cushion in your pants. you need this. ;)

    • hipstercrite says:

      i did put a whoppie cushion against my bare butt once and it exploded. i do not advise trying this. it hurt like a mo-fo’er.
      scary business is right. we’re in this together!

  7. Pandora says:

    Take a minute to consider what you wrote:

    “I come from the mindset that an artist gets better with experience and so far my experience is minimal. In my early twenties I didn’t even bother writing because I felt I had nothing to draw from other than the “problems” of a whiny, middle class white girl. I’m not one of those lucky few who have an overactive imagination and can write epic science fiction or fantasy stories. My overactive imagination mostly leaves me in a perpetual state of Deer Caught in Headlights Stance. I figure that at any moment I’m going to be killed, so writing, “Oh my GOD! A solar fire is going to strike me down!” over and over probably isn’t that interesting.”

    This, my friend, is exactly why I said in my comment the last time you received negative feedback, your 30s will be good for you. ;-)

    Hang in there! Life experience is the writer’s best friend (particularly if you’re a “tea-totaling veggie burger vomiter…” you’ll have more longevity that way).

    • hipstercrite says:

      Hey Pandora! I think my 30s will be good and I think I will have more confidence in my writing then. Thanks for the sweet comment!

  8. M says:

    The only way to get better at something is to practice a ton. So your writing every day is beneficial to that process. :) And if you ever feel like you are not measuring up to that potential greatness in your head, there are TONS of writing books out there, and tons of writing groups as well, if you really want sincere and constructive criticism. But all of that will come in its own time. It’s super brave to write so personally on a public forum, for one, and for two, you are *hilarious*. That is all.

    • Kat says:

      No, you are not a good writer, you are a DAMN GOOD writer. One who grabs my attention, sentence by sentence, while touching me with you honesty and making me smile with your sence of humor. Keep writing, girl friend.

    • hipstercrite says:

      Thanks, M! I’ve been wanting to join a writer’s group for a long time but I feel like I never have time. That’s probably not true but I don’t want to be flaky. I really want to go back to school or at least take a class again. Just to brush up on all the technical stuff. I do find that reading more challenging work helps a lot. Currently I’m reading Warren Zevon’s biography and that is not challenging me as a writer (it’s super entertaining though!)

  9. You rock.

    I’ve been reading your Twitter feed mainly because it is different than most others, and that sets you apart from the rest of the Tweet Nation that talks about the wonders of blow driers… OH! Sorry. Forgive me I meant the cast of Jersey Shore.

    All the advice given to you by your fans is excellent, and you should try this on for size: People who are critics get paid to do so. People who are online readers and make negative commentary on blogs are angry to be alive, and most likely attempting to figure out which “What my friends think I do” meme suits them best, while digging lent out of their belly buttons at the present moment.

    Fact.

    Keep on writing, you big ol’ hipstercrite! I’m looking forward to more of your cleverly arranged words.

    • hipstercrite says:

      Thank you so much for that! I like your quote in the beginning. That is an interesting idea to think about. When someone is giving me shit, I’ll just say, “Well you ain’t a professional critic, are you now?” Following your blog and social media profiles now. Thanks for saying hi!

  10. @brentwgraham says:

    “What nobody tells people who are beginners — and I really wish someone had told this to me . . . is that all of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap.

    For the first couple years you make stuff, and it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you.

    A lot of people never get past this phase. They quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know it’s normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story.

    It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take awhile. It’s normal to take awhile. You’ve just gotta fight your way through.”

    - Ira Glass of This American Life

    • Tolly says:

      Brent — I love that Ira Glass treatise so, so much. Someone sent it to me a few years ago, and it totally changed my perspective on the creative process.

      Lauren — I still cringe about the early days of “writing” (if you could even call it that) on my own blog. Ditto for some pieces I wrote for other outlets, years ago.

      But here’s what I think about writing.

      I think the most difficult thing to learn is restraint. To edit yourself. To cut your darlings. I can tell you are learning that too, and that is one of the most valuable tools a writer can have. You have some truly quippy, quick lines sometimes that make me laugh out loud, and I LOVE them.

      So for what it’s worth, that (and the wise, magical words of Ira Glass quoted above) notion has helped me tremendously. Keep going with that instinct you’re feeling to edit — it’s a good one.

      And regarding the person that called you out … I hate that they did it in such a mean way, but in another sense, this person is pushing you. The next time you write something brilliant, you’ll be able to look back (metaphorically-speaking) at that commenter and say, “Oh YEAH? Well thanks to you, I’m even better now.” ;)

  11. Guise Faux says:

    Why would you even care whether everyone likes your writing, let alone *want* everyone to like it?

    My concept of good writing is pissing off all the right people.

    To some listeners, Joanna Newsom’s lyrics are delightful fables rich in complex wordplay. To others she’s pretentious and trying too hard.

    Neither is wrong. But the latter can sit in a plastic bag and fart at themselves for all I care. Won’t stop me from loving her music. And I hope it won’t stop her from chasing her bliss.

  12. Rebecca says:

    I had a similar English education when it comes to grammar usage – the way it was taught, I just didn’t really retain much of it, particularly the more difficult pieces (who and whom, for example). The sad thing is now I’m a first year English teacher and have to reteach myself many of those grammatical rules that I was never taught to begin with. One of the retired teachers who frequently substitutes here has been known to come whisper in your ear the grammatical mistake you just made and subsequently make you feel like a straight dumbass. As she puts it, “I’m the product of a Catholic school, I’ve forgotten more grammar than you ever learned.”

    On a side note, though, I now find myself correcting many more people than I used to, prior-English-teaching-days… particularly on reality TV shows and managers of movie theaters.

  13. Darren says:

    Maybe it’s a little late for another comment, but better late then never right?
    Most of the feedback you got seems to be from aspiring or professional writers, so here’s a different angle for you. :)
    I’m a twenty-something firefighter from the midwest, and I also moonlight as an instructor in our academy. I like reading your blog for several reasons, and if I had to pick one word to describe what I like best, it would be “persona”.
    So here’s my two cents… As an instructor, my job is to present a topic in such a way as to engage the class. They have to not only receive the message, but understand it and then put it to use. It sounds simple enough, but there’s one small problem, people are different. Age,(generation) background, culture, lifestile, and even intelligence can make a HUGE difference in how easy a person will get what I’m saying. Some people don’t ever seem to get it. At first it was really frustrating, but eventually I started to see what other instructors had been trying to tell me- “You can’t make everybody happy”. You have a “Target audience” and outside of that reception gets a little fuzzy, but you can lose the majority by focusing too much on the minority.

    Politics have also become a big part of life around the firehouse, but the same rule applies… You can’t make everybody happy. Maybe it’s just human nature to never be satisfied, but as soon as you fix one problem people find something new to gripe and moan about. It’s actually comical at times! I do my part to make the majority of people happy as long as it doesn’t compromise my integrity, and I can sleep at night. If one or two people don’t like it… they can suck it! I don’t really care, and life’s too short to worry about who isn’t going to like somethinng.

    What I’m trying to say is, if you got slammed by a breakout freelance writer in her 20′s from Austin, or Callifornia, or New York, who just ripped you to little tiny peices and pointed out a TON of major flaws in your writing ability… Then maybe you should think about working on a few things. If you get slammed by a an old crusty cotton farmer in his 50′s who took a creative writing class in college a million years ago, or maybe even wrote a best selling book on farming… Who really cares?? Maybe you shouldn’t write a book about farming. SO WHAT?
    I’m saying, consider the source… You have your own writing style for a good reason, and not everyone is going to like it. If everyone had the same style of writing, there would be no individuality. Bookstores would be split 2 sections (Good books, and crappy books), newspapers would be super dry, and life would be really boring.

    Just be yourself and keep doing what you do. You’ll always get better as long as you keep trying, and the moment you feel like you know everything there is to know, it’s time to retire. Cookie-cutter talent never gets people to the top in any profession.

    I’m sure someone will read this and say how horrible my grammer, spelling and overall writing skills are and I’m okay with that. (Let them follow me into a burning building and we’ll see who sucks!) And THAT is my whole point…

    • hipstercrite says:

      Thank you so much for your comment, Darren. You’re right, but it’s so hard to remember that. It’s hard to remember that everything put out into this world is not loved by all. Even beautiful people are not loved by all. Thank you for this reminder and I’ll try to always keep it in mind.


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