Posted by Erica Orloff, Wednesday, November 08, 2006:
The Critical Beast
One reason I think I can tap in and write YA novels is I was the outsider girl. Too brainy to be cool, too skinny, with a very strict father (never went on a date until I was 16), with just the most lifeless hair (four kids later, something about giving birth has evolved it into a thick, somewhat unruly but presentable thing of its own–but back then . . . limp and BLAH!). In HIGH SCHOOL BITES, Lucy’s heartaches mirrored the way I felt. She lived in the creepy house, where all was not quite as it seemed, and I suppose I felt a little like that. I didn’t have a creepy house, but I had my secrets and my loneliness, and some of the things Lucy speaks about.
And sometimes . . . if my day isn’t going well . . . if I run into snobby moms at school, whatever . . . I can hear those adolescent voices in my brain. I think shrinks call it “playing old tapes.” You know, the voice of someone who once said you weren’t good enough or pretty enough or strong enough or . . . fill in the blank.
And writers are probably more prone than most to replaying criticisms because we live in a world inherent with rejection. We live in a world in which people can bash our work on blogs or Amazon or in gossip overheard at conferences. We need acceptance in order to succeed. We need acceptance by an agent, then by an editor, then by the book-buying public.
We also have to self-edit and critique ourselves and this can feed that Critical Beast. I have known more than one writer over the last twenty years who has never, ever finished anything because the Critical Beast just keeps brutally bashing every word, every scene until the delete key is their new best friend.
We all have very specific things, though, that we tend to fret about. Our Critical Beast knows EXACTLY where our insecurities lie. Our personal minefield is full of hidden traps laid since childhood. Give me a room full of kids to talk to any day. Stick me in front of five adults and I want to run and hide. I force myself to do signing, but I don’t love them. In my work, I think my dialogue rocks . . . but my Critical Beast rolls its eyes at my attempts at getting across my “Big Idea” in verbal pitches. I do it. But I feel as if I fumble, and do so much better at the written proposal. Something about that face-to-face thing taps into my Outsider Girl status. My agent will tell me I nailed the meeting. And from the offers I’ve gotten or events that followed, I think he’s right and not just flattering me. BUT . . . the Critical Beast? Still roars.
How about you? Take your Critical Beast out . . . and maybe when we see them all in the light of day, they won’t seem so beastly after all.