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.

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4 thoughts on “

  1. Hi Joyce!I think it is important that we must be critical about our works but we have to not let this " critical beast" ruin our confidence.Anyway, I've finished reading The Truth About Forever(TTAF, oh don't you love acronym?). hmm.. i find Just Listen to be nicer and more interesting. For TTAF, the pace is rather slow and draggy from the beginning. However, it only gets better towards the end. When Deborah tried to stop Macy from hanging out with her catering friends. When Deborah finally cracked down and lose control from all her stress. When Jason finally came back and want to be back together. When.. Macy started to run after Wes and kissed him. This totally reminds me of Austin giving up his game to confess to Sam in A Cinderella Story. Super romantic. hahaha. Not bad, but i wish the pace would be slightly faster around the middle and the beginning. (:

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  2. Hi jl!Yes, I agree. We as writers have to be severely critical of our work, because we are the only ones who can decide on the way our stories play out (unless, of course, you have a professional editor, but that's a different story). Sometimes, we might be too critical and think we'll never be good enough, and that's when we need a boost. Hence the Erica Orloff post. Her blog posts are always inspiring.And on another note, I'm so pleased you've read TTAF (yes, acronyms are, horrible as they sound, incredibly convenient)! I never found it boring, though. For me, all the times Wes and Macy were talking to each other is a critical point in the book, like how the balls were important in Pride&Prejudice. Those conversations reveal a lot about the characters and make them see more real. Wes isn't just the artsy, cute guy. He's a REAL person, with embarrassments and responsibilities (don't you just find Bert so endearing?). I love how Sarah managed to keep up the character dynamic without dragging the story (although of course, you feel otherwise) and allow the main character to go on a restorative journey. She is just amazing.Okay, I'm done gushing. Thanks, as always, for the comment!Cheers,Joyce

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  3. Hi jl!Yes, I agree. We as writers have to be severely critical of our work, because we are the only ones who can decide on the way our stories play out (unless, of course, you have a professional editor, but that's a different story). Sometimes, we might be too critical and think we'll never be good enough, and that's when we need a boost. Hence the Erica Orloff post. Her blog posts are always inspiring.And on another note, I'm so pleased you've read TTAF (yes, acronyms are, horrible as they sound, incredibly convenient)! I never found it boring, though. For me, all the times Wes and Macy were talking to each other is a critical point in the book, like how the balls were important in Pride&Prejudice. Those conversations reveal a lot about the characters and make them see more real. Wes isn't just the artsy, cute guy. He's a REAL person, with embarrassments and responsibilities (don't you just find Bert so endearing?). I love how Sarah managed to keep up the character dynamic without dragging the story (although of course, you feel otherwise) and allow the main character to go on a restorative journey. She is just amazing.Okay, I'm done gushing. Thanks, as always, for the comment!Cheers,Joyce

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