Cat Valente on writers and haters

Cat Valente, author of such outstanding novels as The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making and Deathless, is guest-editing Charlie Stross's blog, posting writing advice. Part one, published yesterday, covered some good ground, and today's continuation is especially good, with advice on coping with haters -- useful perspective for more than just writers.

People Are Going to Shit All Over You

Oh, yes they are. It really doesn't matter if you try to do something different or you just want to rescue the princess in the tower. It'll start with your teachers, in college or high school or workshops. You are going to have to hear, more than once, more than ten times, that not only does your work suck, but it betrays some signal flaw within yourself, and you as a person are terrible for having written this thing. This is true, basically, no matter what you write. It is especially true if you are trying something off the beaten path, whether that beaten path is one of bestsellers or your teacher's own predilictions. I have personally had verse and chorus of "Nothing" from A Chorus Line spewed at me from numerous teachers. For those of you not musically inclined, it goes something like: you're bad at this, you'll never amount to anything, give up and work at a gas station and leave this to the real artists. One professor literally threw up his hands at our final conference and said "You're just going to do whatever you want no mater what I say so there's no point in even trying to teach you about good writing."

We all have stories like that, I suspect. Most particularly those of us who write SFF, which makes no friends in universities. The best part is, it doesn't stop there! Once you're published, new and exciting people will appear to tell you how bad your work is, even if you are popular and/or critically acclaimed. And it will get personal, especially if you are throwing down with your whole being, laying your kinks and history on the page like a sacrifice. If you're a woman, or other-than-white, or queer, it will probably, at some point, get really personal. Many readers have a huge problem separating the work from the creator. The mountain of crap I got for writing Palimpsest, both in public venues and in private emails, would make you crawl under the table with a bottle of fuck-you whiskey. I not only wrote a bad book, but I am sexually disturbed (I either hate sex or like it way too much, depending on who you ask) and politically suspect. Give up and work in a gas station. Name a book you think is universally liked and I will find someone saying it is a sin against man, decency, and the dictionary. People get very invested in books, which is the whole point of writing books. I have myself gotten upset to tears over books and have said so online. I try not to do that unless at great need now. I know too much.

It's easy to say: you must develop grace about this. I doubt anyone actually has grace about it. We all get mad or sad or hit the bar and rage against it all. It takes a really long time, or a really good internet filter, to be ok with how much some people will not like your work and by extension you. I'm not saying get grace at the bargain virtue store.

But you can fake grace.

Between the Perfect and the Real: On Writing Part 2

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  1. “I have personally had verse and chorus of “Nothing” from A Chorus Line spewed at me from numerous teachers. For those of you not musically inclined, it goes something like: you’re bad at this, you’ll never amount to anything, give up and work at a gas station and leave this to the real artists.”

    If the teachers are actually spewing both verse and chorus or “Nothing” as an example to learn from, then either they or you missed the point. “Nothing” is a talented actress’s retort to bad teachers who tell her that she’s not good because she’s not expressing herself using their predefined “method” techniques. The message of “Nothing” is self-affirming- it is that you can succeed despite their bad teaching methods. (“I felt nothing except the feeling that this bullshit was absurd…If you want something, go find a better class.”)

  2. “You’re just going to do whatever you want no mater[sic] what I say so there’s no point in even trying to teach you about good writing.”

    Well, that is what writers do. Writers with principles anyway.

    ObHatersGonnaHate: You’re right that everything is going to have haters. I personally cannot stand rage-face and the rest of the crap that Redditors defecate all over the web. I don’t know why, but it makes me want to punch people.

        1.  Yea, there seems to be a collection of doodles floating around that likely originated at 4chan. Then it most likely got picked up by Reddit  and similar, and has “exploded” onto the web from there. They have long since reached my saturation point.

          1. Wait… have you really stopped by and read this article and decided you wanted to comment on how much you dislike the illustration? Because that’s a 2lb juicy irony steak right there. Nom nom nom.

  3. Now wait a damn minute, here…

    It pisses me off when creative people pigeonhole every teacher they’ve ever had as dream-killers and inspirational black holes.  There are good ones out there too!  Good teachers that inspire and foster creativity!  Yes, there will be teachers who denigrate your work, but what about that one teacher who lifts you up?  What of them?

    1. Aww, don’t get pissed off.

      The author never states that all teachers are dream-killers. I believe the spirit of that part of her post is that any writer should expect and be prepared for harsh and even very personal criticism of their work, and take it with a grain of salt. Or, haters gonna hate.

      She also doesn’t confine this indictment to teachers, noting that many classic works were rejected (and not very nicely) before finally receiving the acclaim that they now enjoy.

    2. Yes, there will be teachers who denigrate your work, but what about that one teacher who lifts you up? What of them?

      They’ll be played by Robin Williams in your upcoming screenplay, and they’ll think he’s perfect for the role!

  4. Just because someone tells you that your writing needs improvement doesn’t mean s/he’s wrong.  Writing is a skill to be developed, and can hardly be improved without feedback and guidance.  Of course, ad hominem attacks are stupid and unhelpful; but all negative feedback shouldn’t be disregarded.

  5. Whenever your hater ratio gets too low, you’re doing something wrong.

    You can’t please all the people all the time unless you crawl into a corner and die… and somebody still might kick you in the groin while you’re in the corner dying.

    That said:

    1st person call you ass.  Ignore them.
    2nd person call you ass.  Ignore them.
    3rd person call you ass.  Check for tail.

  6. As a writer and a teacher of creative writing, I found quite a bit to agree with in regards to my writing and teaching methods, and even some new ways in which to reach students. I’m definitely going to follow this for now (and check Stross’s one as well).

  7. The article would benefit from examples of recognisably talented writers/artists also receiving the level of hate you describe; otherwise it just sounds like maybe you’re not as good as you think you are.

  8. I find her commentary very interesting, considering that when “Tangled” came out, she got upset about the hair colors of the villainess and heroine, asked if she was alone in her opinion, and then repeatedly harangued me and eventually banned me from her Livejournal for refusing to roll over and validate her. Based on other commentary I have read before and since, I suspect she believes that any opinion counter to hers is “hate.”

    I admit I haven’t tried to read Palimpsest, but my dear wife, who devours 500-page novels the way I devour sammiches, called it a hot mess.

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