Saturday, June 18, 2011

The Best of Seekerville from the Archives and First Five Pages Critique

Walking The Dark Side of the Moon by Ruth Logan Herne


You’ve all been there. Not literally, of course, because it’s inaccessible. You’ve heard Pink Floyd sing about it on their magnum opus album of the same name. Books bear the title. Video games do too. Songwriters refer to it and even Sherrilyn Kenyon used it as the title of a recent novel.

You’ve wondered if the dark side’s a mere reflection of the moon face we see regularly, or something different. Unique. Special. Maybe sinister. It is the DARK side, is it not? Didn’t George Lucas make a bazillion dollars turning the concept of ‘the dark side’ into unforgettable conflict?

We mere mortals tend to see things in shades of light/dark, good/bad, strong/weak, etc. We label and classify in a process that offers us more control.

We like control.

Maybe that’s why criticism hurts so much. It knives that control, it pierces our resolve, it threatens our equanimity because we don’t measure up to someone, somewhere. Myra blogged the other day about how criticism dogs us long after compliments leave us. We perseverate on it. Dwell on it. Let it eat at us, nipping the heels of our enthusiasm and talent.

Whaaaaaa! Whaaaaaaaaa! Whaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa!!!!!!!!!!!

Let’s go one step further. Let’s suppose God granted us two hands, ten fingers, two eyes and a brain to take that criticism and turn it into a better song, a more resourceful child, a deeper spirituality and yes, a stronger manuscript or book.

Yup, you’ve got it. I’m telling you to use the gifts God gave you to be the parent you can be, the Christian you ought to be and the writer you should be, all by using what you’ve already been given.

It’s easy to complain. So easy. And I’m ridiculously guilty of that weakness, but not proud of it because quite often there’s a glimmer or more of hard truth in criticism.

And what do we do?

Jump to the defensive. Rally the troops. Become enraged. Doubt the critic’s or judge’s or editor/agent’s intelligence and wonder if they might be the unclaimed child of an African primate that swings from trees.

What is the matter with us? Why do we raise our hackles instantly when someone takes a jab, well meaning or otherwise? Are we that insecure? That uncertain? Or is it that we’re too certain, ready to assume that if someone disagrees with our work, our stand, our opinion, they’re wrong?

As authors and Christians we tend to forget the big “H”. Humility. Oh we talk about it, but few of us practice it, despite Biblical teachings and Christ’s examples. We become obsessed with the quality we see in ourselves or our family or our work or our home, and resist examining things through the eyes of others, refusing to recognize the acuity of their vantage point.

Sometimes outsiders see us more clearly than we see ourselves because they view without emotional baggage or self-interest. This clarity should be viewed as a gift, an offering, and yet we often fail to seize that opportunity to improve ourselves or our writing because we feel wronged.

I love what Richard Mabry, when referring to a past rejection. The agent apologized and said Richard’s work wasn’t up to his standards, and how Richard later realized the original work wasn’t up to his standards, either. It takes guts to admit that and true courage to redouble your efforts and improve your situation.

Excuses are easy. Everybody has stress, time constraints, pressure, sick kids, aging parents, car repairs, leaky roofs, running toilets, and too many bills. Are ya’ kiddin’ me?

Despite that, it’s our job to be rodeo writers. Grab the criticism bull by the horns and rassle him to the ground. Take charge. Rope it in. Way too often that criticism isn’t someone having a bad day (a common excuse we use to make us feel better about ourselves), but a glimmer of something we know we could improve on. We just don’t like that someone saw fit to call us on it.

I saw a bumper sticker the other day that said “Carpe Diem is a stupid concept.”

Right, Einstein.

Refusing to seize the day, the opportunities, the moments God offers to improve ourselves… Now that’s a stupid concept.



An award-winning Love Inspired author, Ruthy graduated from the college of hard knocks with a plethora of hairnet and nametag-type jobs. Living in a sweet upstate New York town known for cows and apples, Ruthy weaves stories that may or may not be based on real people, some of whom may or may not be related to her. She likes dogs, chocolate and cheap stylin' coffee drinks from her Keurig and dislikes snakes in the house. She's pretty sure her grandchildren are geniuses and most of her children like her, depending on day and time. She's been married to her husband Dave for a VERY LONG TIME and thinks he's still the cutest guy around. Except, maybe, Jeter



This post first appeared in Seekerville May 13, 2009.



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30 comments :

  1. Here's the coffee pot.

    My skin's getting thicker as the years pass chasing this illusive dream.

    Helen

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  2. You hit the nail on the head, Ruthy.

    I'm convinced that pride is our worst sin - it's what separates us from God. Humility brings us to the foot of the cross.

    Pride rears its ugly head when we feel that we've been unfairly criticized, and it takes a disciplined heart to beat down that pride and replace it - not with the toughness that ignores criticism, but the humility that accepts it and learns from it.

    I see this post was originally written in 2009. Did you know you were so smart way back then?

    We're heading out to Custer State Park in the morning - bison, pronghorns, prairie dogs and hiking. I'll bring a bouquet of wildflowers back to decorate the buffet table. It'll be right next to Helen's coffee pot. I love Saturdays!

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  3. '
    The Dark side
    of the moon
    gets as much light
    as the light side.

    POV makes it dark.
    POV makes it light.

    Criticism is a chameleon
    smiling with iron teeth.

    “You are so talented
    you make us look bad
    …even when we
    were right.”


    '

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  4. So with you! I don't just want to feel good about my writing. I want my writing to BE good. I want it to reach readers--and criticism is the way I get there. I know what I intended, but I usually know when something isn't quite ready, and I have to be patient, listen to reader responses, and figure out what isn't working.

    Great post!

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  5. Ruthy! This makes me smile. All of it. No criticism from this dark side. Still chortling over the cute primate!

    Vince, making me think, Helen with brew, Jan with wisdom and wildflowers, Shakespeare with worthy aspirations, a dog who is desperate to play.

    It's shaping up to be a great Saturday!

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  6. I guess my skin is getting thicker. Yesterday a man came into the store and apologized to me for his previous behavior. I remembered he was upset, but I didn't take it personally. Trust me, I've had other customers blister me for doing my job and obeying laws. I told the man I appreciated him apologizing but it wasn't necessary. He placed his hand over his heart and said it was necessary to him.
    I was completely moved.
    So yes, my skin is thicker, but I find myself still sensitive to others. Maybe it's a good combination for all the crits coming my way.
    Have a great weekend!

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  7. Wonderful reminder, Ruthy.
    I may not like criticism, but when I step back (after I've had my minor meltdown) and reflect on the advice - it usually makes sense. Whether I agree to take it all or just the things I can 'see', it's important to keep the perspective of being teachable.
    We get into A LOT of trouble when we get beyond begin teachable - in writing and in life.

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  8. Soooooo true, Ruthy!!! There's a LOT to be said for thick skin ... uh, as long as it isn't too wrinkled ... :)

    Hugs,
    Julie

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  9. Wow, what a great post, Ruthy!! Good lessons for life; THANKS....I loved it. The post should be reprinted at least yearly!!

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  10. Thank you for pointing out the lesson we all need to apply to many areas in our life, not just writing. I find it is easier to accept and digest criticism that is meant to help. Even if it isn't what I want to hear, if it is offered in a way that is meant to be edifying, I find I respond in a more positive manner. Perhaps there is a lesson in that for the giving of criticism as well.

    Please enter me in the drawing for the five page critique so that I may practice what you preached!
    teaching by writing at yahoo dot com

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  11. Soooo good, Ruthy. I'm definitely learning that lesson (maybe it helps that I'm not a fabulous writer - and i KNOW it! LOL).

    Speaking of critiques - sign me up for this week's one!

    joanne(at)joannesher(dot)com

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  12. Important truths in this post that I needed to hear! Thanks for sharing this.

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  13. Great post and very timely for me, even as an archive, since I just entered my second contest =)
    What really helped me is the post a while back that said
    "When the third person tells you you're drunk, it's time to lay down."
    So the only thing I love about an "awkward" comment on a line or passage, is getting it from three critiquers.
    Because then it gets fixed. ;-)

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  14. .

    Things are slow today.

    How tough is your critique group?


    My critique group is so tough we always open the session with Luke 23:34.

    “…forgive them; for they know not what they do.”

    Can you top that?

    Vince

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  15. My critique group is so tough that after they slash and dice, this is what is left.

    Boy meets girl. Boy loses girl. Boy wins girl.

    Okay, food. I have had so much food today that I am almost sick. It's Father's Day weekend and I've got to do it all again tomorrow.

    The buffet is spread: Donuts, cookies, brownies, pork chops smoothered and baked in Italian dressing, mac-n-cheese, ranch potatoes WITH real bacon, chocolate cake AND homemade strawberry cake, vanilla bean ice cream.

    Take it.

    I can't eat another bite. Well, not for at least an hour.

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  16. LOL, good one, Vince!!!

    I spent the day at the library working on a proposal.

    What's everyone else up to?

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  17. Tina and all - the weather is absolutely fantastic here today. We spent the day being tourists in our new home town. Saw bison (with babies), pronghorns, prairie dogs, Mule deer, and tons of motorcycles.

    Drove the Needles highway through the Black Hills and hiked around Sylvan Lake (the location of the treasure in National Treasure 2 - it isn't there anymore).

    Not a single word of writing done...but I can call it research, can't I?

    I picked up some saltwater taffy from the shop in Keystone - enjoy!

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  18. Wow, Pam, that sounds so good!

    Ruthy, you are (almost) always right, and here you are right on again!!! :-)

    I don't actually think I'm a very good writer, but I try hard and I've learned a lot, and I've learned not to read my bad reviews. But I think I'm still teachable. I have two critique buddies who aren't afraid to point out my flaws. I love them. I mean, who wants to walk around with their skirt hem tucked in their panties because they told someone not to point out their flaws? Not me.

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  19. Oh my stars....

    Sorry, one of those days where getting to the computer to chat just couldn't happen. And I love chatting in Seekerville!

    Helen, I hear you. And I think that thick skin really helps when that call does come. And the maturity and the stuff you've seen and experienced. So we keep chasing!

    JAN...I'm with you 100% and I get so mad at myself for that very sin. Because I KNOW better, and still... Still... I have to choke back and not be a jerk. Grrrr....

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  20. Vince, I love you.

    I have no idea what you said, but that's probably not your fault today!

    :)

    I'll work on it, okay? Promise.

    SHAKESPEARE... yes.

    Total agreement. I got nothin' more to say. And that's rare.

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  21. K.C..... I am a bossy thing, aren't I???

    Oh my stars, sometimes I annoy myself, BUT... thank you, sweet thang!

    And Jackie, you know what? I really believe it was the hairnet and nametag jobs that helped thicken my skin so when someone says jump, I say: "How high, and would you like fries with that???"

    Because really? I've worked for GREEKS. For eleven years.

    'Nuff said.

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  22. Pep, I probably wrote this after being blasted in the Golden Heart AND having Keli Gwyn WUMP my tail for a final... Mind you I sent in FOUR manuscripts, trying to BUY a GH.

    Didn't work. ;)

    And it held true when I got my Rita scores back and someone gave Winter's End a '3'...

    Really? That beautiful book about life and death? A '3'?

    BUT... (and this is clutch, my friend) Even after the GH I knew my work was good. It was just a matter of a right match and TRUSTING GOD. (Although I did Google that Gwyn woman and wanted to shake her. And now I love her, so go figure...) Trusting God, learning patience, working steadily. That's what that criticism really taught me. Dip your chin and work harder.

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  23. Julie, darling, pass the anti-oxidant anti- wrinkle cream please. With the sliced cukes for my eyes.

    And um, can you tell me the name of your surgeon, honey, because your eyes make Joan Rivers look haggard. :)

    Jackie S., thank you! Bless you girlfriend!

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  24. Christine, I love your attitude. And I've learned to bend stories every which way and the other because that's what's needed sometimes, and it has made me better. Stronger. More diverse. It's like a teacher changing grade levels after several years... the change forces us to be new and fresh. That's huge.

    Joanne, thank you! I was obviously on a rant. But then, that's NORMAL for me... :) And don't you go believin' folks who say I'm nice...

    They're making it up. Really.

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  25. Renee Ann, thank you!

    And Nancy, that's a great line. Except in my experience, most drunks don't listen all that well.

    But you're right, and you know what? Sometimes it's only a question of 'tiny degrees' of understanding. Where a few well-planted extra words, phrases or introspect make all the difference. Then things POP OUT to the reader. Amazing how that happens.

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  26. Vince, great conversation starter...

    Critique groups. Never had one. I worked with Sandra for years, God love her. One of the few people on God's green earth that could stand me.

    :)

    Now we shuffle back and forth between us, whoever has time. But some of the Seekers still do critique groups. I think. Maybe.

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  27. My day... (and I did get over here this morning at 8 comments, but then got interrupted)... Sold puppies. Nice bunch of people. Grandpa back in hospital and hospice... My two boys and their families helped in Grandma's gardens. We got really hot and dirty. But it was good.

    And Grandma just called to say thank you for the flowers and the work. God love her.

    But I got a new synopsis done this morning. LOVE IT.

    So that was really good, really nice.

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  28. Ruth you better take a break before you fingers burn out.

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  29. Jan, loving the saltwater taffy. Oh, man, I love that stuff!

    And Melanie, pshaw.

    'Sall I'm saying.

    Pshaw.

    Hey, Pammers, loving the food. So grateful!

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