Being Original

Today is a great day, which means I am willing to share something not so great.

Over the weekend, my husband decided that he was not going to wait until February to buy me a graduation present.  Since I spend so much of my time working on my computer, which was slowly inching closer to death, he decided we would drive 2 1/2 hours to buy me a nice new one.

It’s amazing.  The battery lasts longer a half hour, the internet does not randomly disconnect, and I have not yet had the system turn off while I was in the middle of working.  Sure, there are a few quirks to get used to, such as a different keyboard making me constantly misspell words, but overall I am very happy now.  I almost look forward to doing my homework because it means I get to play with my new toy longer.

All right.  I spent a minute bragging, now it is time to even out the universe.

The more I dive into the world of writing, hoping to one day be able to turn it into something that could be considered a career, the more I am forced to put myself out there. I know it is strange, but if I expect others to read my work, I need to let them actually READ my work. I have to open myself to critique and be willing to listen and actually consider their words in my future work.

Critique is one of my least favorite parts of the creative world. I know many people tolerate it, and some even love it, but I am one who hates it.  So much of myself is put into my writing, it is hard not to take it a little personally when someone insults it.  I’m working on it, but I am who I am.

As part of working on my hatred of critique, I have begun working on beta reading for another author, hoping that being the one responsible for giving the tough love will help me accept both perspectives.  Giving the critique is not easy either, and it shouldn’t be expected to always be what a person wants to hear.

The other large part of my working on my issues, is learning to share some of the critique and accepting not only that is was said, but also looking for elements of truth in the commentary.  I’m not going to share every piece of criticism I receive, because I expect to receive quite a bit over time.  Instead I thought I would share the worst thing that anyone has said about my writing.

A few months ago, I decided to work on my short story writing a little.  I know it may come as a surprise, but I tend to be a bit wordy, making short stories a difficulty for me.  It was a weakness I wanted to work on, so I put myself out there a little, wrote something up and put it into an online group to get a little feedback.  The first comment told me my story was ‘not very original.’  They then went on to say my topic had been done many times, in very similar ways, and there was nothing special about this particular story to make it stand out.

Now I might be taking it  little personally, but I have to say I think ‘not very original’ is perhaps the worst insult that can be given to a creative work.  If they had said derivative, I might have been able to take that in a constructive manner as it is possible I meant to make others think of specific other works.  To say not original instead implies that the author is incapable of thinking of something new or creative.

Now don’t get me wrong. I don’t expect every idea I ever have to be the most brilliant I have ever had, or to be completely incomparable to anything else.  There are 7 billion people on the Earth; it is reasonable to assume that at least one of them has had an idea similar to mine, and perhaps they might even do it much better than I could. However to not only say something is not original and them tear apart additional elements of the work is going a bit far for basic critique.

(Insert calming breaths.)

Sorry.  I know I am taking it personally again.  I had to wait a while to write about this one, and apparently I am still not calm and rational about it.  This critique hits hard, partly because it feels personal, but also because it is not constructive.  Telling someone their idea is not original, or any other general statement of quality, is simply stating you don’t like it.  There is no suggestions for how to make it better, which means it is not actually helpful.  Now if they had said ‘your idea is similar to many others, perhaps you could change something in the way you tell it’ or anything else, it would have turned into constructive criticism.

I know, I know, I am starting to get worked up again.

So, now it is time to make me feel better.  What is the comment you have heard (to you or someone else) that got to you?

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