Let me explain! – a post on defensiveness

explain

“You don’t like this plot point? Let me explain why it’s good…”

“Well it’s not confusing if you remember that obscure hint from 10 chapters ago…”

“Actually, it IS funny, YOU just don’t get the joke!”

“LALALA I CAN’T HEAR YOU.”

Ahh, defensiveness. All writers do it. Hearing critique can be tough, and sometimes it’s hard to resist rallying to our story’s side.

Not all defensiveness is the bitter, crossed-arms, yeah-well-YOUR-MOM-needs-more-characterization type you might be imagining. In fact, it’s usually not. Rarely have I seen anyone get up in arms about a critique. Certainly no tables have been flipped, no punches thrown. Most forms of defensiveness are subtler and often unnoticed by the writer until pointed out.

For the most part, I’m good at taking feedback, but I’ve got bad habits that occasionally pop up. Here’s the one I’m guilty of the most: explaining myself. When someone disagrees with a choice of mine, I get this INSATIABLE URGE to explain my reasoning to them! Why oh why do I do this? I guess because I feel that if I can just make them understand my thought process, they’ll see it my way. Or it’s a pride thing. I don’t like looking incompetent when I’m not.

I’m also guilty of explaining not just my choices, but issues of confusion. When I’m at my critique meeting and someone voices befuddlement – “where is this, why’d he do that, what’s going on” – I can’t help wanting to set things straight. Oh, you’re confused, let me answer that! TONS of writers do this; it’s an understandable knee-jerk response.  But your explanation doesn’t change the fact that the writing confused them, so the writing still needs to be fixed. So just say, “I’ll make that more clear.”

Another habit of mine is telling people when I disagree with them. I only get like this when a critiquer’s being overly pedantic about something I don’t believe in or isn’t applicable, and I want them to stop being so pushy. But pushy people are pushy for a reason and don’t go down without a fight, so disagreeing just makes them push more. Sigh… I’ve had to learn that the hard way.

lecture

Is that an adverb I see?!

Basically, there’s rarely a need for defensiveness. There will be times when people dislike your story, or don’t get it, or dispense advice you think is dumber than a sack a’ rocks. That’s fine! They don’t have to like it, and you don’t have to implement their critique. You can just shrug it off.

Now, this doesn’t mean you have to keep your mouth zipped like a kid in time-out. It’s okay to have a conversation! Just make sure it’s truly a discussion, where you remain open and are not just arguing your point. Why bother with critique if you don’t want input? Just shout your story at the bathroom mirror, then.

Actually, I might try that anyway for fun. The acoustics in here are great!

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16 thoughts on “Let me explain! – a post on defensiveness

  1. Fun post! Learning how to accept feedback peaceably is an important lesson for any writer who wants to participate in a critique group. I’ve been part of groups where whoever’s being critiqued isn’t allowed to say anything until everyone else has finished discussing the chapter at hand. The writer can only listen and take notes, and then gets a minute or two at the end to ask clarifying questions. It taught me to listen without arguing or explaining – I’d take notes on where people were confused and then evaluate later, like, “I guess I DID forget to explain that,” or, “Obviously Joe wasn’t reading this chapter closely, because the answer to his question is CLEARLY STATED RIGHT HERE,” or, “This STILL makes me laugh out loud: I’M KEEPING IT!”

    It’s so important to realize no one else can make you change your story – great reminders!

    Liked by 2 people

    • That’s a good system, having the person wait til everyone’s critiqued. Gets you into the good habit of just listening and absorbing, instead of immediately leaping to an explanation. Occasionally that can be detrimental, because a critiquer might go on and on and on about a point, and all you have to do is say, “That was in the previous chapter but you weren’t here that week.” Would save the whole group some time if they just knew that before their rant, you know? But generally speaking, yeah, better to keep quiet. It’s hard, but I’m trying to do that!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Great post. I’ve been learning this lesson too as I get feedback from my beta readers about my novel. I think I have been successful in not getting defensive, thankfully. I’ve gotten some interesting and thoughtful input that mostly makes sense to me, but I still disagree with some of it. So I’m just saying, “Thank you. That’s a good idea and I see what you mean” even though I might not think it’s best for the story. And you’re right on about the confusing bits. If something doesn’t make sense to the reader, figure out how to fix it in the writing. Once it’s published, you can’t have a sit down with every reader to explain what you meant! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • >> “Once it’s published, you can’t have a sit down with every reader to explain what you meant!” >> Haha, exactly! You won’t be looking over people’s shoulders as they read, ready to answer whatever questions they have! Someone in my critique group recently read the first chapter of his book, and he prefaced it with allllll sorts of clarifications and disclaimers and blah blah blah, and I wanted so badly to tell him, “Just read it already!” Cuz he won’t be able to do all that disclaiming with his readers. Any info an author wants explained beforehand will have to go in the back-of-book blurb, or maybe a prologue if one really needs it. But otherwise, the chapter has to do that job.

      “Thank you, I see what you mean” is a perfect response. My go-to reply for critiques that I know I won’t be implementing is, “I’ll think about that” or “I’ll take another look at that.”

      Most of the time I get very insightful and helpful critiques though, thankfully.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I love getting different perspectives on my writing – I think (hope) that I’m pretty good at taking advice and making changes without too much bloodshed. What I’ve found over time is that I push back a little more now where I believe it’s warranted – initially I’d automatically make changes suggested to me but I think it’s good to think them through and ignore anything where I’m CLEARLY correct haha!

    Interesting post – I’m hoping to start pushing my stories a bit wider so I’d better start gearing up for criticism…

    Liked by 1 person

    • I love getting different perspectives too – it’s so interesting to see how other brains work! And their perspectives have helped me immeasurably. Most of the critiques I get are helpful. But every so often there’s that one I want to argue with, hehe.

      A little push-back is healthy. We as authors need to know what our vision is and hold onto it. Plus, critiques are subjective and may contradict each other – one person may like this, another may dislike it. So we have to be the final decision makers.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Great write up! I didn’t expect this topic to resonate with me like it did. Two lines really struck a chord:

    “Or it’s a pride thing. I don’t like looking incompetent when I’m not.”
    “But your explanation doesn’t change the fact that the writing confused them, so the writing still needs to be fixed. So just say, ‘I’ll make that more clear.'”

    Absolutely! This is my fear and typical response, though I’ve never thought about it in so many words. You described it exactly. I’ll keep this in mind going forward, and expect it will help me make better use of my critiques!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m so glad you found the post helpful! Yeah, it took me a bit of practice when I first started receiving critiques to understand the difference between explaining something myself, and making the writing clear enough to not need the explanation.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. “Your explanation doesn’t change the fact that the writing confused them, so the writing still needs to be fixed.”

    This is such a good point! You’re right that it’s everyone’s instinct to defend, when in reality we should be asking questions like, “How do you think this could be more clear?” “At what point in this passage did the dialogue start getting confusing?” and so on.

    Like

  6. Whenever receiving feedback, I have a personal rule that I write down, rather than speak, except to ask questions. That way I’m only ever getting clarification/confirmation, as long as I avoid leading questions, of course.
    I think feedback is a very personal thing. I often like to know people reasonably well before giving them something for feedback, at least, if it’s a young/new story. Some are good for pure and unadulterated encouragement, while others will find every weakpoint. In some ways I think a new story is a bit like a new child. Of course I say that as someone who is not a parent, but I think the metaphor is apt. I want to spend a little time with the story, make sure it’s good and strong before sending out into the world.

    Liked by 1 person

    • You’re right, feedback is very personal. It’s a highly vulnerable experience, sharing your heart and soul and having it judged by others. I wish more people in writers groups respected that – not that we need to sugarcoat, just have some tact and awareness.

      Liked by 1 person

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