How Do You Deal With Criticism, Writer’s Block And Burnout?

2 May

This past Friday, I met up with one of my writing mentors, Mike, that I hadn’t seen in over 2 years. It was great to see him, and we had a great hour and a half conversation about writing, life, struggles, etc. Since Mike is one of those people who is a writer himself and will tell me the honest truth, sometimes I’m a bit hesitant to share what I’ve written with him.

I have yet to share any part of my book with him because I feel like I’m still in the early stage of writing my memoir. I only started writing at the end of January, and I’ve only written about 12 pages (which I’m not exactly proud of. However, I was dealing with schoolwork up until a little less than a week ago, so what can you do?). Though I’ve only written 12 pages, at this point, I’m still very close to those 12 pages of my life, my heart, and ultimately, my soul. Those 12 pages are memories that I’ve pulled directly from my heart and written down. They aren’t changed in any way. They are as close to the actual truth that I have been able to get (since I’ve realized that I’ve blocked out a good chunk of memories due to their degree of pain). Deep down, I’m not ready to share anything yet. I still feel so emotionally close to what I’ve written so far. I mean, it’s my life. It’s what I felt, not just physically, but emotionally too. How can I turn it over to someone to critique just yet? I understand that dealing with criticism is a huge part of being a writer. I also understand that I’m going to get good and bad criticism, and it’s important to focus on the good criticism since that is the advice that will propel me forward. However, I just feel like it’s too soon. Does that make sense?

Now that I’m done with academics until the fall semester (or until I study abroad in Ireland in June), I have the time to sit down with my memoir and try to sort through as many memories as I can that I have yet to write down. However, at this point, I’m just not sure where to go. I sit down to write, and nothing comes out. I think it’s primarily because I’m not in the right mindset for the memories to surface. The things that I want to share aren’t particularly happy, so sitting down to write when I’m in a relatively cheerful mood doesn’t get me anywhere. Though I understand that the writing process isn’t something that occurs overnight, it’s hard to wait when I just want to finally get all the painful memories out. They’ve been buried inside for so long. We all have to face our demons eventually. I may as well start now.

When I talked with Mike on Friday, he made the comment that my memoir is something that I shouldn’t force, and since it is such a delicate topic for me, it’s something that I should try to not get too frustrated over. However, since the process of writing is frustrating anyway, some frustration is normal. I think the best advice Mike gave me was to start another writing project (as well as working on my memoir). He pointed out that since my memoir is such an emotionally heavy project, it’d be good to work on something light on the side. Whether it’s poetry or a short story, working on another project is good when I’m stuck on my memoir. Mike said “Even if you write a short story about bunnies, you’re writing. That’s all that matters.” Mike has made a point to tell me that writing every day is an important part of writing. Even though I’ve seen the benefits of that (through this blog, mainly), I guess I didn’t consider starting another writing project.

I didn’t consider starting to write something other than my memoir because my memoir was taking up so much of my emotional energy. However, now that I take a second look at it, I guess that’s why people take on multiple writing projects….to give their mind a break from focusing on the same writing project day in and day out. I know that since I’ve started my memoir, there have been days that I just don’t feel like working on it. However, in the back of my mind, I know that I’ve got to work on something if I want my writing spark to stay alive. There have been previous times in my life when I’ve taken breaks from writing, but not just a break from a particular writing project, but a break from writing altogether. Even though in those instances I’ve eventually returned to writing, the breaks from writing have made it even harder to get back into the swing of things.

So, moral of the story: Write every day (no matter what), don’t let a certain writing project burn you out (start something else to keep your writing juices flowing, while also allowing yourself to have a break from the first writing project), and don’t give up (I know writing is frustrating, but for the few of us who love it, writing is our passion, our love, and the only way we can accurately portray ourselves).

Are you ever hesitant to share something you’ve written because you’re too emotionally close to it? How do you deal with criticism? Would you rather focus on one writing project at a time or split your time between two different writing projects and why? I’d love feedback from you fellow writers! 

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19 Responses to “How Do You Deal With Criticism, Writer’s Block And Burnout?”

  1. Amy Miles May 2, 2012 at 8:37 am #

    As a writer, it is hard to accept criticism in the beginning, no matter what the subject matter might be. The first book I ever published was my baby. I spent two years pouring my blood, sweat and tears into it. To hear someone knock it down really hurt. But…the biggest factor in how you feel about criticism depends on who is doing it and what their intent might be?
    I have a fellow author, who has become a dear friend of mine, that is my shredding partner. (I like to call her that instead of review partner cause she is lovingly brutal.) The first time she edited a chapter, I wanted to cry. But I had a choice to make: do I listen to her advice and grow as an author or do I let my lip quiver and pout like a child in soiled underpants?
    For me, the choice was obvious. I want to be a published author, every day, for the rest of my life. That comes with growing some thick skin.
    But this is advice isn’t necessarily the same for someone who is writing a memoirs. Well…yes and no. What you’re writing is far more personal and far more emotional than anything I write. For someone to critique my writing, it comes down to plot line, character development and sentence structure. For you, your writing truly is your heart and soul. I can certainly see why this would be such a hard thing to bare to another person.
    Perhaps, what you might do to start off with, is have your mention judge your writing based solely from a sentence structure stand point. Let him help you with missing commas and whatnot. Once you are comfortable with him doing this, then you can start having him do a proofread to make sure your thoughts flow cohesively. And finally, once you are ready to lay it all out there, let him edit you on content. THIS is the hardest part…but you will grow, I promise.
    For now, don’t worry about the editing part. Just let your book flow, however you think to write it. There is plenty of time to make adjustments later.

    • ameliaclaire92 May 2, 2012 at 9:51 am #

      Thanks for this. It’s always great to hear from other writers. 🙂

  2. sherrylcook May 2, 2012 at 10:10 am #

    For me, writing my memoirs was the easy part, I only sat down to write when I had the urge to write. I had to be in the mood. the words just poured out on paper. It took three years to finish but it was done in irratic spurts. Now that it is now being edited, It is hard to have others read it and hear the criticism that goes along with it. It is MY LIFE, they are talking about. Having this blog is helping me to get acquainted with the feeling of letting others know my story. This will definitly be a process to put my story out there. all in all, its great and it is my choice. Keep it up and remember, its your choice also!

  3. Polly Hoyt Nance May 2, 2012 at 10:59 am #

    I read the title of this post and was ready to comment with my answer… And then I read what you wrote. And couldn’t stop reading. I’d say it seems like you freed your mind here on this post by writing a mini short story. Love that. Anyways, Mike had some wise words to say. I get my thoughts churning via poetry but in free verse style so there’s no pressure. I’ve written poems about my doorknobs before lol. As for criticism, I used to get very defensive. As I’ve matured, I’ve learned to listen to criticism with an open ear. Criticism, even the negative, can be useful and help you grow and learn as a writer. Take from criticism but still go with your gut. Some critics just might not get it while others will. Be emotional and open and you’ll be proud of your truthful result. Great post and best of luck to you on your journey.

  4. Ryan Davis May 2, 2012 at 1:49 pm #

    I have always wanted to be writer but haven’t been in the right places and situations, life has been a roaler coaster ride recently, gained a lot, lot a lot more. Wanted to be a good good writer it’s nice to see you focusing and even I would try to write daily from today onwards. I am nineteen and people do not work at this age, HERE!
    Well, do not force it please writing is totally natural. Relax take your time. Some days you will write sometimes less and that will just level it out. Do not stress I want your memoir to be awesome.

  5. Advice To My 20s Self May 2, 2012 at 1:54 pm #

    I found writing my gratitude list in the morning gets my brain working and then the writing flows better. If I don’t have anything worth sharing, at least I accomplished my list for the day. 😉

  6. nikky44 May 2, 2012 at 2:11 pm #

    I don’t find it hard to share my writing if I am sharing with someone who cares. Same for criticism. I don’t mind it when it’s done in a productive positive way. Criticize to improve, and not criticize to destroy. I am not a writer, and don’t intend to become one, I only write to express myself and find support and friendship

  7. Marc Schuster May 2, 2012 at 4:30 pm #

    I especially like Mike’s idea of working on something light to balance the heaviness of the memoir. My last “big” project was emotionally draining, but I took a lot of breaks from it to work on other projects. It definitely kept me from getting too bound up or bogged down or burnt out on the project.

    • ameliaclaire92 May 2, 2012 at 4:31 pm #

      It’s great to have input from others who have been there. We writers have got to stick together. 🙂

  8. Laura May 2, 2012 at 4:32 pm #

    You should check out the silly ideas I posted for combating writer’s block on the Limebird site today. They will certainly take your mind in a different direction LOL 😀 Good luck on getting back into your book, I’ve never written about something so personal but I have felt that frustration, just wanting to get something out but it just doesn’t seem to come.

  9. Lillian DeRitter May 2, 2012 at 8:28 pm #

    The closest I get to writing memoir is my stand-up comedy, but my dad’s a memoirist dealing with some really painful stuff so I’ll add what I’ve observed while being one of his first readers.

    The first thing, I think, is to picture a very, very forgiving audience, at least initially. Write for your ideal reader, whether it’s a parent, a lover, or Ryan Gosling, the kind of person who loves you for you. Worrying about what an editor (or even what your own critical eye) would think is for revision.

    The second thing is that there are ways of easing into the scary bits. My dad’s an academic so his memoir is peppered with these amazingly detailed bits of historical and anthropological research about where he grew up. Sometimes they’re in the wrong place in the first draft, but they always connect back to the personal stories he’s telling somehow. It’s okay to write a two-page diatribe about how no one knows how to brew tea any more as long as it eventually gets you to write about the moment you overheard something you shouldn’t have while playing “tea party” when you were eight. You can cut it later or it may become a new, interesting framing device. Who knows? Either way Ryan Gosling will love it.

    • ameliaclaire92 May 2, 2012 at 8:44 pm #

      Wow, that’s a GREAT idea! I didn’t even consider that. Thank you so so much!

  10. marsdencyn May 3, 2012 at 10:56 am #

    After four years of Design School, you learn to differentiate genuine critique (something a mentor will give you and intended to help you improve your work) and criticism, which is judgemental and negative in connotation. The latter you stew over for a day or so, think up all sorts of retaliatory remarks, then forget about. As for the former, actively seek it out! That is how you learn to write better.

    Identify your writing style. Are you a tortoise or a hare? Tortoises can sit down every day and write. Hares, on the other hand, can only write when they have something to say, and when they do, it comes fast and furious. I’m a hare; I can work on many projects at once, depending on which one muscles its way to the front of my brain, but ONLY when something is occupying that space.

    In other words, don’t set your mind on having to work a certain way because that’s what you’ve been told is the way to do it. Figure out what works best for you — that is the RIGHT way. Trying to work against your style will just frustrate you.

  11. melissacuevas May 3, 2012 at 1:48 pm #

    I used to be very self critical of my own writing, and was very shy about sharing it. (Makes it a little difficult to try to publish that way) Oddly, the way I finally came to grips with it was my involvement with the fanfiction community. I get a lot of grief from them, and that has helped me thicken my skin, but I also get a huge amount of support from them and I am eternally grateful to them. As for burnout and writer’s block, I simply stop writing until I’m ready to start again. I’ve tried forcing through it, and just end up deleting what I wrote then anyway.

  12. Kat August 13, 2012 at 10:45 am #

    I’m stuck in the middle of my memoir right now. I started blogging short bits of my memoir to gain feedback and critiques as well as just to adjust to sharing my personal story with the public. It’s been terrifying, but rewarding when I hear the comments from others. As of yet, I don’t really have any critiques of it, but the positive feedback keeps me going! I’ve waited 7 years to write my memoir because I was afraid of writing it. I was afraid of what others would think, what my family would think…I didn’t want to face them even though I’m writing the truth. But the story needs to be told and I feel compelled to write it, if only to help others who have gone through similar situations. I’m trying to write a small amount every day, even when I don’t want to, and hopefully the story will get written! Best of luck to you and keep writing!

    My memoir: http://www.thegoodwifekc.wordpress.com/

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