Thursday, October 16, 2014

Authors and sensitivity to criticism

I've noticed that some, maybe many, authors suffer from Enissophobia, or fear of criticism. Every critical word about their writing, no matter how constructive or kindly given, feels to them as a knife in their side—a personal attack that cuts deeply—or as one author said, "like cutting off my thumb." 

What is it about us writers that makes us so vulnerable that we suffer extreme anxiety when we allow another person to read our written work? It is akin the fear a mother might feel in handing over her newborn infant to a stranger. An author's words were created and nurtured with fervor, extreme care, and attention to details and birthed with great emotion and that borders on both joy and pain. No wonder it hurts when someone points out a fault in this labor of love and devotion.  

Yet, an editor's job is to refine, shape, and polish another author's work. This involves cutting, correcting, and suggesting something different—without discouraging the authors and sending them into hiding. It's the author's job to consider every cut, correction, and suggestion; and to defend every word and construction, if he doesn't agree with the edits.  

As both an editor and an author, I see and empathize with both. As a writer I have felt the same trepidation when I put my work—myself—out there for another person to see and critique. I immediately begin to second guess myself, suddenly certain that my work is no good, and everyone will hate it. 

But the editor in me knows that the book must be tried in the fire of many editors and the dross burned away, not just once, but many times, by much critical appraisal. 

Because I know how that feels to an author, I attempt to be especially sensitive and open to the authors' viewpoints as they defend their "babies." 

This Enissophobia, or sensitivity to criticism, seemed to intensify for my dear sister, mentor, and talented author as she neared the end of her life. I'm sure I inadvertently hurt her feelings more than once with comments that I meant to be positive, but were heard as fault-finding. And that breaks my heart, for I wouldn't have purposely hurt her for the world.  

Now, as I edit and rewrite a book that we have co-authored, my part coming after her death, I can only correct her words by painstakingly considering her purpose and desires. My single desire for this book is that every word of it would meet her approval. 

Not only is that my wish for my sister, Joan's words, but for those of every author whose work I edit. The hard part is that Joan is no longer here to defend her work, so I must do it for her. 

 

Monday, February 10, 2014

Flash Fiction


Looking for a fun writing exercise? Here's one that will challenge the best of writers. Flash Fiction. Getting a complete story into as few words as possible. Publishers of flash fiction vary in their required word limits, but it can be anywhere from fifty to a thousand words. 

In the January, 2007 issue of The Writer, there is an article by Harvey Stanbrough, Sharpen Your Skills with Flash Fiction

He says, “Because of its brevity, flash fiction forces writers to see how unnecessary some words are, and their other writing always improves, too.” 

Although short, flash fiction must be a complete story with these elements:

a.    Setting: Will most likely be shown or implied through action, dialogue, or characterization.
b.    Character: Most flash fiction has only one or two, but may have three or four, with some of them only implied. “In flash fiction more so than in any other genre, you will often find implied characters.”  — Stanbrough
c.    Conflict: In flash fiction this is the most important element.
d.    Resolution: The natural and satisfactory outcome to the conflict.
e.    Implication: Give the reader just enough to get what the story is about. In so few words, you are forced to trust your readers to see what you’ve shown without having to tell it.

“When you only imply an emotion or an occurrence and let the reader infer it, he actually experiences it to some degree.” — Stanbrough 

Do you want to try it? See if you can write a complete story in 100 words or less, then add it  in the comments.