Budgie’s Journal #146 – Maybe Try Not Being a Total Jerk

First off: Don’t take my advice if you don’t want it. It’s free, my opinion, and usually harsh. I don’t add sugar to my coffee, and I don’t sweeten my advice to fellow writers. Granted, some advice may be unsolicited, but I offer guidance because I care.

…or “cared” at least.

Please allow me to continue by saying something about independent writers that’s normally unsaid (by me at least): Some are over-sensitive, cutthroat, petty, ill-advised by most of their peers, and have cookie-cutter personalities. I’m going to lose friends with that statement, but so be it.

You know the type maybe…

There’s something I say often on this blog and on social media. If you want to be an independent author, you’re going to need thick skin. There’s two reasons I believe in this statement.

First reason is the trolls. They’re everywhere, and their sociopathic tendencies are self-designed to tear others down for their own enjoyment, filling the void left by years of social neglect due to their inability to not be assholes to everyone in their lackluster lives.

But this piece isn’t about trolls. It’s about the other reason you need a thick skin: Criticism.

Before I begin my sermon on taking criticism like an adult, let me just say there’s a reason this came up, an incident so to speak.

There was a fellow author with whom I was close. We interacted often, just about every day at one point. We talked each other through our mutual personal problems and about writing in general.

This author, who I will not name out of respect for our former friendship, was working on her first book. She hit the release button and birthed her tale. Since we were friends, I downloaded a sample to see how she did.

And it was rough. I felt like I was reading an early draft of a story, not a published work. Aside from grammar errors (which I miss myself on occasion), the dialogue needed tweaking, and the story could have benefited from another read-through or two. She also made some of the same rookie mistakes I made when I put out my first release.

I wrestled with whether or not to say something, I really did. Even then, I knew mentioning this could ruin our friendship. But in the end, I decided to save her the embarrassment of her first self-published endeavor and tell her to pull the book until she could fix the problems.

I’ll admit this was unsolicited and harsh. She had surrounded herself with perpetual well-wishers, and few of them seemed to be telling her about these issues. Those who did (just one that I know) were met with the same response I got.

“My book isn’t for everyone,” was more or less the reply, and a shortened version at that. Admittedly, romance isn’t something I read often, but I wasn’t speaking of her choice of genre. I was speaking on the content. At the end of the day, you can take or leave my advice. She chose to leave it, and I would have been OK with that.

She went on write a blog about the interaction, making me out to be an asshole who wanted to ruin her moment in the sun. My name wasn’t mentioned, but it still stung. I understand my advice sent her into a spiral, but it was well-intended. I expect anyone who considers me a friend to do the same for me. Feelings should not be spared when it comes to creative criticism. But I may be different. I openly ask my beta readers to tear my work to shreds if it needs it. It helps more than a flowery response, telling me how great I am.

Later on, a week or two maybe, she force-unfollowed me. That’s where you block someone and immediately unblock them so you just don’t follow each other anymore. It’s basically a soft-blocking. It’s a way to quietly end an e-friendship without confrontation and without the harshness of a full block. I was also unfollowed by her friends, so I’m sure some kind of conversation was going on behind the scenes.

I wasn’t treated like a friend here; I was treated like a troll. I didn’t tell anyone else about the issues I saw in the book until now. What I offered was creative criticism and a little advice. I didn’t come out and say “you’re a terrible writer,” or “your writing is shit,” or “shut the fuck up and stop writing,” or any of the negative shit trolls have hit me with over the years.

I think the point I’m trying to make was subtly made in the context of that convoluted tale of unsolicited advice and the harsh response it got, but I’ll state it plainly:

Don’t fall to pieces and be a complete jerk when someone is just trying to help you.

I want this author to do well, I did and still do, despite them terminating our friendship. Even though she refused to consider my advice, I hope what I said sticks with her and her next book is stronger because of it. We all learn from our mistakes, so you’ll be a genius if you make a fuck-ton of them. That’s how I did it!

There’s other gems of advice here. Don’t surround yourself with “lovelies” for one. My example author friend runs in a circle of indy authors who motivate and build up one another. Maybe that kind of outspoken optimism is alien to me, but it can spoil a person. When someone finally points out a flaw it’s like getting a swinging boot straight to the crotch. She simply couldn’t believe that someone would find flaws in her book, so it must just be “not for everyone.”

There’s not much else to say here other than what I’ve already said. Some things need to be repeated every so often, so I’ll end this with the harsh advice I’ve been giving for years:

If you can’t handle the criticism, you shouldn’t be writing.

And there you go…

-Budgie Bigelow
3/22/18

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