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The Shy Writer’s Guide To Dealing With Constructive Criticism

September 26th, 2014 3 comments

Plenty of people have decried the softening of our society. How every kid gets a star and a trophy and a medal and a pony just for finishing the one mile fun run. But the truth is, there is still plenty of criticism in the world, and despite our backpacks full of trophies and ribbons and our massive armies of ponies, most of us run into criticism on a fairly regular basis.

Let me just throw this revolutionary observation out there – criticism sucks. Especially constructive criticism. Plain old criticism can usually be dismissed, but constructive criticism is your friends and family actually trying to help you by pointing out that you really shouldn’t be wearing those jeans, or keeping all your ponies indoors has made your home an inhospitable sty that everyone loathes to visit.

Constructive criticism, at least the kind that comes from those who really care, is especially cutting because it’s usually true and it comes from someone that actually matters to you.

I’m pretty sure that everyone has trouble with criticism, but for shy people it’s even worse. We tend to ever so slightly blow things out of proportion.

A boyfriend will say, “I’d appreciate it if you could clean your dirty dishes” and what you hear is, “Your failure to clean your own dishes bespeaks a fundamental flaw in your personality. You disgust me, and I disavow you as a human being. Please leave and find a family of gorillas to live with. You’ll be among your own people then.”

Unfortunately for those of us who are thin-skinned, we actually need constructive criticism in order to grow and improve. Think of it this way, if you get something caught in your teeth, wouldn’t you want a good friend to take you aside and mention it? Sure, it makes you a little embarrassed, but it’s so much better than coming home after a dinner party and seeing your entire salad in the mirror when you smile.

As a writer, I need feedback to improve my stories and novels. Flattery and compliments are awesome. Really, really awesome. But constructive feedback is even better. I need to know if a reader gets confused anywhere in the book. I want to know if they have a strong negative reaction where I wasn’t intending. It’s important for my critique partners and beta readers to let me know if they are interpreting a character’s actions, personality, or motivation in a way that I did not foresee.

It’s not fun to hear that one of my critique partners hated my character or thought a chapter was really bland, but I know my critique partner has my best interests at heart. If she finds issues in my writing, chances are future readers are going to stumble at the same places, and they won’t be so forgiving or supportive.

At some point, you need to accept constructive criticism, even invite it.

Now the caveats.

You’ll notice that I’ve been using the term “constructive criticism.” Constructive as in “meant to help” not “beat the living crap out of your self-esteem.” Bear in mind that not all constructive criticism is equal. People who outright criticize are usually bullies. Most bullies aren’t that smart, successful, or generally happy with their lives. Pay them no heed.

There are, however, some smart bullies. These are the ones you need to watch out for. They get their kicks by cloaking their attack in the form of constructive criticism. By claiming they have your best interests at heart, they then give themselves free reign to unleash criticism which may be cruel, unfair, and definitely unhelpful.

There are even those who are truly trying to help, but who are flat out wrong. Remember that everyone has a bias, and we all tend to skew toward the status quo of their upbringing, religious beliefs, and what feels “safe” to us. They may not like the way you dress because it’s not the way they would dress, or they may not like your romance book because they hate all things romance.

When seeking constructive criticism, choose your sources wisely. Let these people guide you and help you along your life’s journey. Try and ignore all the rest. If you ever have doubts about anyone, try to figure out their motivation. If they feed off of human tears, then they are probably not the best people to be taking advice from.

I know this sounds like a no-brainer, but you’d be surprised at how easy it is to let criticism get to us, especially us shy people.  Which is why we need to learn to deal with criticism. So, I’ve come up with a few better tactics, though crying is always on the table as a last result:

Vet Your Sources

I’ve made it a policy to only care about criticism and opinions that come from carefully vetted sources. These are people who have shown that they are not insane, not mean hearted and who usually take up to 3+ seconds to think before opening their mouths.

I have a carefully guarded inner circle. Membership is somewhat tough to get, but once you’re in, you’re in. This distinction makes it easier for me to turn off all the noise outside. It’s not always easy, but put up velvet ropes around your self-esteem. Create a guest list. Put some beefy, mean-looking body guards at the door and don’t let in any party crashers.

Play nice

I try to be respectful and nice to others. I find that if you aren’t a total jack ass all the time, most people will give you a fair shake. There are always exceptions, but, for the most part, you get out what you put in. Stand up to the bullies, but play nice with everyone else. You don’t have to point out people’s flaws unless they ask or unless you really think they’re hurting themselves.

You know that golden rule thing? It’s gold for a reason.

Know Your Flaws

A little introspection can go a looooong way towards protecting yourself from the outside world. Take a look at yourself and recognize those things you still need to work on or those things that you just plain suck at.

I am terrible at directions. Terrible. It’s practically a handicap. I know this about myself. I grudgingly accept it (not hard when I get lost almost every day). Once you accept a flaw, you disempower those who would wield it against you.

If you accept that you’re overweight or have acne or happen to get lost going to a place you’ve been at least ten times (I was coming from a different direction!), then when people point this out to you, you’re already prepared.

Get A Little Love

Nothing salves criticism like a little positive reinforcement. Make sure you have a supportive circle of family and friends around you and a supportive spouse or boyfriend/girlfriend. These need to be people who will accept you even if your feet smell on occasion, you get fired from your job, or lock your keys in your car. Just knowing that you are loved and accepted unconditionally will give you untold strength.

I’m not sure that it is possible to stress this enough. Besides your soul/you-ness and those innate passions and talents that give you bliss, your relationships are the most valuable asset you have in your life. They are more important than money, than success, than winning the “greatest person in the known universe” award.

Keep good people around you. Period. They protect you. They bandage your little internal hurts. Hugs heal self-esteem.

Cry

Yeah, go ahead and cry when you get an especially hard jab, but I highly recommend crying privately in the comfort of your own home. Crying in public makes everything worse, hurts your reputation as a person who is not a total sissy, and makes lots of people really uncomfortable. Excuse yourself politely and then weep soulfully into your pillow. It will help in the short term, but start building up your walls, coating your skin with some layers of sealant, and then consider where the criticism is coming from.

Also, never let the fear of criticism stop you from taking a risk. This is so much easier said than done, but it’s still good advice. If you let fear of criticism stop you from doing that amazing thing you’ve been dreaming of, you’ll regret it forever and ever.

Publishing my first novel was one of the scariest things I’ve ever done. So was telling my friends and family about it. But I did it. Now I have three books and a handful of short stories out on the public market — poor, vulnerable little eggs that anyone with an Amazon account can smash to pieces. It’s scary as hell, but I’ve got my velvet ropes up, my body guards in place, and a big fluffy pillow to cry into if need be.

Bring it on.

Categories: Essay, Shyness, Taking Risks Tags:

How to Ask for Help Without Having a Panic Attack

April 5th, 2012 No comments

J Bennett Discovers that Book Review Bloggers are Incredibly Nice

                                                                                                                                                    

Asking for help ranks on my pleasurable scale somewhere between sticking my hand in a wood chipper and attending a baby shower.

The main reason is obvious. Asking for help makes you vulnerable. Someone could say ‘no’. To a shy person, the word ‘no’ never sounds like “no, sorry, I’m just busy. It has nothing to do with you.” Rather, ‘no’ sounds like “Ech, the fact that you even have mass offends me. Also your breath is horrible.”

Then there’s also the guilt factor. Asking for help means that you are trying to take something from somebody, whether it’s their time, their expertise, their money or their energy. You are imposing – little, inconsequential you who’s having a bad hair day, is secretly wearing mis-matched socks and is generally in no way worthy of receiving said requested help.

Even your mismatched socks are rooting against you

Did I mention my dryer eats my socks like it needs them as fuel to survive?

Anyway, you can see how a panic attack is a completely legitimate response to having to ask for help – at least for shy people.

The problem is, asking for help is kind of necessary. It means speaking to people other than your childhood teddy bear Mr. Buttons. But, while fluffy and adorable, Mr. Buttons can’t invest money in your business (he can invest his love though), drive you to the airport, lend you his car for a couple of days, critique your manuscript or show you how to finally set up your Facebook page.

Mr. Buttons is a shrewd bear of business

For that, you’ll need to ask for help.

I’ve recently had to ask for help a lot. It’s been an education. After I published my novel, Falling – Girl with Broken Wings, I realized that I had to do this whole marketing thing. Detailed marketing research indicated that marketing goes beyond finally telling your parents and roommate that, “oh, hey, I’ve been working on this novel thing for the past two years, and it’s done, so please buy 1,000 copies.”

I needed to get people to read and talk about my book. People other than my mother (oh wait, she hasn’t read it yet).

So, I put together a list of book bloggers. It was a very nice list. I added a colorful header and lots of different columns to record the dates I sent out a review request, if I got a response, when I sent in the files, when the review would post, etc… It was very pretty. I stared at it a lot and occasionally changed the color of the header.

Did I mention it was pretty?

Who’s a pretty little chart? Whhhhoooo’s a pretty wetty wittle chart?

The problem was sending out the request. Asking for help.

You see, book bloggers get lots of books. Piles of books. Mountains of books. Enough books to build a house of books along with a detached book garage and book guest house and maybe even a book swimming pool filled with books.

This is what a book blogger’s pool would look like if it was filled with water instead of books

So where did I, a measly first-time self-published author, get off asking these people to review my book? I guess the real questions is: How do you ask for help without taking a detour down Panic Attack Central? I’ve found that breathing is a good start. Feel free to use the assistance of a brown paper bag if necessary.

Possibly your new best friend

In all honesty, asking for help is best done with sincerity, politeness and a touch of humor. It’s like diving into a cold pool. That first leap is the hardest thing in the world to do, and the landing may be uncomfortable, but you’ll acclimate quickly.

Be prepared for rejection, or, more commonly, complete silence on the other end. Logic says that if you put good vibes out with your request and don’t overreach, people will respond positively. I know this sounds somewhat simplistic, but, in most cases, the worst you can receive is a no.

Most people aren’t mean. They don’t want to see you fail and laugh while you flounder.  If they do, then don’t feel afraid of them. Feel sorry.

Perspective is important. Also, it can’t hurt to keep Mr. Buttons within arm’s reach, you know, just in case you need a dose of adorableness to keep you strong.

 

As for the result of my book review campaign, I found out that book review bloggers are incredibly nice. Of course they are. They love books. That practically ensures that they’re good people.

I eventually put together a list of 60 book bloggers who read paranormal and who accepted self-published ebooks (or at least didn’t outright refuse them). After sending carefully tailored emails to each, I received positive responses from about 15. That’s a whopping 25% response rate.

In one month, just from this list of 60 book review bloggers, I’ve gotten four reviews, written five guests posts, and participated in three giveaways. Okay, so it’s not a knock out marketing launch, but it’s not bad for spending a couple hours of spare time each week.

Thanks Mr. Buttons

My point is that I’ve been amazed and delighted by how supportive and gracious the book review blogging community has been. Every book review blogger I’ve interfaced with has been extremely positive and nice. Even though many of them were extremely overwhelmed, they were still willing to take multiple hours out of their day to read my novel, write a review, put together a giveaway, or trust their readers in my hands when I sent in a guest post.

Book bloggers blog in full regalia

Sure, a majority of the people of my list never responded, but nobody tore off my arm and ate it in front of me.  So, I’d say the whole experience was both pleasant and encouraging.

No panic attacks necessary.

The lesson of this post is that the world is full of people who are willing to help others – who actually enjoy helping others. If you approach someone with respect, it’s amazing how often they will give you their time, effort and expertise while asking nothing in return.

Ask for help. Be sincere. Be respectful if you get a no. Be grateful when you get a yes. Utilize the help you receive and pay it forward.

I’d like to thank the book review bloggers who have given me their time and support. You gals are the best:

Taking Risks For The Courageously Impaired

February 2nd, 2012 No comments

Risk.

It pretty much sucks for everyone, but it’s also necessary. It was a risk to climb out of the trees and start the whole “walking” craze among our species (later superseded by the current “reclining” phase of civilization). It was a risk to try and shoot rockets full of humans, chimpanzees and dogs into space but now we have Tang and memory foam mattresses. It was also a risk to combine chocolate and peanut butter, but we all know how necessary that was for the continuation of humanity.

So risk is pretty necessary to do stuff, but it’s hard. Especially for shy people who see risk not as an inherent necessity which provides us a chance to obtain greater success and even coveted experience. No, we see risk as a huge, gaping Kraken, ready to swallow us down into a painful oblivion.

Image courtesy of www.imdb.com

But shy people deserve to timidly pursue their dreams too! I recently did this when I ePublished my first novel, Falling – Girl With Broken Wings. It was really scary, but I did it. So that means I get to laud it over everyone in the guise of sage advice. Go me.

So, because I believe in shy people and our ability to eventually muster up the courage to kinda, sorta, maybe tomorrow do great things, I’ve created a guide for shy people to follow based on my own experience. Enjoy.

A Guide To Taking Risks For The Courageously Impaired

 

Step One – Freak the Hell Out of Yourself

I don’t know what specific risk you want to take, but I bet it’s scary as hell.

 Your Risk = This

Maybe you want to ask a pretty girl out for a date, walk out on your job, finally tell your roommate that it’s his god damn turn to wash the dishes, start your own business, eat ice cream for dinner, wear your beloved Crocs in public, or get a huge tattoo of Jesus on your face. All great goals, but for the sake clarity, I’m going to assume that you want to publish your quirky paranormal adventure novel.

So you’ve got a novel you want to publish, but you’re scared. Immediately your mind is filled with exactly everything that will go wrong. The book will suck. It will get a particularly terrible and hurtful review on Amazon…from your mother… who will publicly disown you on the same review.

“I disown you”

All your Facebook friends will immediately unfriend you, turning you into a Facebook untouchable. You’ll immediately be fired, and when you will try to collect welfare, the welfare staff will tell you they’ve used all your welfare money to pay for their therapy bills after having read your book.

Oh, and your book will be so bad that the US government will consider you a terrorist to good taste. You’ll be secretly kidnapped by the CIA, held unlawfully in some former Soviet Bloc country and water boarded mercilessly until you swear never to touch a keyboard again.

It’s okay to freak the hell out. You’re a shy person. This is basically what you do. If you could monetize freaking the hell out, you would be a very wealthy person.

But at some point, you’ve got to pull yourself together, take a deep breath and follow me into step two.

Step Two: Take An Insanely Long Amount Of Time Just Thinking About The Risk

 

Hmmmm, maybe I should…

Alright, I’ll do it!

To shy people, time is like succor of the gods. We may take years to mention to the guy we’ve been drooling over that, “hey, I like your…er….socks. They’re white. I like white things. Bye now.”

So, it’s only natural that when a risk is in the process of being taken, shy people spend a good and long amount of time considering it.

Most people may only need to think about taking a risk for a couple seconds, maybe an hour or so, or even a couple of weeks. For shy people, take what you think the normal consideration time is and then multiple it by a factor of 100.

Step Three: Over Plan The Hell Out Of The Risk

Of course, after a good ten years of consideration, you’ll need to start making arrangements to take the risk. This is a particularly terrifying stage of the risk-taking process, because every arrangement you make brings you closer to actually taking the risk, which, being a shy person, is really about the last thing you want to do.

I have developed a brilliant strategy for preparing yourself for the risk.

Over plan.

Over plan like you’ve never over planned before. Make like over planning was an Olympic sport and you want that gold medal more than anything in the world.

 On Your Mark…Get Set…PLAN!

Shy people absolutely love to plan, because it means we don’t actually have to do anything. The less importance the particular aspect we’re planning, the better. For instance, it is absolute heaven to spend an entire day searching for book review blogs or to put together timelines, or sketch out cover image ideas.

Charts are your friends. Make them. Lots of them. Find sweet bliss in pointless preparation.

 

Actual image of my book blogging chart. Isn’t it pretty?

You know how some savvy parents get their kids to eat vegetables by sneaking them into things kids enjoy, like  ice cream, Lucky Charms, and paste? That’s what you’re doing to yourself. See, while you gleefully decide what font to use in your website map, you’re actually inching closer to taking the risk.

One day you’ll wake up and realize – what the f@$k! I have all the stuff I need in order to ePublish my book. I even created a timeline that says I have to publish today, and I can’t back out, because my website is launching and I’ve already written my Facebook announcement. How did this happen? Who did this to me?

WHHHHHHHHY GOD, WHHHHHHHY!

Step Four: Give Yourself a Deadline

Freaking the hell out of yourself, taking a couple of years to think about the risk you want to take, and over-planning like your life depended on it are all well and good, but eventually you will actually have to take the risk.

Whoa, not right now!

Settle down. Here, tuck your head between your legs. Breathe into the bag. That’s it. Nice and slow.

What I meant was, as part of your planning process, you need to give yourself a deadline to actually take your risk. Create a really nice and fancy timeline with specific dates on it.

Now, disassociate yourself with the timeline. Force yourself to forget that you created the timeline and instead, consider it a sentient entity that must be followed or horrible things will happen. Things like shortages of peanut butter and chocolate, or every single one of your friends instantly getting pregnant and inviting you to their baby showers.

 

Go ahead, schedule your risk for several months or even a year into the future. I don’t care how long you need as long as you stick to it.

It helps to break your project into lots of little steps so it’s not like one huge leap into the jaws of the Kraken.

Step Five: Vulcan Mind Meld Yourself

Okay, it’s time to take the risk. I give you full permission to do whatever mental mind voodoo you deem necessary to force yourself to take action. This may include convincing yourself that the zombie apocalypse will happen tomorrow so there will soon be no society to judge what you’ve done or that your tie is actually a mystical talisman that will protect you from all rejection.

I won’t judge.

Judgmental zombie

One trick that helped me get through the stress of preparing to publish my novel was pretending that I was doing it for a client. Since I am a professional copywriter, this was actually pretty easy. Basically, I could transfer the risk from myself to some other idiot who was going to get their ass handed to them.

Do what you have to do. Read inspirational quotes. Taunt your pet fish, because at least you can read and run and blink.

 This lidless freak does not deserve your pity

But when that deadline rolls around, jump and don’t look back.

Step Six: Have at Least One Person in Your Life Who Actually Likes You

This last step may be particularly difficult for the shy, because we don’t necessarily feel comfortable being around people, being looked at by people or acknowledging that other people exist.

However, everyone should have at least one person they can rely on to support them no matter what. If you have a spouse, hopefully they are that person.

The point is, when things start to get really scary, you can talk to this person about it or at least be eased with the knowledge that they will dutifully start a Facebook group demanding your release when you get kidnapped by the CIA for terrorism against good taste.

That person for me is my sister. She was somewhat forced into this role against her will. We’re identical twins, so she’s kind of limited on what criticisms she can throw at me.

Also, we’re official BFFs and have the heart necklaces to prove it.

So, that’s basically it. Sure, it takes us shy people a little longer (possibly decades) to take risks that normals might not have second thoughts about, but we can and have done it.

Good luck!

Categories: Taking Risks Tags: