Being Perfect, Accepting Criticism, and Generally Getting Over Myself

IMG_2703I was in elementary school when I got my first C on a test. It was probably math, because back then I thought I hated math. I got home from school, and sobbed because a C was clearly the end of the world. And my mom sat me down and explained that I didn’t have to be perfect.

I can’t count the number of times she told me that, but it never quite sank in.

I used to be a poor sport, throwing a quiet temper tantrum if I lost a game. Oh, I thought I was holding in my temper quite well, but everyone else knew I was being a big baby. (This was in my 20s.) Still, I’m generally good at everything, so people kept playing with me because I didn’t lose all that often.

Any criticism, even the mild kind, could make me fume for weeks. Because if someone criticized me, clearly they hated me and everything about me, right? The flip side of that is that if I said or did something I perceived as “wrong,” I could obsess over it for weeks as well.

One day, I was getting ready to go play games with my friends, and I thought back to the last time we played. I remembered eating and drinking, making silly jokes and laughing a lot. I remembered who was there and what we played. But no matter how hard I thought, I couldn’t remember who won.

And that was eye-opening for me.

I didn’t get over myself overnight, but that realization started the slow process. Whenever I started to take something too seriously or get upset about it, I’d just ask myself, “Will I even remember this in a month?” If the answer was no, I made myself move on.

Then I started participating in online critiques of my writing, and the old feelings resurfaced. I made myself put the critiques aside for a day or two before responding. And I found that as long as I didn’t respond right away, I could get over my hurt and see that much of the critique was helpful. Not all of it, of course. Sometimes criticism is just a difference of opinion, and I didn’t have to go with it. But if I assumed that everyone who criticized me was coming from a place of genuinely wanting to help me, it made the criticism easier to take.

I know that not everyone wants to help, and that criticism can be malicious. But it’s not my job to sort out other people’s emotions. I just assume everyone has my best interests at heart, and move on. Other people’s negativity doesn’t have to affect me, unless I let it.

It wasn’t until I was in grad school to be a counselor that I realized how much progress I’d made. We all had to tape ourselves doing “counseling sessions” with other students, and then get feedback from our professor in front of the whole class. I really respected this professor, and desperately wanted her praise. But when she saw my video, she picked out all the areas where I could improve.

I felt myself turning red, and those old feelings of having to be perfect wanted to come to the surface. But I told myself to pay attention to what she was saying, really listen, and think about it later when I had time to decide how to feel, and if it was helpful.

When she was done ripping my counseling session to shreds (that’s how it felt, though it probably wasn’t reality because she is a genuinely good human being), one of the other students said, “Wow, that was really amazing. How could you just sit there and take all that criticism? I’d be in tears.”

I took a deep breath and said, “Well, this is where we’re supposed to mess up, right? I’ll learn more from my mistakes than my successes. This way, when I get into the real world, I won’t hurt anyone, and I’ll do it right.” And that tight ball of tension inside me dissolved, because I realized that I meant it.

Criticism is still hard to handle sometimes. And of course, I love praise for a job well done. But regularly attending a writer’s group and having consistent critiques has been a wonderful asset to working on this aspect of myself.  That criticism doesn’t hurt, most of the time. Sure, once in awhile, if I’m having a bad day and feeling emotional, those old feelings try to struggle to the surface.

But I mostly tell them to shut up.

If I’m really having a bad day, I know who I can text to rescue me from negative thoughts. And I also try to write compliments and positive feedback into my journal, so if I’m struggling with negative thoughts, I read over the things people said to me that made me feel good.

And I remind myself not to take it all so seriously. It’s just life, right?

How do you handle criticism?

Feeding My Soul

calico cat with book

Goblyn loves books too!

Once upon a time, I wrote stories and novels just for fun. I typed them up, polished them, and let them languish on my computer. Writing fiction was a job other people did, but not me. I went to work, came home, read books, and wrote stories.

One day, after I’d finished writing my (3rd? 4th?) (bad) novel, my husband looked at me, puzzled, and said, “Why don’t you ever try to get anything published?”

Well, honestly, it had never occurred to me.

This was back in the days before I used the internet for everything. Back before I had a computer in my pocket. So when I first started my journey, it wasn’t like I could just Google “how to get published.” I had to do research and such. I tried sending off short stories and querying agents regarding that really bad novel. And things went nowhere for me. I’d never been critiqued, and I honestly didn’t know I needed to be.

(I’ll tell you about my torrid love affair with adverbs sometime. *shudder*)

See, I’d been praised by teachers all my life for my writing. So I figured that since I did a great job at writing papers, I was good enough at fiction too. I had concentrated on Psychology and Philosophy in college, and hadn’t taken English classes. They bored me, and I figured I had nothing to learn. (Don’t judge… it was the arrogance of youth!)

Eventually, I found online critique groups, and after learning how to take criticism (the subject of Friday’s blog post) my first short story was published for the amazing amount of $50.

I told everyone, and I’m not a “tell everyone” kind of person. Most of my friends were supportive, but one said, “Really? You put all that work in and only got $50? It doesn’t seem worth it. How many hours did you spend on that story?”

And just like that, some of the air was let out of my bubble. I probably spent 10 hours (or more) on that story. So that works out to $5 an hour? That’s not even minimum wage. Not to mention all the stories I’ve spent time on that will probably never be published.

But then I remembered how many hours I spent writing stories just because it was fun, never intending them to be published. Some people watch TV, some people surf social media, some people watch the stars, some people read books. Hobbies don’t have to be profitable. And doing what makes my soul happy doesn’t have to make money.

I write because I love it. I love it when stories get published because I love to share things that make me happy. If one of my novels gets published, that would make me happy too, for the same reason. (And, quite frankly, because there’s something exciting about seeing my name in print.)

But if the novel never happens, if I just continue to blog and publish short stories, that’s okay too. I’ll keep writing, keep improving, keep trying and having fun. Because what my friend failed to understand was that it’s not about the hours spent or the money I make doing it. It’s about the fact that I’ve been in love with stories for as long as I can remember. And the ability to tell a good story is something special. If I can tell a story that makes other people think, or feel, or empathize, then I’ve done something amazing. I can’t put a price on that kind of connection with other people.

Do you feel that connection to others when you write or read stories?

My Reading Habits

IMG_8801This was a fun little quiz I found online.

READING HABITS

1. Do you have a certain place at home for reading?  Not really. I’ll read anywhere I can see the page. That includes while sitting, standing, walking, playing with the dogs, cooking, eating, etc.

2. Bookmark or random piece of paper?  Anything that’s at hand. Receipts, fortunes from fortune cookies, post-its, random papers. I do have bookmarks though. I just mostly misplace them. Or leave them in the book when I’m done.

3. Can you just stop reading or do you have to stop after a chapter?  If I love the book, stopping anywhere is hard, but I can make myself do it at the end of a chapter. If I’m not as into it, I can stop anywhere.

4. Do you eat or drink while reading?  Um, yes. Reading is life.

5. Multitasking: Music or TV while reading?  Sort of. If I’m really into the book, I hear nothing that’s going on around me. I’m not usually watching the TV though; that’s my husband.

6. One book at a time or several at once?  It depends. If I’m not that into the book, I might start another one at the same time. But if I’m really into it, I have trouble even putting it down.

7. Reading at home or everywhere? One time, a coworker told everyone she saw me reading while I was crossing the street. In fairness, it wasn’t like a busy street or anything.

8. Reading out loud or silently in your head?  Silently. Shhh!

9. Do you read ahead or skip pages?  No! Who even does that? (I might look ahead to see where the chapter ends, but I’m not reading it.)

10. Breaking the spine or keeping it like new?  Break it! Wear marks = love.

11. Do you write in your books?  Yes! I write, highlight. I don’t worry about smudges or marks. Again, imperfections are signs of affection in my book. (See what I did there?)

BONUS QUESTIONS

1. When do you find yourself reading? Morning, afternoon, evening, when you get a chance or all the time?  Reading is life.

2. What is your best setting to read in?  A setting where no one is attempting to talk to me. Getting arrested because I murdered the person who wouldn’t stop talking to me would really slow down my reading.

3. What do you do first – Read or Watch?  In general, I prefer to read first. But I’ve been introduced to some really great books by watching a show or movie and seeing that there’s a book.

4. What form do you prefer? Audiobook, eBook, or phsyical book?  I prefer a physical book, but I’ll go for an eBook if I need a quick fix. Or if I’m on vacation and don’t want to carry 8,000 pounds of books with me. I just started reading audiobooks, and they’re pretty cool. I can read while doing chores or driving.

5. Do you have a unique habit when you read?  Is getting covered in cats unique?

6. Do book series have to match?  I really prefer it, but I’m not going to stress if they don’t.

 

SaveSave

Mystery Blogger Award

Yay! I’ve been nominated for the Mystery Blogger Award. It’s not really about “mystery” writing or anything like that; Mystery is a play on the name of the person who started the award, Okoto Enigma.

In order to participate in the award, I must:

46150-screen2bshot2b2017-05-022bat2b7-14-092bpm

Rule #1

Rule one: Put the award/ logo on my blog. Yep, it’s that way. <—–

Rule two: List the rules. Check.

Rule 3: Thank whoever nominated me and provide a link to their blog. That was the wonderful Janet’s Smiles. Thank you!As you may guess, her mission in life is to make people smile. She does this by talking about life, music, and her wonderful crafts. I’m seriously jealous of her scrapbooks.

Rule 4: Mention the creator of the award and provide a link. I did that above. ^^

Rule 5: Tell my readers 3 things about myself.

  1. I love playing board games.
  2. I’m known for being quite clumsy. People who don’t want me to die get nervous when I do anything with a potential for injury.
  3. I love animals. I have five cats, two dogs, and various squirrels (we consider them our outdoor pets.)

Rule 6: Nominate 10- 20 people. I’ve found most of these blogs through A to Z over the years.

A Texan’s View of Upstate New York

Pen in Her Hand

Life and Faith in Caneyhead

Megan Moran (romance author)

The Cyborg Mom

While I Was Reading

The Lair of the Silver Fox

Read is the New Black

Readers of the Night

Girl Who Reads

Rule 7: Notify your nominees by commenting on their blog.

Rule 8: Ask my nominees 5 questions of my choice; with one weird or funny question.

  1. What was the last game you played, and with who?
  2. What’s your favorite word or quote?
  3. What’s the best compliment you’ve ever received?
  4. What do you like on your pizza?
  5. What’s your favorite question to ask other people?

Rule 9: Share a link to my best posts. Some of my favorites:

The Timelessness of Stories

How My Former Bullies are Doing Now

Words Have Power

The five questions I was asked:

  1.   Who is your favorite author? Oh, that’s a tough one. If you’d asked me even a few years ago, I would have said Dean Koontz. I don’t really have a single favorite anymore, so I’ll go with my five favorites: Bryn Greenwood, Holly Black, John Green, JD Robb, and as mentioned, Dean Koontz.
  2.   How long have you been blogging? 7 years!
  3.   Have you ever been nominated for a major award? Nope, this will be the first.
  4.   If you could play a musical instrument what would it be? I’ve always wanted to learn to play piano, but anyone who’s ever heard me sing would tell you I’m tone deaf.
  5.   Who is Carmen Sandiego and why should I care where in the world he is? Carmen Sandiego is a she! And she taught me all about geography and and about other cultures on my Commodore 64. She was a spy who traveled around the world, and I had to locate her using clues.
  6.   Extra credit question, did I make you smile today? Always. 🙂

A to Z Reflections, 2017 #atozchallenge

This is the 7th year I’ve participated in A to Z.

survivor-atoz [2017] v1Over the years, I’ve gotten better about planning ahead. Not great, but better.

One person said that she wrote all her posts in February. February! I admire people with those kinds of organizational skills.

When I was in college, if I wrote a paper ahead of time, I’d spend time editing and changing and editing until the deadline. Then I’d get a lower grade than if I just did it at the last minute.

Honest.

I wrote most of my posts a week at a time, though not all of them. Some I did on the day of.

But I’m proud of myself, because every post went live on the correct date. I’m not sure that I’ve ever gotten a perfect score before.

 

As always, it’s fun to read other people’s blogs. Here are a few of my favorites:

Janet’s Smiles

A Texan’s View of Upstate New York

Pen in Her Hand

Life and Faith in Caneyhead

Megan Moran (romance author)

The Cyborg Mom

Zombie Flamingos

This year, I had many fewer visitors than in previous years with the old format. Though that may have been partly my fault because it wasn’t until after the challenge was over that I learned there was a Facebook page. I’m not sure how I missed that info, but I did. I was just posting on the actual Blogging A to Z webpage daily.

When I took the A to Z Challenge survey, I realized that I missed a lot of things I could be doing. Like, I didn’t use #atozchallenge in my titles. Because I didn’t know I was supposed to. There’s a lot of things I could be doing to get the word out about my blog.

Sometimes I feel like I’m doing great at this whole internet thing, and other times I realize how much I have to learn. (Did I just show my age there?… *sigh*)

I could say I should be better at this because it’s year 7. But I’d rather just say that I’m learning and improving every year. And as long as I’m headed in the right direction, that’s what matters, right?

 

Judging Books By Covers

IMG_8219

The first book I picked up because the cover was pretty. The second, because I like the way the vines look.

I have some strong opinions when it comes to books, possibly about many things that other people don’t care about.  That’s okay; I can live with that.

One of the things that drives me crazy is when a movie comes out, and suddenly the book is released with a different version of the cover to reflect the movie.  I get why they do that; it’s to increase sales.  Associating the book with the movie makes good sense from a marketing standpoint.

But I still don’t like it.

In general, I prefer the older covers, and when I go to used book stores, I can spend several minutes choosing which cover I like best.  For example, I accidentally bought two copies of The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath.  This was a great book, but I obviously don’t need two copies of it.  However, I can’t decide which one to sell back to Half-Price Books because I like both covers.

People say “don’t judge a book by its cover,” obviously meaning not to judge something’s content by what it looks like on the inside. It’s true, but I confess that sometimes a book cover will catch my eye, and that’s the only reason I read the description on the back of the book.

These things matter. If they didn’t, all books would be in a plain brown cover with simple black writing. A good cover can hint about the contents. When I’m in the mood to read horror, I’m unlikely to pick something with flowers on the cover, no matter what the title says. Well, unless they’re dead flowers. Or blood spattered… you get the idea.

One of the best choices I made, based on the cover, was John Dies at the End. I spotted it while walking through the library, and when I read the back, I had to give it a try. It was a fantastic book. Runners up are the ones pictured above.

Is the book cover important to you?  What are your preferences?

A Tale of Two Doggies

I have two dogs.  Both of them are wonderfully good dogs with very different personalities.

_dsf4196Midnyte is purely dog.  She’s a lab mix, not too bright, but always ready to play, bringing me slobbery ball after slobbery ball.  At over 14, she slows down a lot faster than she used to, but if I’m ready to play, she’s in… no matter how much she might limp later.

When there are no humans around, she mostly lays or rolls in the grass.  She prefers to be the center of attention, and growls or barks if her sister does anything “against the rules.”  She also can’t stand if Ripley gets any attention whatsoever.  We’ve nicknamed Midnyte the “fun hater,” though it would be more accurate to say she only hates fun if she’s not the one having it.

IMG_1549 - Version 2 – Version 3Ripley, on the other hand, I’m convinced is a human trapped in a dog’s body.  I knew we were in for a unique experience when at just a couple months old, she sat quietly, watching me load the dishwasher, as if she were trying to figure out something not quite understandable to her.  Over the years, she’s repeated that quiet watching many times, on many different things.

We never trained Ripley, but she knew all her basic commands within a week of coming home.  She watched what Midnyte did, and learned everything.  She doesn’t take liberties with a gratuitous lick of anything that doesn’t belong to her, even if it is nose height.  But she also doesn’t learn anything she doesn’t want to.  I’ve tried EVERYTHING to get her to stop jumping on me when I get home.  Whether I’m gone 5 minutes or 5 hours, I get the leap up and whine like a lunatic treatment. Every.  Single.  Time.  She never used to do this to anyone else, though she has recently started it with my husband.

Unsupervised in the yard, Ripley will run or trot around, sniffing the air, carrying a frisbee.  She looks into trees and barks at squirrels who dare to invade her yard.  If she comes up to me, frisbee in her mouth, it’s because she’s checking on me.  She doesn’t want anyone to take her frisbee (or whatever she has in her mouth).  Like a child, she just wants to show it off and be given feedback on how wonderful it is.

Ripley hates to get wet, preferring to hold it as long as possible when it rains, until she shoots outside to do her business as quickly as possible.  There have been times when I’ve dragged her out in the rain on leash, and she huddles miserably, looking up at me with those accusing eyes.  She doesn’t do her business; she just looks beaten.  So, I’ve learned that when it reaches emergency levels, she’ll go out, but not a moment before, and it’s no use trying to make her do anything.

Every dog I’ve ever had has their own unique personality. Each one is the best dog ever.

Like most dog owners, I prefer my dogs to most people I meet.

Feel free to comment with pictures of your own dog(s). 🙂