If you can’t learn from your mistakes then you are doomed to repeat them. Whether you’re a writer, an actor, or an artist of any medium, being able to accept and learn from criticism is vitally important to improving your craft. Women of Darby Pop writer Adam Breen, shares his experiences with criticism and why it’s so important to consider.
Until next time,
You’ve read the brief. You’ve come up with several terrible ideas and then – hopefully – a few good ones. You finally craft something resembling a story that you’re in love with and are happy to submit. And then… rejection. You’re not sure what went wrong but, if you’re lucky, you may get a response like ‘’…Unfortunately, your work was unsuitable…’’ And if you’re even luckier, you may get one of the most important things a writer can receive – criticism.
“Criticism,” to many people, is an inherently negative word. Being criticized is something that causes most of us to get defensive or angry. But, done in the right way, criticism can be really helpful… assuming you are open to hearing it.
I remember the first real submission I made to a publisher. I had studied their work for years, and thought I had really nailed their tone. I showed the finished story to a few people, asking them to comment on what they liked best. With their approval, I dropped my pages in the mail and awaited a reply. A few weeks later I received my very first “rejection letter.” I didn’t really expect to run the gauntlet on my first attempt; I knew the odds. But I also didn’t expect to receive a response detailing all the things that were lacking in my work.
Initially, I grew defensive, because there was so much I had – apparently – done wrong. But, I soon realized that the editor was absolutely right; there was way too much exposition. I was telling and not showing. What I had done well didn’t make any difference; the flaws were fatal, and seemed obvious once they were pointed out to me. I realized then that I shouldn’t have asked friends what they liked in my story; I should have focused on what they didn’t like. And, most importantly, I should have made clear that I needed them to be honest.
The greatest asset a writer can have is a reader’s honest assessment. The reader doesn’t have to love comics; everyone engages with storytelling in some way… by watching movies, listening to a book-on-CD, or even retelling a hilarious anecdote. You don’t have to be a professional film critic to turn off a movie halfway-through if it’s dull or nonsensical; we all have access to the tools that tell us whether something’s “working.” Anyone in your family or amongst your friends who is willing to tell you the truth can be an incredibly valuable resource. You don’t need to start taking specific rewrite notes from your “inner circle,” but they should be able to quickly convince you that your work is not yet done.
It is easy to assume that, after you’ve obsessed over your script for weeks (or months or years), it’s finished. But, it’s important to remember that your own, biased opinion can be a huge barrier to actual progress. Don’t believe me? Just read something that you wrote one or two years ago. Doesn’t some of it just make you cringe?!
Often, useful criticism of your work can be a creative instigator rather than a chain that binds your hands. Let’s say a few publishers have told you that your stories are too long – a common problem; try writing a story in just three pages, or three panels. If your dialogue’s too clunky, try writing a strip with no dialogue at all. By embracing your inherent weaknesses, you can both improve your work and sidestep bad habits.
Don’t get me wrong – some things are a matter of taste. There isn’t a single writer out there who is universally praised: Grant Morrison, Alan Moore, and Neil Gaiman all have detractors. You’re always going to encounter people who just don’t like your work. And, generally, more than a few people will have to say “yes” before your efforts go to print. Comic books are a collaborative medium, and getting everyone on the same page can be tricky. Ultimately, it’s about finding the best way to improve your story… even while making sure it remains your story.
Be flexible. Be appreciative. And be open to criticism.
About the Author
Adam was born in Dublin, Ireland, his interest in comic books was first sparked when he was exposed to “2000AD” and its most popular character, Judge Dredd. After seeing “The Dark Knight”, he decided to finally commit to his goal of becoming a writer. He attended University College Dublin and graduated with degree in English and Film. In 2016, Adam became one of the winning writers of Darby Pop’s second Breaking Into Comics contest: The Women of Darby Pop.
He is currently working on his first original comic series. He enjoys movies, and using his bio to say hi to his girlfriend.