Losing it

I am not a patient person by nature like the majority of the other women in my family. A single unsuccessful drive around a crowded parking lot at a shopping center is enough for my mother and one of my sisters to lose their shit and go home without even bothering a second rotation. I don’t drive, but I’ve typically been the person in line at the bus terminal tut tutting at how long it is taking a person to purchase a round trip ticket to Suffern because, really, how long should it take to purchase a round trip ticket to Suffern??? And how do some people manage to spend ten minutes at an ATM machine? How many transactions are they doing for the love of God?

Despite my genetic disposition for impatience, I’ve definitely become a bit more relaxed and “go with the flow” with age, even more so after I lost my best friend to cancer because how much time I wait in line at Duane Reade seems so trivial in comparison to the tragedies we face every day. But I do still have my moments and yesterday was one of them.

I needed to get my taxes done and my accountant is my mother’s former employer of close to twenty years. Even though my mom retired several years ago, he generously does her taxes, along with mine and my sister’s, for free. Since his office is near my mother’s house, I stayed over at her home the night before and we had a lovely mother/daughter night. On Sunday afternoon, my sister and her husband met us at the CPA’s office and after we each had our turn, the four of us went out for an early dinner. My mother assured me that a 4:30 dinner at the diner would be early enough to catch the 6:00 bus back to the city. If I missed that bus, I’d have to wait an hour and wouldn’t be back in my apartment until about 8:30. With Monday morning looming and very little time to myself over the weekend, I desperately wanted at least a few hours to decompress before going to bed and starting an entire week of work.

Enjoying my family’s company, I was oblivious to the time until my brother-in-law mentioned it was 5:38 and if I wanted to catch the 6pm bus, I needed to hurry. My mother suggested that we would be pushing it, but I insisted we at least try because I really did not want to have to wait another hour. I rushed to the bathroom and assumed the check would be paid in the meantime. (My mother already said she was treating us). When I got back to the table a few minutes later, they had just asked for the check. This was when I lost it. My sister offered to pick up the check so that my mother could take me to the bus, but my mother wouldn’t have it. I tried to throw cash at the table so we could get going but she said no. And then she pulled out her credit card. Knowing a credit card transaction would take even longer than paying cash, I became more and more vocal and emotional about my desire to go home. I’m pretty sure folks at other tables heard me, but I couldn’t help myself. I almost cried at the thought of getting home after 8 with practically just enough time before bedtime to unpack and prepare my lunch for the next day. I visualized the week ahead of me with zero downtime over the weekend and I barely remember kissing my sister and brother-in-law goodbye before yelling at my mom to hurry up. “Come on!” I begged. Significantly less stressed than I, my mom took her time, which only ignited my crazy flame! Then when she stopped the waitress to ask about a 10% off coupon, I stormed out of the restaurant, ran to the car, and stamped my feet until she finally emerged. It was a temper tantrum at its very best (worst).

Fast forward, I made the 6 o’clock bus and arrived at my apartment shortly before 7:30, which I considered a decent amount of time to unwind before bed. On the way to the station, I had apologized to my mother for being so insistent, but tried to explain how I was dreading a stress-filled week at the office and really REALLY wanted a little time to decompress. She understood as did my sister when I texted to let her know that I made the bus.  But for most of the bus ride, I was so embarrassed and ashamed by my behavior and pondered exactly when I was taken over by a lunatic. It wasn’t the first time my freak flag waved at intense speed and I’m sure it won’t be the last, but I wasn’t proud of it. I stand by my desire to make the early bus. I even stand by my frustration over the possibility of missing said bus. I just wish I could have been a bit more subdued about it.

In those moments when “crazy impatient Meri” takes over, I sometimes wonder what people around me are thinking. What if the love of my life (a man I have not yet met or at least do not think I have) observed me in one of those moments and decided I might be cute, but I required anger management more than a dinner date? I worry that my best friend Alan was watching me from Heaven and shaking his head in disappointment. The problem is that once I find myself in one of these tailspins, there is no turning back until it has reached its natural conclusion. I cannot be talked out of it in the moment and it must run its course. The key is holding it all in to prevent letting any of the crazy out in the first place. I am successful most of the time, but as evidenced by last night’s incident, it’s far from foolproof.

I’m only human, you see, and I think my positive attributes way compensate for the negative ones, but I do hope other people lose their shit sometimes, too!

Do you? Please share an example in the comments so I know I’m in good company 🙂

Thanks for reading! To return to the FICTION WRITERS BLOG HOP on Julie Valerie’s website, click here: http://www.julievalerie.com/fiction-writers-blog-hop-mar-2016

Why I love constructive criticism?

Can you -show- not -tell- her

 

Criticism is most often thought of as a negative. Who wants to hear that their outfit is unflattering, their singing voice is out of tune, they lack rhythm when they dance, are a horrible kisser—that in sum, they suck? As a person, I much prefer compliments to insults, and I really don’t like when people provide unsolicited opinions, especially when they are unfavorable. But there is a difference between flat-out insulting someone and offering them constructive criticism—insulting someone most often serves no purpose but to make the person who delivers the jab feel good, but constructive criticism is usually delivered with the hope and intention of helping someone get better at whatever it is they are doing.

I don’t like insults, but as a writer, I have learned to LOVE constructive criticism, so much so that I seek it out from people I know won’t hold back. It stings to receive negative reviews of my published novels, but I have learned to embrace negative feedback for my drafts. I didn’t always have such a lovefest with constructive criticism. I took it in stride and learned from it, but I credit loving it to one of my author friends who, when she asks me (or anyone) to provide feedback, she asks us to rip it apart and she means it. She never gets offended or hurt by it and, to the contrary, is excited about the hours or days of revising ahead of her because it means her finished product is going to be even better for it. At the end of the day, we all want to write a top-notch book and sometimes it takes (more than) a few tries to achieve it.

When I hand a manuscript off to my beta readers  and later my developmental editor, there is a small part of me that hopes they’ll come back and say, “This is perfect. It’s the best book I’ve ever read. Don’t change a thing.” But the fact that I choose extremely critical beta readers and ask them to be completely honest with me belies that desire. I know these readers will spot things in the manuscript that, as the author, I can’t see anymore because I’ve lost objectiveness or I’m too close to it, and they will bring all of them to my attention. They won’t stroke my ego for fear I won’t like them anymore. They point out pages where the story might drag. They might tell me that I’ve lost my characters voice on Page 43. They remind me that my character’s friends and families have lives too. They tell me when my character is being too bitchy even for her or when she’s uncharacteristically behaving like a doormat. My beta readers show me the places in the manuscript where I need to flesh out how a character is feeling or what is going on in the background. They remind me to use my five senses. What does it smell like on the school bus? Are they eating anything at the restaurant or just talking? They say, “Your characters blush too much” and “Stop using the word ‘beam’ so much!” “This character is supposed to be mean, she hasn’t really done anything to evidence that yet.” “This character seems kind of crazy. Is that your intention?”

I seek out these comments before the book is published because I’d so much rather hear it when it can still be fixed than after the book is up on various platforms, and readers are writing reviews that say “The characters blush too much,” “The story dragged in the middle,” “The main character never thought about anyone except herself.” I don’t always agree with my beta reader’s comments and I trust my instincts, but I’ve learned to see the difference between not wanting to make a change because I’m lazy and tired and not wanting to make a change because I truly believe the novel is better off without it. But either way, I would rather know how readers might react and be given the opportunity to fix things rather than be blindsided by a bunch of reviews that say the things my beta readers and editor were too bashful or afraid to bring to my attention.

In the same vain, I have a side business of conducting manuscript critiques for other authors and I am extremely critical in my work. I tell my potential clients this up front. I would never attack their work or provide feedback in a cruel manner, but they are paying me to help them write the best book they can and I can’t take their money without pointing out every potential weakness I find. What they do with it is up to them, but I like to assume other authors will want to hear everything negative a reader might say while they still have time to fix it.

One reason my later books have been stronger than my earlier books is because I have honed my writing skills and become a better writer, but another reason is that I have embraced negative feedback on my unfinished product and purposely relied on tough critics to tell it like it is.

And that, my friends, is why I love constructive criticism.