Taking Criticism

At Comic-Con I catch up with a lot of old buddies, particularly one of the Edge who’s solidered through many drafts of my early stories.

He’s got a script he’s working on, and is making a lot of progress. In contrast we know a friend who’s written a dozen scripts and is making no progress at all. Why?

One of the conclusions we came to is that it’s important to accept criticism of your work. Timely feedback is critical to improved performance – but you must respond to it.

I think writers should put down all their dumb ideas and then convince everyone that they’re brilliant. Your quirky ideas are your contribution – I mean, who’d think a story about a naked blue guy and a homeless vigilante investigating a murder would make one of the greatest comics of all time, but hey, that’s Watchmen.

But you’ve got to sell those ideas. “Ideas are a dime a dozen, but a great implementation is priceless.” So if you show someone your story with a naked blue superhero and they don’t buy it – you have to fix your story.

That doesn’t mean you take out the naked blue guy, even if your critics want you to. It’s your story, and just because it doesn’t work for someone they may not know the right way to fix it. It’s up to you, the author, to figure out how to solve the problem.

Readers give bad advice about how to fix stories because people are notoriously bad at introspection. If someone gets a funny bad feeling about the manuscript, they may latch on to the most salient unusual feature – not realizing it’s the bad dialogue or structure which gives them indigestion.

But authors are also notoriously bad at accepting criticism because they take the criticism as a personal attack. But if you get criticism on your story, you’ve done a great thing: you’ve produced a story that can be evaluated.

Authors are also bad at accepting criticism because they have fragile little egos. But you can’t afford to explain everything away. If people are complaining about your story, they did so for a reason. You need to figure out what that is – and it’s your problem, not theirs.

So, if you get criticism on your story you don’t think is fair, you get one — ONE — chance to explain yourself. If your critic doesn’t immediately get it, then — even if you don’t agree — say, “Yes, thank you, I’ll take it under advisement.”

Then put it in your trip computer and remember it for later. If others see the same thing, you have a problem. If you personally start to feel even slightly the same way, you have a BIG problem.

But your biggest problem is not taking criticism at all. Me and my friend have encountered a fair number of leaders whose egos are so fragile they’ve insulated themselves from all criticism.

You can still achieve some degree of success in an echo chamber if you’re willing to critique yourself and you have high artistic standars. But usually it just makes for unnecessarily flawed stories, movies and products – and an unnecessary slide towards the dustbin when your ideas stop working.

So if you’re lucky enough to have someone who reads your pre-baked work and gives you feedback, listen carefully, explain at most once, and take the criticism gracefully. Your art will be the better for it in the long run.

taking criticism graciously

-the Centaur

Back at Comic-Con

the gateway to comic-con

I’m back at San Diego Comic-Con again … my con home away from con home (my con home being Dragon*Con). Comic-Con is also where I get to visit with 125,000 of my closest friends.

the crowds begin

Like Dragon*Con, San-Diego Comic-Con has grown far beyond its original roots. The
con is about far more than just comics: it’s now a full bore genre media event.

the convention floor

They’ve got sexy space girls …

star trek babes

… sexy space guys …

the 5th, 11th and 10th doctors

… and everything in between.

the total recall car and robots

And lest there be any doubt about what I meant, here’s what I took the closeup of in that last tableau … I am a roboticist after all:

the total recall robot

While I’m here, I’ll not just be renewing my creative juices … I’ll be working on the final proofs for BLOOD ROCK, which is due the day after I get back.

If only I had a way to get more time…wait, maybe I do!

me and the tardis

Wish me luck!
-the Centaur

A Funny Thing Happened Before My Trip To Comic-Con

Axually by the time you reads this am already atz the con now – but just befores I waz completely discombobulated from cats:

Anthony Last night our home was invaded by a quiet, timid but quite feral cat. 2 hours trying to locate the capture him – no dice, he was a wily fucker.

Then 3 hours cleaning the pee he left behind when he bolted out the door. Emailed that I wouldn’t be coming in and got to bed at 4:25am. Sheesh.

Donna OK…while I am sure that REALLY sucked, I have to admit I also am still laughing. Sorry that happened…Febreeze works well.

Anthony He’s an adorable little cat. He’s also a master of hiding (he tucked himself into the tiniest possible space in a bottom bookshelf) growls if approached closely and smells of pee. I think he’s been causing my other cats to spray. I’d be laughing too if the situation wasn’t so serious – just last night I lost two books, half a dozen magazines, some papers, and possibly an heirloom kitchen table I got from my grandmother to pee. The behavioral effects on our other cats are so severe one’s on Diazepram, the other’s on Prozac, and we’re thinking of getting rid of them. I’m locked out of my own library most of the time because we can’t let them get in there. I went out for coffee for an hour and a half and found the black cat on top of some clean laundry.

Donna Oh no!! I take it all back… No longer funny 🙁 I hope it gets better!

Anthony There’s some small amount of funny, I admit it. When not gnashing my teeth, I like to remember that it’s better than a kick in the head with a golf shoe!

William Good lord! I think you need the Cat Whisperer.

Cortney Decoite O. My. That’s almost as bad, if not equal to, a burglar. My deepest sympathies.

John Have you ever tried a kick in the head with a golf shoe? It’s not so bad. My eyes are still crossed and I’m falling down a lot, but I don’t think it has anything to do with the kick to the head…

Iz funny in a lolcats trainrecks kind of way. Don’t worries, will not get rid of teh cats. But just catching the ups now. Response will be the slow, please be the patients.

-the Centaur

Backing off from Qumana

screen shot of qumana

Qumana is a good blog editor, but it’s got two unfortunate interrelated problems: it isn’t quite compatible with how I put images into posts, and you can’t publish posts as drafts. I just found that out – I think perhaps I confused Qumana’s interface with a blog posting app I have on my Nexus S – which is why some you may have seen a brief flash of a post in your RSS feeds that will instead show up later.

Saving posts as drafts on Qumana won’t cut it – I need to upload the draft to WordPress as a draft and make manual modifications before publications, which I can’t do in the current interface. So I’m going to back off from using Qumana a bit. It’s still good for composing drafts offline, but I either need to dig through their manual, update it to a latest version (if applicable) or find another editor that works better with my process.

-the Centaur

Future Books

piles of notes between caffeine fuel and computational engine
An exchange from Facebook:

Anthony: Just finished a rough draft of JEREMIAH WILLSTONE AND THE CLOCKWORK TIME MACHINE … my fourth completed novel!

Wallace: Anthony it is great that you have 4 what are they? We know Frost Moon, blood Rock, what was the 3rd? Barbara enjoyed putting them on audio.

Anthony ‎#1 is one you haven’t heard of … HOMO CENTAURIS is my first completed novel written in the early 90’s. The next two were FROST MOON and BLOOD ROCK … the third one in that series, LIQUID FIRE, is about 75% done. THE CLOCKWORK TIME MACHINE is the first in a new series.

P.S. The working titles of the next three Dakota Frosts (4,5,and 6) are SPECTRAL IRON, PHANTOM SILVER and SPIRITUAL GOLD. The working titles of the next next three (7,8, and 9) are something like SPIRAL NEEDLE, HELICAL LANCE, and CIRCULAR KNIFE.

And the working titles of … I’ll stop there. I can keep going, but I won’t … don’t want to spoil the surprise. I’ve already mentioned some of the later ones online. 🙂

Assuming I get that far … no, I’m planning to get that far, and farther, God willing.

-the Centaur

Pictured: piles of notes between caffeine fuel and my computational engine.

Rough Draft of The Clockwork Time Machine

jeremiah willstone, complete
I just completed a rough draft of my fourth novel! My first steampunk work, JEREMIAH WILLSTONE AND THE CLOCKWORK TIME MACHINE, clocks in at 90,000 words of completed story!

done with the rough draft
The Title Page and Draft History of THE CLOCKWORK TIME MACHINE

Here’s another excerpt for those who like a tease …

With Patrick’s blunderblast slung over her shoulder, Jeremiah whizzed through the streets on her autocycle, discharging its cylinder flat out, its teakettle scream and clanking frame adding another layer of mist and noise to the steam and bustle of Boston. Her legs were tensed, her knees bent against the pedals, half to jump the cycle over curbs, and half to keep the juddering vibration from the cobblestones of Beacon Hill from rattling her tailbone clean off.

She squealed to a stop before the Moffat’s, pulled the cylinder and tossed it to a street urchin. “Top me off?” she asked, hopping off onto the sidewalk with a whirl and pulling her bag out of its basket in one smooth motion.

“Yes, ma’am,” the boy said, taking the cycle. His eyes lighted on her vest, her denims—and on the big brass buttons on her lapels, a steering wheel, sword and airsail overlaid with a stylized V. “Are you an Expeditionary?”

Jeremiah smiled. “Yes,” she said, ruffing his cap so that tufts of blond hair showed. “Maybe one day you’ll become one too. Polish the brasslite a bit and there’s a second shilling in it for you. Quick now; I won’t be long.”

I’ve got some cleaning to do and a whole ‘nother draft before the beta readers can see it, but still … on to LIQUID FIRE!

-the Centaur

Try to eat less than a million bananas a year

Why? Bananas are naturally slightly radioactive. While it’s unlikely your body could retain all that radioactive potassium in those bananas, if it did you’d absorb enough radiation to cause an increased cancer risk:

xkcd radiation chart

There are disputes about those figures, of course, but at ~105 calories a banana, you’re getting roughly 143 times your daily allotment of 2000 calories, so probably you should cut back anyway.

-the Centaur

P.S. One BED (Banana Equivalent Dose) is 0.1 microsieverts of radiation. XKCD claims that 100 millisieverts of radiation is the lowest dose linked to increased cancer risk. Take that with a grain of salt … but do the math.

The Spammers Are Getting Snarky

They’ve tried flattery, they’ve tried clever links … now they’re trying humiliation:

The following time I read a blog, I hope that it doesnt disappoint me as much as this one. I mean, I do know it was my option to read, but I really thought youd have something fascinating to say. All I hear is a bunch of whining about one thing that you would fix in case you werent too busy in search of attention.

Too bad this comment was posted on an image ATTACHMENT. 😛 So there was no whining to comment on. Even if I follow the comment back to the article, it was about the importance of not whining when things go bad and moving on with your life. Tracing back the link revealed that no, there was no real person behind this: there was an apparently fake blog that was actually an invitation to some kind of ad network. Apparently they keyword matched the text of my article with the comment in an attempt to get some attention.

So: nice try, but bad spammer, no backlink.

-the Centaur

In more detail, my methodology: my moderation software asked me about this comment. The comment was not obviously related to an article and was badly written, so I drilled through to the referenced post and found it was an attachment. It’s entirely possible that someone clicked on the parent article, which did reference whining, then clicked on an attachment in an attempt to post an irritated comment. But the person’s email address was for an ad network, the linked-to-blog seemed to have unrelated articles, and on my second visit to the blog the ad network tried to take over my whole screen (yay Google Chrome for saving me!). People don’t generally have email addresses that are the same as spam networks, so I classified the comment as spam. It was a new kind of spam, so I’m posting about it.

UPDATE: Ooo, ooo, I forgot the best part of the methodology: do a search for a long phrase in the spam to see how often it appears on the internet. You can’t do too long – the spammer may be using software that introduces slight word variations – but if it’s long enough to be unique and it still shows up everywhere, you’re virtually guaranteed the comment is spam. I don’t care how repetitive a commenter is, nobody is going to write “The following time I read a blog, I hope that it doesnt disappoint me as much as this one” on “About 847,000” pages, according to Google.

Oh, God Bless You!

The Display tab of Mac OS X's Universal Access dialog

I’ve been having a problem with my old MacBook Pro where the screen’s bleached out … at first I thought it was my ASUS monitor, but the problem is also happening on the MacBook’s screen itself, so it’s got to be a problem with the laptop.

The problem came to a head when I tried going from the MacBook Air to the Pro to print out the reading script for BLOOD ROCK and I could barely read it onscreen … and noticed the problem in several other programs I’d just used.

I was frustrated, but I at last realized it was a MacBook problem and did what I always tell other people to do … looked it up on the Google. From forums.macrumors.com:

macbook screen bleached out????
i was comparing it to my new imac 24 2.8 GHZ, well actually the MB is newer, got the imac 3 weeks ago, macbook this morning, i found out that the screen on the macbook is bleached out, i know its not supposed to be equal to that of the imac, but the colors are bleached!!!!! and the brightness is lower than usual, the ones in the store are brighter!
In another thread, somebody said to go to System Preferences—> Universal Access, then adjust the slider to enhance the color.

Ah, yes. That be it. Thanks, online poster guy!

And I notice that the offending feature has keyboard shortcuts:
zooming in on the keyboard shortcuts
Very easy to hit these, I wager, if you’re using an old-school Microsoft Natural Keyboard with your MacBook Pro and keep forgetting whether the Alt key or Windows key maps to Command (it’s the Windows key, in the opposite place of what’s on the MacBook keyboard).

-the Centaur

BLOOD ROCK Radio: Preparing the Reading

blood rock radio script, updated

I thought it might be useful to see the script a bit closer to completion. The script-style “SPEAKER: Dialogue goes here” style is my idea, and the color coding is an idea suggested by my wife (I’d been thinking of it but it was her suggestion that prompted me to actually do it). I also time it, and put time notes in the script when producing the sound bed – the list of music tracks that goes with the dialogue. Previously the time notes were scribbled notes on a printout, but I’ve got a little more time now so I’m doing it right. Oh, and I’ve eliminated the Seven Dirty Words – trickier than it sounds as you can’t easily do a search and replace.

I prefer to practice at least three times – once to get timing, once with the soundbed, and once for polish. If time permits, I do these on the three evenings prior to appearing on Ann Arbor’s show just before going to bed, as there’s some evidence that sleep improves memory consolidation (e.g., here, here and here).

But having a nice relaxed holiday afternoon to practice counts too.

See you all tomorrow at 7:20AM on Ann Arbor’s Unbedtime Stories.

-the Centaur

Pictured: a screenshot of the reading script.

Crossposted from the Dakota Frost blog.