A Copywriter’s Blog
And what have we learned? Ben Levy 29, January

Things I am capable of writing, as evidenced by sales, interest, or employment:

  • Ads
  • Scripts
  • Books about dicks
  • Books about owls
  • Autobiographical blog posts

Things I am incapable of writing, as evidenced by recent feedback from proofreaders:

  • Short stories

A few days ago, I finally decided that the first of my short stories was “done.” By “done” I mean it was ready to be shown to a select group of test-readers. I was expecting them to find a fair number of grammatical errors, and maybe have a question or two about character motivations.

I think the best way to express their feedback would be “WTF?”

One reader absolutely tore it apart. Just decimated it. He didn’t have a single positive thing to say. He covered it all, from the awkward sentences, to the plot holes, to the unrealistic character behavior. It was incredible. He didn’t just tell me what wasn’t working. He dissected why, and then presented examples of other stories where it was done right. I sat there and got my work shit on for the better part of an hour, and it was done with precision accuracy. Then he finished by slapping me across the face with the question, “So how will you fix it?”

Keep in mind, dear reader, that I work in Ad Land for a living. My job description involves trying to please multiple people with creative ideas on a daily basis. This does not always work out. You’re constantly told something isn’t right, or good enough, or (worst of all) boring. You survive this daily diet of criticism by learning that they don’t hate you, they hate the thing you made. It’s ok. Just go make something better now. Or you’re fired.

I have lived this existence for the last 11 years. Trust me when I tell you I can handle criticism.

But when this reader got done with my story, I was honestly, legitimately, sad for the next 90 minutes. I don’t think I’ve felt this way since my freshman year of college. It was excruciating.

And then it was exhilarating. I had just been run through a master class of “what you did wrong,” and I am incredibly indebted to that reader for the time and energy he was willing to exert on what was clearly a steaming pile of excrement. People pay good money for classes that are not half as instructive.

I started doing this to myself precisely because I wanted to learn how to write in an unfamiliar format. I wanted a challenge. I appear to have found it. I mean, ideally it wasn’t going to make me feel like a total moron, but look, a challenge was found. And I will sit through a hundred more soul-flaying critiques if that’s what it takes to figure this out.

Besides, he doesn’t hate me. He hates the story.

I think.

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