Friday, March 2, 2012

Don't Use Psychology On Your Wife

(A Calvin & Hobbes cartoon)
(A Calvin & Hobbes cartoon)

I am writing a “novel.” I am putting “novel” in quotations because I find that “putting things in quotations” makes things appear “less pretentious.”

A few months ago, I had two chapters and a lot of problems. For instance, I didn’t know how my “novel” would end. This is a serious problem discussed in detail in the imposing “Plot and Structure” book I picked up years ago when I was a part of the Writer’s Digest Book Club. I belonged to a lot of book clubs back in the day. There was the Disney Book Club, the Cookbook Book Club, and the Writer’s Digest Book Club. Never mind that I didn’t have kids and didn't cook or write. I had dreams. And writing a “novel” has been a dream of mine since I first picked up a pen to write the thrilling short story, “I Wish My Parents Would Get Me a Dog.” (I was so naïve back at six.)

Today, I have 8 chapters, a notebook I carry around with me in case I suddenly get inspired right there in line at Rite Aid, those incredible Sharpie no-bleed pens, Papermate pencils, a sort of outline in the aforementioned notebook, a complete set of Calvin and Hobbes cartoons for when I get discouraged and feel like crying, and most importantly, an ending.

I have an ending.

Several months ago, I read the first chapter to my husband, who is the meanest person in the world. He loves me, but he can be very, very cruel. He gave me “constructive criticism.” I was told my theme was cliché and that my choice of certain words “ridiculous.” Then, he gave me a kiss on the forehead and told me to work on it.

I’m not even kidding.

Last night, I asked John why he hadn’t asked me how my “novel” was going. He put down his book and said, “How is your novel going?”

“Do you remember what it was about?”

“Yes, of course I remember what it was about.”

He didn’t, which really doesn’t bode well for me, I guess. He asked for the “manuscript.” I refused because his last criticism had gutted me.

“I gave you constructive criticism!” he protested.

“NO!” I said. “You gave me criticism. Constructive criticism means saying some nice things, too.”

“Actually, psychologists say you shouldn’t say nice things when giving constructive criticism because when you actually criticize, the person won’t take you seriously. So, no, I didn’t tell you good things. I told you helpful things.”

First of all, men, never use psychology on your wife, especially when she’s writing a “novel.”

Second of all, I can find no such evidence of his above thesis. Dr. Clifford N. Lazarus, Ph.D says to sandwich criticism in between layers of positivity.  Dr. Clifford N. Lazarus has the most awesome name I've ever heard and therefore I believe everything he says.

Finally, I’m reluctant to ever let John read anything of mine ever again, though undoubtedly I will because I actually respect his stupid mean opinion.

This is all leading up to the following: I may ask one of you to read my “novel” one day soon, and when I do, I only ask that you please use the sandwich method of constructive criticism.

(If people are going to use psychology on me, I should at least be allowed to choose the type of psychology.)


Anonymous said...

I would be excited if asked to read your novel. I would say lots of positive things.

BTW, I don't know how someone who reads Grisham can accuse anyone else of using cliches.

~ Corrie

Anonymous said...

Men are so blunt sometimes. Kind of reminds me of my husband. When I first met him, he was an avid ping-pong player and wanted us to play together. I said, "Well, go easy on me! I'm not that good." He said that "going easy on me" would not help me get better, and the best way would be for him to play like he normally does, and in time I would figure out how to do it too, and if I did well then, it would "mean something". 12.5 years later, I've never played ping-pong with the man.

Anonymous said...

Mean Husband here...I must respond to some of the scurrilous allegations contained in this post. First, I didn't cite psychologists for my method of constructive criticism. As to psychology, let the credulous and the vulgar continue to believe that all mental woes can be cured by a daily application of old Greek myths to their private parts.

I cited BUSINESS TEXTBOOKS, like Jack Donaghy would. And what I said was that a criticism doesn't work if you muddy it up with praise. If you want to provide constructive criticism, address the issue directly. If you want to offer praise, you do that directly. If you try to do both, the listener will learn not to take either your praise or your criticism seriously.

As the business for dummies people say: "Don't fall into the trap of giving praise and criticism on employee performance."

Not that Holly's my employee, but you get the idea.

Second, my constructive criticism was much more nuanced that that attributed to me. But I don't really remember what I said, or obviously, much of what I read, because I'm kind of an insensitive clod. Seriously.

But on the bright side, this blog wouldn't be nearly as amusing if Holly had married some sensitive guy who writes poetry in coffe shops.

Kim said...

How can you not believe the theories of a man with a name like Dr. Clifford N. Lazarus? He's named after a giant red dog and dude who rose from the dead!

I am also writing a... something. There's not enough of it for me to really call it a novel, or a book, or anything as concrete as that. Currently, it probably ranks just above a dirty limerick written on a cocktail napkin. Plus, if I start calling it something real it will just be all the more devastating when I inevitably give up on it.

And, I know I don't ACTUALLY know you in person, but I have done some editing in the past and am helping my Dad write a book about a mission’s trip he took to Ethiopia. Just throwing that out there! ;-)

Anonymous said...

All I read in John's post was "Blah Blah Blah Blah, I'm a lawyer, blah blah blah."


Holly said...

@Anon- Wow. You got a lot more out of it than I did.

@Corrie and @Kim- I take offers of reading VERY seriously. You may be hearing from me soon

Amanda Gibson said...

A novel! That is so cool! I would love to read your novel.

I'm exactly the same way with any sort of criticism. I want everyone's opinion - but deep down I only want their opinion if they agree with me or absolutely love what I'm doing / making / working on.

I mean, really, why WOULDN'T everyone agree with me or love what I'm doing?

Amy said...

Please pick me Holly. I would love to read your novel. After our dinner date, I have started writing again and I would love to share some of what I have written with you if you ever want to read it.

Holly said...

Amy love, I'll send you over the first couple of chapters. And I'd read anything of yours any time.

Toaster said...

I'd be happy to educate John about psychology any time, just let me know. :)

Christin Snell said...

I would absolutely LOVE to read your novel! I am constantly reading, and I promise I would give you positive comments surrounding any criticism.

Anonymous said...

I just got "constructive criticism" from my husband, too, although it was only a 2 paragraph speaker bio for an upcoming event. I was told that it was "boring", "just terrible", and that "no one is going to want to read that". He told me I could bring it back when I had something interesting in offer on which I think I'll pass. ;)

Holly said...

Between this and the ping-pong story, I'm starting to think I got off easy. Sheesh!

Toaster said...

When I replied before, I read the post, but not the comments, so I missed this gem:

"As to psychology, let the credulous and the vulgar continue to believe that all mental woes can be cured by a daily application of old Greek myths to their private parts."

This seems to be referring to Freud and Jung...both psychiatrists, not psychologists, btw. Most modern-day psychology has very little to do with the "application of old Greek myths" fact, that seems to be written by someone who holds quite a few myths about the field of psychology!

Holly said...

@Toaster- John was quoting, but not attributing the quote to, Nabakov, who was indeed referring to Freud. You smart cookie psychologist you. He said it just to get under my skin because, and I can't stress this enough, he is mean.

Toaster said...

Holly, you are definitely better-read than me; I obviously missed the literary reference. But we can agree that your husband has a mean streak. ;) (In almost 24 years of our relationship, I don't think Bob has ever been so stupid as to try to give me "constructive" criticism.)

Julia M. Reffner said...


I'm glad you're writing a novel. Have fun with it! It took me 1 1/2 years to write mine and a critique partner holding me accountable to do my 3K words a week. SLLLOOOOOWWW. But challenging myself to 1K/hour...finally finished with the RD.

Finished February 2nd. February 3rd threw it across the room! I guess that's what they mean about put the book away for a few months :)

Lori Dyan said...

Honey. You need a writing group or at least a bona fide critique partner who understands pacing, voice, gerunds, etc. Having well-meaning (or insensitive caveman-type) friends and family read your work too early in the process is a recipe for heartbreak. See if there are some groups through your library or other local resources (i.e. writing workshops). Long-distance beta readers are great, too - but it's nice to have someone there is person to dry your tears/handy you wine. Good luck and bravo for pursuing your passion!!! #learnedallthisthehardway

Holly said...

@Lori- I've been looking into a writing group. I am particular though- I don't want to join one full of twenty-something year old hipsters. Thanks for the reality check. I'll be careful...

Lori Dyan said...

Picky is great! I had a disastrous experience with a psychopathic Golden Girl before I found my group, so it's worth the wait to find the right people. Yay you!!!! :-)

Sheila said...

First of all, husbands shouldn't criticize, period. They are usually wrong and they usually know it and they usually get resentful when they know it making them want to criticize to feel right.

Second of all, I AM impressed that your husband reads your blog. My blog is full of witty awesomness and adorable pictures of his child. AND I have to bribe him to comment. Luckily, I'm 9 months pregnant so all I really have to do is give him evil 9 month pregnant look.

Lastly, I can't wait to read your novel.