“You Can’t Knock Me Down”

If you’re a fan of the Avatar: The Last Airbender animated series, these words may strike a chord. Katara said them during a fight with Master Pakku, the titular waterbending master with a sexist attitude in the season 1 episode, “The Waterbending Master” (written by Michael Dante DiMartino). For those of you who are scratching your head about waterbending, it is the ability to use water as a weapon or defense—a different form of martial arts. Someone like Katara can use water like a whip. But her words are apt for me in a different context: handling criticism.


No higher resolution available. Katara.png ‎(300 × 241 pixels, file size: 82 KB, MIME type: image/png)

Critiques are a necessary part of writing. But I don’t always handle critiques well. Those who know me know that in the face of criticism I sometimes fold faster than a card player with a bad hand in poker. Discouragement often rears its ugly head. Too much for my dewicate widdle feewings. (And no, those aren’t typos. If you know Tweety Bird talk, you know what I mean.)

“Develop thicker skin” is the mantra many writers intone in regard to criticism. And I know this to be true. When discouragement sets in, I wish I could be like Katara in the episode I mentioned earlier. In that episode [SPOILER if you don’t want to know any details because you’ve just starting watching this series] she used water to form ice around her feet and ankles to make her stance solid to avoid being knocked over easily. [END SPOILER]

Developing thicker skin takes time, humility, and courage. I’m working on that. While the “rhino epidermis” develops, I have determined to improve my stance by seeking more advice on craft. In a previous post, I mentioned the craft books littering my living room floor. (Someday I will write about some of them.) But I also headed to the following sources for some much needed perspective:

• Janice Hardy, author of the fab fantasy series, The Healing Wars, has excellent advice here on being your own book doctor—shoring up weaknesses in plot, tone, and structure.
Sharon Darrow, Coe Booth, Tim Wynne-Jones, and other faculty members at VCFA provide great advice on many craft-related subjects.
• Writer Jen Bailey writes about ways to use poetry motifs to describe emotions more powerfully.
• Writer/editor/teacher Linda Taylor has great tips for polishing a manuscript at the micro level.

And there’s always this or this or this. Yeah, I know. Total procrastination, but they make me smile.

What are the ways in which you shore yourself up to avoid being knocked down by discouragement?


For more information on waterbending (if you’re curious), go here. Image of Katara from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Katara_(Avatar:_The_Last_Airbender))

Fair Use Rationale for Katara.png
It is believed that this image falls under fair use rationale for the following reasons:
1. It is a low resolution copy of a screenshot.
2. It is not used for profit.
3. It does not hinder nor affect the owner’s production of the series nor the sales of the DVDs and products.
4. It provides a necessary visual aid for this post, which mentions Katara.
This image is an illustration of a character in an animated television program or film. The copyright for it is most likely held by either the publisher/producer and/or artist(s) producing the work in question. It is believed that the use of low-resolution images of character artwork:
• for commentary on the character in question
• on the El Space blog, hosted on servers in the United States,
qualifies as fair use under United States copyright law.
The character Katara was created by Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko. AVATAR: THE LAST AIRBENDER and all related titles, logos and characters are ™ and © of Viacom International Inc. 2005–2008. All Rights Reserved. Original Presentation 2005–2008 Nickelodeon.

11 thoughts on ““You Can’t Knock Me Down”

  1. I need to toughen up, too. I can take a critique and act on it, but first I have to get through all of the emotions that it brings- not the most efficient way to do things, and hard on my heart. I’m working on all of these things right now- trying to make my novel the best it can be before I get back to the next one. Act one is kicking my butt as I try to clarify my protagonist’s attitudes toward a few things- she’s confused, but I can’t let the reader be. The list from Janice Hardy is exactly the kind of things I’m looking at, and it’s great to have all of those questions listed in one place. Thanks!

    • Kate, I guess we all struggle with criticism. After providing feedback on portions of my novels, my grad advisors used to tell me to wait a day before reacting to their advice. I sometimes forget this valuable insight. I’m so glad Janice Hardy’s post was helpful for you. It certainly helped me. Thanks for reading my post!

  2. Critics – it is a tough thing. It is your work, an extension of you, so I wonder how people can really . criticise. I wonder also, what have they done that makes them entitled to criticise?

  3. Excellent post, Linda. I really like your analogy to Katara too. Criticism is always hard to take as is rejection. But at the same time, if done effectively (something I haven’t perfected yet), it has value. Otherwise, we’d never send anything out, we’d never join critique groups, etc. It’s hard and we have to carefully choose whose advice is worthwhile and discard the rest.And once you’re published, that book is completely at the mercy of the world. We have to face the facts that even once we’re published, not every reader will love our work. J. K. Rowling has some very vocal critics too. And even Avatar isn’t loved by everyone (though I don’t know why).

    • Nancy, so much of my learning this year has involved giving my ego the boot. Because that’s the issue for me much of the time. Ye olde punch to the pride, sad to say. “What? You mean my novel isn’t perfect! How dare you!” Thanks for commenting! Don’t be surprised if you more stuff about Avatar in the future.

  4. Oh Linda, I feel you on this one. You know me. Someone can look at me wrong and I’ll tear up. Criticism is a bitch. Yet I don’t think we want to toughen up too much. As someone in workshop once told me, “That very tenderness and vulnerability is what makes you such a powerful writer.” 🙂

    You are a wonderful writer with a kind heart. Critique’s all well and good. Occasionally, even helpful. Just don’t let it rob you of your joy or your belief in yourself. You can do it!

    • Megan, I am so with you! We’ve had some interesting workshops, haven’t we? Someday, we’ll look back and laugh. Thanks for your kind feedback. Keep writing!

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