The victory is not to change the mind of the critic; it is to evaluate what you can learn and discard, yet still walk away with peace in your heart.
Shannon L. Alder
Criticism feels like walking across a pebbly beach to get to the sea. Ouch, a knobbly stone jars your big toe, “What do you mean my main character isn’t convincing?” followed almost immediately by a razor-sharp edge that slashes the tender sole of your foot, “The action jumps? Weren’t you paying attention to the way I set things up over the last two pages?” Just as you pick up the confidence to get going again, and start hobbling slowly towards the tantalising point where the waves lap against the shoreline, you almost twist your ankle as a solid-looking rock turns out to be anything but: “The ending fizzles out? Do you realise how much blood, sweat and tears I’ve put into this?” It’s tempting to become angry, defensive, depressed or all three.
The artist Ai Weiwei points out that “Criticism is, in the Chinese context, a positive, creative act.” If we drop our defensiveness, criticism is not something destructive, but one of the most helpful tools in the writers’ armoury, finding connections that we may have missed and suggesting new directions for our story – surely that character’s not as innocent as she looks, maybe there’s a sinister motive behind the way she keeps turning up?
So how do we get the maximum benefit from criticism?
- Refuse to take it personally. It’s the writing that’s being criticised, not you.
- Be appreciative. If someone has given up their time to carefully read what you’ve written and share their thoughts, thank them, even if you don’t entirely agree with their feedback.
- And no, I don’t mean take revenge if they’ve given you a blistering critique!
- Value the reader’s perspective. Neil Gaiman wisely observes: “Remember: when people tell you something’s wrong or doesn’t work for them, they are almost always right”.
- If you can see the criticism is justified, don’t ignore it – act on it, even if it means lots of reworking and rewriting.
- Ask questions. If you don’t understand why your reader has problems with something you’ve written, get them to explain. Criticism is a dialogue!
- You don’t have to accept it. If you truly feel you are doing the right thing, stick to your guns.
But why do we feel so over-protective about our writing anyway? After all it was us who said we wanted criticism in the first place. And surely, even if we daydream about our book being hailed as unputdownable, riveting and a page-turner, the very last thing we want is an insincere bunch of people with plastic smiles on their faces telling us how lovely our writing is? Because, unless we’re the exception to the rule, we all know that what our writing needs is the scalpel. And this is why we are able to stand firm, albeit flinching a little, as we see them come, our fellow writers and readers, ruthless as bloodhounds snuffling and slobbering around our jeans, rooting out unconvincing characterisations, “Would she really do that?”, flights of hyperbole, “Murder your darlings” (Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch and Amanda!) and weak points we can’t see how to fix and hoped could somehow be glossed over, “I hate to tell you this but page 102 really doesn’t work for me.” Ouch! Ouch! Ouch! But even though it hurts like hell, it’s welcome, it truly is. Would we really want it any other way?
Sincere thanks to the critics who have told me when it’s wrong and when it’s right! – Carol, Julia, Clive, Jerry, Fay, Amanda and Deborah.
Illustration: Girl by rock ©stevepb.pixabay
#Carry on the thriftiness
Back to homemade soups – thrifty and tasty – today’s butternut squash, sweet potato and chilli was delish!
#Edit my book & write more short stories…
Getting really bogged down trying to check facts in my book – should have made better notes at the time as now am not sure where some details came from & it’s very difficult to trace sources on the internet. Presumably I got them from research I did at the time, but where did I find it? Third story to People’s Friend sent off – not heard yet. Also mentioned possibility of writing a series – a bit cheeky maybe after only three stories!
#Do up the bathroom & loos (on a shoestring budget!)
Annoyed at ourselves for procrastinating as we’re too late to book in our builder for this year. However, have knocked old cupboards out in garage and replaced with shelving system – now Steve just needs to sort his junk!!!