Sunday, 3 February 2013

The art of coping with the critique.

The best writers are those who listen to criticism. It’s not always easy to offer our work up to the scrutiny of others. Some of their comments may be balm to our ears and ego but others will make us want to throw our work out of the window and go on a bender or hide under the duvet.

I choose the second option but when I eventually crawl out from under the duvet, I take a deep breath, examine my work against the points my critics have made and start editing.

I’ve been involved with a number of critique forums in one form or another and have found the weakest writers tend to be those who argue when someone makes a comment they don’t like and defend their work so furiously they don’t hear what is said. Their work tends not to develop.

Having said that, not everyone is an ideal critic for a particular writer. Stephen King talked about the importance of finding one’s ideal readers. We all have our own style, which isn’t going to please everyone. Some will condemn the very thing that others admire.

Being a good critic is an art in itself, but however objective we try to be, we are influenced by our preferences. Writers write differently, and readers read differently. As a reader, I don’t demand loads of back-story or endless detail, so I tend not to write it, but many readers want this and they tend to be my harsher critics. They may not be my ideal readers but they make useful comments for me to think about.

I admit my work has sometimes invited criticism of glitches so conspicuous, I’m embarrassed to think I wrote them and rewrite immediately. But sometimes I stick to my metaphorical guns and don’t alter a thing, although not without considering the points raised. I once received some searing remarks on a rejected flash fiction piece, decided against any changes and sent it off again to have it shortlisted in a competition.

I recently read some work from my early writing days. It has improved thanks to those critics, so I say thank you for the support even if some of your remarks led to my duvet and me becoming too well acquainted.


SAL PAGE said...

Great post. It can be difficult but after years of avoiding anyone reading my writing I went in at the deep end with the MA and realised it was no where near as bad recieving feedback as I thought. In fact, I loved it and miss it now.

But there's always that comment that you dwell on but as your example with the flash piece proves, in the end you have to make you own decision what to listen to and what to ignore.

The only one that still bothers me is being told not to refer to something that people have not heard of - just because the person giving the feedback had not heard of it. I mean, how will we ever learn anything?

Lindsay said...

Totally agree with your last point Sal. I've learned about loads of things I'd never heard of from works of fiction.

Joanna said...

I think it's difficult at first to receive feedback. I almost want to cover my eyes and look at it through my fingers. I think I have probably done that. In fact, I have definitely done exactly that.

But after absorbing it and thinking about it with care, it is always helpful and takes you another step forward. It it much easier to bear after some time has passed. At first, I might think, 'That can't be right!' and then, a day or two later, I concede that it was a fair point and I can learn from it.
Recently one of my stories came second in a competition and I was supplied with some really kind, uplifting comments in praise of it. But at the end of the feedback, the final damning sentence: 'What a terrible title, though!'
I felt really stung because I wasn't expecting it. And I happened to really like the title! But I have thought about it since and realise now that it was just an opinion. I won't be changing the title, but I do see that it wouldn't be to everyone's taste. And, most importantly, I've learnt that receiving one or two criticisms of a story doesn't mean a writer should lose heart. The criticisms are designed to bring about improvements or, at least, some good food for thought to take into the future.

Many thanks, Lindsay, for such a great post.