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Writers Need Constructive Criticism

   Posted by: Ricko   in American culture

Any book worth reading comes on the heels of different kinds of editorial adjustments. First by the author, then possibly a collective of writers assembled for the purpose of critique. And hopefully it arrives to the eyes of an editor for that final polish. That last step can involve anything from line editing to content editing and the latter is akin to the mastering process of a good music recording. Some musicians and audiophiles refer to this process as an occult science. In the same way, content editing can border on the realm of arcane magic. However one may wish to regard it, it is a necessary step in bringing a book to publishable form. Along the way, one must be willing to invite criticism.

All of the steps along the way to a book’s perfection point (and there is a perfection point to sculpt to) require a certain distancing from the work. Initially, the writer must separate him/herself from the first draft and put on the editor’s hat to bring the work, through many revisions, to a condition where it is presentable for the writers group. At the very least, fix the typos. More importantly, through revision, push the work to a point where you can go no further by yourself. Wherever I live I seek these critique groups with the same impertive an alcoholic seeks AA meetings. At this stage you’re still in the realm of subjectivity, still living in your own head. When you’ve created your own little world with your writing, it’s not surprising to be instinctively on the defense when someone seemingly attacks that world.

This is where the tricky part is, and some are better than others at taking constructive criticism. It gets complicated because artists/creatives can be pretty thin-skinned folks. And on top of that you need a filter for the criticism. People have their own agendas, reading backgrounds and general life orientation. I make it a habit to remind those in my critique group that I’m not there for a pat on the back– I’m there to make what I bring with me better, and hopefully be of use in lifting the work they in turn throw under my nose. Amidst all this humility, one needs confidence. In the words of ole Kinky Friedman, “You can’t write a novel if you’re riddled with self-doubt. Indeed the quality most precious to an author is the absence of self-doubt.”

In this spirit, bringing a boulder of confidence to the table along with a good chunk of humility is of the utmost importance. And a vision, a good idea of what you are shooting for. In music, the end result should bring the artist full circle to the moment of conception, what it sounds like in their head in the first place. You need this kind of compass for a work of prose. That makes it quite easy to discern which comments are in line with that vision and which are contrary or irrelevant to it. But no matter how much confidence, be prepared to have your world rocked. I don’t always heed my own words– recently I attended a group I hadn’t been to in a while but for whom I hold in high regard. I thought I’d take along an important scene from the beginning of the novel, as I’m nearing the bend toward a serious revisionary pass of the book. I was rushed, trying to get out of the house in time. I carved out and printed something that hadn’t been pushed as far as it could on my own, knowing it already had problems. The critique was a tough enough punch in the gut, all the more painful due to a lack of preparation.

I once attended a literary event that focused on a self-published novel for which the author had neither hired an editor nor sought much input from others in any forum. This fact was a particular bragging point to the author– on reading, the absence was clearly evident and just a few pages in and I quickly dropped it.

Making one’s work better requires the suspension of one’s ego. The work is separate from the self, and remarks about the work are just remarks about the work– an attack on the work is not an attack on your person. You have to be open to criticism. So whether you’re intending on taking up writing or have been writing for years, I hope you find these musings on criticism helpful. If you just enjoy a glimpse into how a book comes to fruition, I hope you find it interesting. But I won’t be offended if you don’t.

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This entry was posted on Monday, August 7th, 2017 at 7:39 am and is filed under American culture. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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