I had so many ‘critical’ jokes ready to go until I sat down and started typing. Ah well.
I’m a writer (you may have noticed) which means that I sit down at my keyboard every day— ok, most days— and somehow manage to a few hundred or maybe a couple of thousand words out of my fingers and into Scrivener. I can promise you that they’re mostly total garbage, and you should be really glad that you don’t get to see them. I’ve posted a few things up that I’ve said are ‘totally raw’ and unedited and whatnot, but that’s me lying to myself as much as anything. I start editing a piece almost before I finish writing it. I nearly always go back at the end of my day and reread everything I put down, and by the time I walk away things are often very different than they were.
That said, and I’m sure that you’ve had this experience yourself if you’re over ten years old, I get too familiar with my own work and can’t see the flaws as clearly as someone coming to it fresh. Or, just as often, I can see nothing but flaws and feel like everything is total garbage and I’m a failure as a writer and also I’m a terrible human being and… well you get the idea.
So that’s where editors and beta readers and so forth come in. But even before I sent my work to those people, I want it to be in the best shape I can get it, and that’s where the critiques of other writers come in so freaking handy.
The thing is, though, that a lot of people have no idea how to give a good critique, and I am ashamed to say that I am one of them. I remember a creative writing class I took in college where we were all required to pass around copies of our story and listen to the whole class dig in. It was brutal and most of what was said was unhelpful at best and mean at worst, and the woman leading the class seemed satisfied by every thoughtless word of it. Frankly, it turned me off of writing at all for years. It wasn’t until I was idly chatting about an idea I had and my husband encouraged me to write a few paragraphs about it that I started in again.
But criticism is important, and a good critique can be absolutely vital to making a decent story good or a good story great. “I like this bit, very moody. “That character’s a real witch!!” “Why would she do that, it makes no sense.” “I had to read this a few times to really understand what you meant. Maybe cut it into two sentences and describe the place better.” These are among the sort of things I need to know to make my work as good as it can be, and while I don’t always agree (I’ve had critiques that were almost entirely about my style rather than anything else,) I often find a lot of guidance in a good critique.
The other side of the coin, of course, is in order to receive, one must be willing to give. Which means I need to work on my own critiquing skills. I need to polish up my “I” phrases (“I think this needs to be two paragraphs.” “I hate that guy!” “I want to reach through my screen and throttle you for this story….”) and I need to remember how to not simply fall into the prose and just let the story swirl around me like I am so prone to doing, because it’s difficult to help someone when you’re just floating along on the current.
So now I’m going to go back and work on the first chapter of one of my next books. I’ve had some excellent feedback. I’m not sure that I’ll put the whole book through this process, but I’ll definitely put up more of it, to help me ensure a good read for all of you.