Writers and their critics

“Asking a working writer what he thinks about critics
is like asking a lamp-post how it feels about dogs.”

~ Christopher Hampton

The writer of the above  quote has obviously had a few poor, perhaps even devastating experiences with critics. His statement is therefore quite understandable.

Over the years I have had a few critics of my writing. Nothing as distressing as to make a statement like that, but disappointing at the time. The important thing about critics is one’s reaction to their criticisms. Most writers I suspect are like me and have a difficult time remembering that the critic is talking about your writing, not you. To depersonalise the criticism and then to take a cold, hard look at the criticism is often the path to becoming a far better writer.

This idea has been drummed into me over the past year while  I have been working on my Master of Arts in Creative Writing. Most pieces of writing, be that non-fiction, fiction or poetry, that we were asked to produce had to be presented at a workshop. The lecturers, tutors and fellow students were the critics. Having your writing critiqued like this was very confronting at first.

After a few sessions I became very comfortable with the process. I quickly discovered that I could no longer be precious about what I wrote. If ten other people are all saying that something stinks, I’d better rewrite it. We often get too close to our work. It becomes ‘our baby.’ How dare anyone say anything negative about it!

If, however, only one or two people say something is not working, I learned to listen, look at the issue raised and then make a decision on whether I needed to rewrite. Often I would make minor changes, sometimes I went with my gut feeling and left it unchanged. The final decision was always mine as the author.

Critics and critique groups can play a very important role in helping writers  improve the quality of their writing. I’d encourage all writers to find one or several trusted people they can use to critique their work. Family and close friends are not recommended, unless they are writers themselves. Unless they truly understand what is at stake they are better left out of the equation until the work is published. Then encourage them to buy a copy.

Good writing.