The trouble with criticism.

December 28, 2006

I love to write, and I love to share my writing with folks I think will like it.  And I usually ask them what they think of a particular piece, but here’s the rub: I don’t really, REALLY like to be criticized.

I just admitted this to myself.

A good writer has to be open to criticism, I think, particularly if they are asking for it, as I do.  But it’s just so defeating to give someone a writing sample, and to get back from them, “Huh.  I don’t get it.  Maybe you should develop this a little more.”  Or even worse: “Hmm.  Where are you going with this?  Do you even know?”  I think I dislike this question, because the truth is, I probably don’t know where it’s going.  I may not really know what it is I’m trying to say…I just want the reader to go, “Wow, I really like that character.  She is real.”

When I recieve criticism, I’m thinking “Oh, you mean you wanted a plot?  I don’t know if I can deliver.  But look at this great line, and look how I described the tension in the room.  Isn’t that good?  Doesn’t that suffice?”  Apparently not.
Recently, my writing group gave me some very good feedback regarding a short story I wrote.  I knew (and know still) that it was great feedback, and that I was lucky to have it.  But on some level, I felt utterly depressed afterward, because I realized that often my writing is for me alone and isn’t in any kind of shape to be shared.  It took me a couple of weeks to look at the piece again, to think about the comments I’d received in regard to it, to decide which of the suggestions I’d take, which I’d discard.  And it took me a while to understand that sometimes writing is good just for writing’s sake: the more you write, the better you write.  Not every single sentence must be a candidate for the Pushcart Prize or some other literary award.

New Year’s Resolution #1: Stop taking it all so seriously.

6 Responses to “The trouble with criticism.”

  1. stjarna67 said

    I think writing is another skill that one can develop. Unfortunately, the mindset given to us by uninspired teachers and other adults who tell us growing up that we can’t do it. Only SOME people can do that. Plus, like any other form of artists, I think writing takes criticism for not being “productive.” Sure, there is some slacking involved and/or waiting for the muse to strike. But those who have not experienced the head rush excitement of having those moments where the words and ideas just flow, they are usually the ones who sell us this mindset.

    I have always been told by others that I should be a writer, because I ‘talk in pictures.’ I decided that in 2006 I would write a rough draft by the end of the year. I am getting very close to my deadline, but I am almost done.

    Words are remarkable things. They can capture a fleeting moment, encase an emotion, slip through your mind unnoticed, be forever burned into it, memorized, felt, start (or end) a relationship or war, soothe, distract, resonate within you, or be enjoyed an celebrated for their rhythm and sound like a toddler that learns a new word.

    People like us who understand that may also find it difficult to find others who share that love of words.

    It’s excellent to see someone put these thoughts to text. I will be back.

    Consider yourself blogrolled!

    -sj

  2. Thomas said

    I was tag-surfing when I came across this post. My advice to you is to pay no mind to what you’re calling criticism.

    First of all, criticism is not, “Huh? I don’t get it.” When you respond to this person, you are acting as a critic, although you’re interpreting your own work.

    If someone is going to criticise your work, they have to understand what you’ve attempted to do, and then tell you how you’ve succeeded or failed to do that thing. Having this explained to you is very enlightening, because you may discover that you were trying to do things you didn’t know you were trying to do.

    While description and atmosphere is not enough, if you can capture it, then when you do deal more with plot, your writing will have something more, something plot by itself cannot provide.

    Writing is a craft, and of course it involves more than just typing words or scribbling them onto a piece of paper. Creating imagery is part of it, and so are observations about human beings, and so is the ability to capture all the little nuances of life.

    Beware of people who try to impose formulaic ideas of writing on you. They are an unimaginative lot, and are dangerous to listen to.

    You are learning a craft. No one says you have to learn all of it at once. For now, do what you enjoy. Try to write the kind of stuff you like reading, or the kind of stuff you would like to read, but no one else has done it yet. Everyone likes a story, of course, but let that come with time, and let it come out of your observations of behaviour and nuance. The best writing always does.

  3. I am a painter as well as a writer. When I write I often see, in my head of course, colors. They may not even take on any recognizable form.

    I just finished an eBook that uses several quotes from a particular book in it. While I was reading the other book I began to see a scenario that was quite odd. It was the birth of my work. Now I am afraid. I was so excited about it and I still am. But, like you I feel that by marketing it I am almost selling one of my children. Odd isn’t it? Only a combination of words and I have gotten so attached to it.

    I agree with stjarna67 that a person has to have a gift for it and that the schools don’t teach it.

    Unfortunately, our school system seems to take the creativity out of some children and while they do so they advertise to the parents that they want to encourage our youth to grow.

    I like your writing style. I like reading thing were I feel like the writer is having a conversation with me. I don’t want to be preached to, lectured or instructed. You keep it up. I will be back as well.

  4. stjarna67–you’ve been told right, you SHOULD write. That 3rd paragraph in your reply is lovely. Thanks for coming here. I so enjoy finding others who have a real appreciation for the power of words.

    Thomas–thanks for the feedback…it got me thinking. Maybe I’ve been too sensitive, seeing “criticism” where there hasn’t been any. I especially like your warning about formulas–beautiful, and timely for me.

    inspiration–words are our children! Very true, and maybe that’s why it’s hard to hear them not be appreciated. As a mom, I have been guilty of hearing a slight towards my kids when no such thing was there. Hmmm–thank you for the analogy. It clarfies some of how I feel.

  5. Grace said

    I related very much to this post, maryjunebrown (and thanks for stopping by my place earlier, and leaving the kind remark). I have been writing for over 35 years in one form or another. Having someone read something I wrote was a HUGE hurtle for me to overcome, for all of the reasons so eloquently said before.

    When I write something, I am literally placing a piece of my “self” onto the paper. So I want to be careful who I listen to when it comes to ‘criticsm’, for sure. I find that when I respect the person, and try to remain detached from my feelings, I can learn something almost every time. We have to also know when some folks are just cutting us down, because of their own challenges.

    I’m so glad to have found your blog 🙂

  6. HI Grace, thanks for your comment. It was interesting to think about people’s motives when they are criticizing one’s work, isn’t it? It’s that old saying all over again: “Nobody is completely on your side.” It’s comforting somehow to imagine that those criticizing maybe are doing so out of jealousy or some other motivation. Lucky me, though, I do respect those who’ve critiqued my work–they are so good that it is I who have reason to be jealous. Very thought-provoking comment…thank you (and I was glad to find your blog, too!)

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