Why This Blog?
First, of all, I’ll be honest. I’m not comfortable with all this blogging business. That is, when I say not comfortable, read that as ‘I’m panicked at having to reveal things about myself to a bunch of people I don’t know’. There’s the fear that I’ll be JUDGED on what I’ve written… Is the content funny enough? Is it well thought out? Does it make sense? What about the punctuation and the grammar? All of this is scary. (Apparently, the average writer is an insecure type, and I can vouch for that). So why do it? Well, see, there’s the question. I really want to make it in writing. I really, REALLY want to. And the common consensus is, to be a writer, you have to get yourself out there. And being afraid isn’t an option. So, here I am! I’m out there!
It’s good to be here. Outside my comfort zone.
Or so I’ve been told…
Reading over that first paragraph, I’m having a strange sense of deja-vu. At one time, I had exactly the same feelings about creative writing itself. I remember the awful crawly-skin of having to show someone something I’d written, the tightened chest as I realised I might be JUDGED, and even worse (dum… dum…. DUUUUUUM!!!) being really proud of a piece of writing, only to receive a critique which made me realise I wasn’t quite the natural I’d been led to believe. (‘Your emails are sooooo funny, Sally. You’d make a brilliant writer.’ PAH!)
Accepting Constructive Criticism
Yes, criticism is tough. But the key to improvement is to accept criticism from people you trust (and not simply show your writing to people who will tell you what you want to hear). Believe me, in the end, you will value and even welcome those negative comments on your work. As long as the comments are constructive. And there’s the word – constructive.
Before I consider what constructive means, let’s look at the word trust. I trust my husband, Mr W. With everything. Well, with everything apart from my writing. He just doesn’t get it. In the few times I’ve let him read what I’ve written, he’s nit-picked every typo (which, I’ll grant, is important), but then never mentioned anything good. After he’s fed back, I’m the writerly equivalent of a snail that’s been crunched under someone’s shoe. And that is not good.
You see, basically, he’s not interested. And he doesn’t understand the whole reviewing thing. For starters, it annoys him that I use words in my writing that I’d never use in real life. Duh! He can’t seem to get over that. I assume it’s because he knows me too well. To add to this, he only likes certain genres of writing – action, crime, thrillers, and war. That’s it. I don’t write that kind of stuff. He can’t get over that either. Thirdly, as you may have already realised, he’s pedantic to the core. For him, this means that on a grey and cloudy day, he’s certain of rain. He’s seen the weather report, and the meteorologists agree with him. They forecast rain too. But, he’ll focus so much on the rain, it means that he’ll not see the rays of sunshine peeking out, or the rainbow above the trees.
Don’t get the wrong impression – Mr W likes to laugh, but complaining is so much more his bag.
So, what I’m trying to say is, though I trust Mr W, I don’t use him as a reviewer. He’s virtually useless to me, as my confidence becomes pancake flat with every word he reads. This should not be the purpose of critiquing.
And here we have it. The crux of the issue. He’s not constructive. He can only see the negatives. On the other hand, my teenage daughter, Ms Backchat, (known, henceforth, as Ms B) is. She’s not cruel, but neither does she tiptoe around trying to keep me happy. I’m her mother. Why would she want to make me happy?
Anway, back to the point. Once you’ve got someone whose opinion you trust to review your work, you have to be ready to not always like what you hear. A critique is only helpful if you are told the truth, even though it’s likely to hurt.
However, as with the word trust, there are levels of truth too. For me, when I say truth, it’s preferable if it’s a truth that’s wrapped in cushions and feathers, so that it doesn’t hurt like a rock smashing into your face as your reviewer clumsily hands it over to you. If you’ve not been lucky enough to experience constructive criticism yet, the cushions-and-feathers part of the review sounds like this: ‘I like how you set up the scene. It’s really vivid, and I feel like I’m there.’ But wrapped within it is the rock of: ‘But do you need to use shimmering, hovering, and searing all in the same sentence? (But I like ALL of those adjectives!)
What I want to know is, why is it always the bits I like best that have to go?
For a novice writer, no matter how small the criticism, it always feels brutal. The cushions and feathers might help, but like the princess in the famous fairy tale, they don’t hide the discomfort of that tiny dried pea. No matter how many soft mattresses you might pile up on top of it, you still come out of the whole experience feeling bruised.
But, you have to remember that, if all that someone tells you is, ‘OMG, that’s amazing, that’s the best thing I’ve ever read!’ it’s actually not very helpful. Neither is them telling you that your writing is ‘Pap! Utter Pap!’
What we all need is a reader who can highlight the good, but also identify the bad. From this, as writers, we can learn and move on. We can get better. And for those writers who don’t want to hear about the bad, or who are not willing to act on constructive criticism, I’d say, their writing is never going to improve.
If you’re serious about improvement, you will realise that every time you write or re-write, it helps you to achieve your purpose – to become a better writer. And the consequent result, of hearing more positives in the constructive criticism that you receive, will make the pain of the rock a little easier to bear.