Thursday, 3 January 2008

Honest critiques are the best critiques

I was taught to critique work straight and honest. Never to say ‘I like this’ or ‘Er, this isn’t quite working but with a tiny bit of work I’m sure it would win something really big!”

And sadly, that’s what you get on so many places where writers gather.

I don’t want flannel, I want to be told how an intelligent writer/reader sees the piece. I want to know where it works for them, where it doesn’t, and I want examples, not generalisations.

THEN I can go back to the work and reappraise.

Just to prove a point: Recent comments among many on a story I'd written three years back, posted on The Workhouse, doing my ‘edit old stuff, tidy up and sub’ routine.

This comment was made about the voice:

“They all speak as though they're suffering from head injuries while navigating a second language, and the net effect is that there's a writer engaging in a kind of facile literary tourism”

Do I rush away to find a lace handkerchief and sob, vowing never to write again, or to give that person a bad review in return? (Oh yes they do... Ive seen this for myself on some very big workshops...)

FANTASTIC feedback! I almost danced round the study!

I do understand that many writers just don’t want this sort of feedback. Maybe when you are a very raw beginner, it could hurt feelings. And maybe, for those who are in this purely for ego, it might stop them writing… a dose of reality. At least that’s what I’ve had said to me many times by the ‘dress up negatives in cotton wool’ school.

It didn’t stop me.

But now I have a problem. In addition to the above, I have two critiques from writers who know about the culture and setting of the story far closer than I do. One found it poor overall. One found it good, but with some minor details wrong.

So in the end I have to do what all writers need to do with feedback. I will not rush around changing everything according to every item said, but I’ll listen to every comment with care, balance them and think, and rewrite in a few weeks time when it’s all had time to sink in.

And that voice will need work!

But also, people forget that the writer isn't the only person hopefully moving forward in this situation. The critiquer learns a huge amount...and I'm delighted if my stuff has been a good learning tool.

It's words. Not blood!

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