Saturday, January 31, 2009

Criticism

I have been very fortunate to have received criticism from some excellent writers who have improved my technique exponentially. A repeated comment from them to my expressions of gratitude is that I always listen to their suggestions and try to grasp how they can raise my skills. This has always struck me as an odd remark. I go to the doctor for medical advice. The final decision is always mine but I would be a fool to ignore his observations. Yet I have it on good authority that most wannabe writers flatly refuse to listen to professional advice. They explain why the professional is wrong in his opinion, why their masterpiece is perfect in every way and is unalterable and incapable of improvement. In short, they do not want criticism but praise.

To improve as a writer, one must be able to accept and digest constructive criticism. By that, I do not mean the drivel pumped out by critics. Most critics are not writers and simply promote their own prejudices. They would be writers if they were any good.

I mean criticism by people with a proven track record. People who have been there, done that, and have the holiday snaps to prove it. I guess one reason that I am open to advice is because I have spent most of my life as a professional academic. A science research paper is circulated to colleagues for criticism before it even leaves the Department. Only after it is edited in the light of their comments is it sent to a Journal. There an editor reads it and may bounce it straight back with an instruction to rewrite. Once it passes the editorial filter it is sent out to at least two referees who have track records in the field. They criticise the paper and make recommendation, which can include ‘Reject’. The Journal editor digests these and returns the whole lot to the author with an instruction to make changes, assuming it is not rejected. This loop may be repeated two or even three times.

All being well, publication follows.

So my advice to new writers is try to get professional criticism of your work, read the comments carefully, and then rewrite. Repeat as many times as is necessary.

7 comments:

Rowena Cory Daniells said...

Why would someone ask you read their work, then ignore your suggestions? That's absurd.

I work with a lot of aspiring writings via workshops and ms appraisals. And they are very keen to learn. I guess it's because they take the craft of writing seriously. Plus they are paying to get your advice. Anything that people have to pay for they value more.

Cheers, R.

John Lambshead said...

Years ago, I had something of a reputation for game design. The owner of a games magazine asked me to look at the Manuscript of an RPG game that he had written. It wasn't very good but he got angry when I tried to offer constructive criticism.

He didn't want advice. He wanted me to tell him how good it was. It was never published but, you know, I don't think he cared.

Ori Pomerantz said...

There seems to be an inverse correlation between real ability and perceived ability.

People who are sure they are geniuses don't bother to learn. While there are very few real "rules" of writing, there are plenty of best practices.

John Lambshead said...

Dear Ori

It's been noted that competent people tend to be anxious personalities who (i) are convinced that they are useless and so (ii) double check everything and try hard.

Apparently, the truly incompetent are so complacent that they don't realise how bad they are.

just a thought,

John

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