Thursday, April 7, 2011

Judging Your Own Work

Now this is something I find almost impossible to do.

Every single time I sit down to write I make the journey from 'My God this sucks' to 'this is starting to hang together' to 'I'm liking this!' and back to 'this is total crap.' Somewhere through that process I actually get a buzz - usually when I forget to think critically at all.

I've won prizes and been shortlisted for genre awards. Other writer friends say I write well. Every now and then I will get a shock when a dedicated critiquer who does nothing but criticize me and my work introduces me as a 'fine writer.'

It seems that I have no capacity for objectivity. When I look at the work that I have done I see the prose through a microscope (showing ugliness usually) and the story from a lightyear away - focused on the shape of the whole thing and its various subplots.

Getting critique is one way to get feedback. Reviews on published work are another. I'm not sure which one is crueler, probably the reviews since they are public and liable to effect sales.

I got a mixed review on The Calvanni from one of the Asif reviewers when it came out in 2006 (the other one loved it). She went on about unnecessary complexity etc When I met her some months later at a convention she said. 'You know I really liked the book.' Well why the Hell couldn't you have said that in print!

On a day-to-day basis, how are you supposed to get any sort of handle on your work?

I guess writing is a never-ending series of judgements you make - is the sentence too long, is there enough description, should the clown really kill the president, how big are his shoes etc. Yet when the high of actually being in the flow fades, all I am left with is a sense of unease.

How do you go about judging your own work as you progress? Is it actually impossible?


MataPam said...

I _think_ you get better with experience. Or is that hope? Of course you've got to find critiquers who know what they're doing, and they're thin on the ground.

Novel-wise, I've had two professionals critique one and two books, but I'm not on a good enough basis to ask for more than was offered.

Shorts? :: sigh :: Sarah's pointy boots . . . I think I see what I was doing wrong - mainly writing the start of a novel - and the clean up showed me how much better evn a novel version could be.

But I really do need to find a regular crit group. Because "better" leaves plenty of room for further improvement.

MataPam said...

Umm, which didn't quite address the topic.

I think I'm getting progressively better at judging my own stuff. I see the weak spots now, mainly because of critiques of other stuff have made me aware of the problem. Now my critiques find other problems, less serious and handled with a few additions and deletions, rather than major rewites.

So I think I'm not just improving as a writer, but my ability to look at my work and see the technical flaws is improving.

Sarah A. Hoyt said...


I can't do it. Everything I write is crap, as far as the internal editor is concerned. Somedays I think the internal editor is right, sometimes I think it's insane... Then I read other writers' opinion of their work and boggle. "Really? That's your favorite book and THAT's the one you hate?" So, I'm not alone.
And then sometimes, like yesterday, I have to search one of my earlier books and end up reading it and going "Hey, this is not half bad." (Gentleman Takes a Chance.)

Chris McMahon said...

Hi, Matapam. The advice you get from critique groups can be very mixed, and some of it downright wrong - at least for your story. You are right about it being hard to find good critiquers.

The main problem with critique groups is that they tend to push your work toward overcrafting. The bad gets taken out - but so does the good stuff, the stuff that may have made it stand out. Human personality being what it is, someone is bound to not like even what is working in your story.

I guess that's why I was thinking along these lines to being with. I think you need some sense of what your story is to begin with and its strengths and weaknesses, to sort of buffer against that stuff.

Chris McMahon said...

Hi, Sarah. Nice to know I'm not alone.

Do you find that inner critic effects your application to the craft? How do you deal with it in terms of blocking your work flow?

Chris L said...

Hi Chris,

I rarely show my work to anyone and the first time most people see it is in print. In fact, all of the shorts I've had accepted have never been read by anyone but me and the editors before they're relased.

I find that, as you have already said, first readers will say "You can't write that!" and force me to quench the spark that fired the story.

I do have hope for one story I gave to a young woman to have her reveiw my 'young woman voice'. It was shortlisted with a popular horror mag before it went under a couple of months ago. If I can can that published it would be the first time a reader has helped me at all!

I'm not saying I like this situation, it's just the way it is.

Dave Freer said...

I find I'm a terrible judge of my own work. (I usually find it inadequate - until years later). I also find parrallels with ChrisL's experience - - especially with outlines, proposals and parts-of-work, where people derail me :-)

Amanda Green said...

Chris, I am my own worst critic. I'm convinced that everything I write is drivel and crap and other things best not said. That's usually when Sarah and Kate slap me, metaphorically because they are too far away to do it in actuality, and remind me that my internal editor is a *itch and I shouldn't listen to her. I can go back later, much later, and read something I've written and admit it doesn't suck. But that's about the extent of it. Because of that, I do rely on my first readers for the objectivity I don't possess.

Sarah A. Hoyt said...


If the inner editor didn't interfeer and I didn't go through months of total block while I work through the fear of writing, I'd write twelve to thirteen books a year, no problems...

Chris McMahon said...

Hi, Chris. I think my writing has copped a lot of damage from critique groups. I am starting to realise that I might be one of those people who do better with little or no review. Like you, criticism can really throw me off track, and it can tack me ages to realise I should not have listened.

Chris McMahon said...

Hi, Dave. I am also very subject to the derailment experience. I have perservered with group a lot longer than I really sould have when the people were doing me no good.

Chris McMahon said...

Hi, Amanda. It sounds like the overactive critic is more the norm than anything else! It seems amazing we end up writing anything.

I guess the positive thing is that we are all aiming for excellence, which is what creates the critic in the first place.

Chris McMahon said...

Hi, Sarah. I sound's like you have an excellent incentive to beat that sucker down!