I haven’t had much time to write lately, though I’ve come up with lots of ideas. I’ve also been dealing with criticism when I can, and I mean that in the best way. So let’s talk about criticism.
As usual with my blog writing, I’m going to make an analogy to something else. There is a group of people that I have studied with. They read the instructional writings of different authors, and then dissect them based on Commands, Examples, and Necessary Inferences in order to get EVERYTHING the author is giving them out of the work. It is their way of interpreting, or critiquing, the work.
Now, there is really nothing wrong with that method, if it is applied correctly. So long as the people I study with take the Commands as commands, the Examples as examples, and the Inferences as what they are, everything will go smoothly. The problem comes in if the people studying treat an example as a command. I shouldn’t have to explain. If the guide focuses on eating etiquette, and the example uses a fork, that doesn’t mean that to eat properly, one must always use a fork. Got it? Okay, let’s go.
We, as Authors, have to look at critique for what it is. Too often I find myself looking at every suggestion or complaint as a definite problem, when that isn’t really the case. To treat these suggestions and complaints as they need to be treated, you have to understand the reader’s intent.
Suggestions: Is the reader giving a grammar suggestion? Is it optional or does it fit in with the grammar of the country? Was the reader simply giving an idea from what they would write the story as? Or were they looking at your vision and giving a suggestion regarding consistency with an earlier idea? Were they simply pointing out something that is unneeded for your consideration? What will the reader’s suggestion do to the story?
Then, critiques: Is the reader distracted? Is he supposed to be? Are you trying to promote an idea the reader is unwilling to accept? Or did he get an idea you didn’t want to give him? Are the complaints “This is not the tone this should be written in!” or “This is the tone you seem to be going for, you missed a spot.” Do they, in their opinion, consider the characters too flat or so flamboyant that it is distracting? The list goes on.
The point is that, while critiques are useful, they are coming from a reader. That reader has his own level of experience and ideology and preference when it comes to reading or writing. There is no wrong or right in their critique, but if you don’t interpret it right and select the things that will help you, you may be hurt instead. I’m still working on how to do this. Here are some tips:
- Don’t let your critics write the book for you. It is absolutely essential that the book overwhelmingly fits with your vision. There might be some places of inconsistency in your vision, or ideas you can adapt to it, but it is your book. Any time that the critique strays into writing a different book, note their preference as a possible reaction to your story and tuck it away.
- Accept when readers have a problem. That’s MULTIPLE readers. A reader can stumble over any part of a book. Others, like me, can read through long stretches of endless dialogue and be fascinated. Since people have different preferences, go with what you’re going for and only change things if multiple people complain. That means…
- Have multiple critics. This should go without saying. Two people is a partnership. Three of four is a group. Get higher than that, and you’ll establish yourself as the center and the heart of the book, and any one critic cannot control your mind and writing. I am terrible at this, and these numbers are estimates because I don’t know people, but I still think the advice is sound.
- Get writers and readers for your book. Readers don’t know what goes into writing a book, and I find their feedback to be light and general. Writers understand the market, as well as themes, flow, ideas, purpose, and the things that motivate readers. You’re writing for readers, but writers can help you figure out why your bookworm friend hasn’t gotten past page 20.
- Don’t use their solutions for your problems… unless they offer something that fits with what you write. Any reader can stumble and point out a problem. You are the one that writes the book.
- Accept that people can be as wrong as you, about on equal levels. Don’t put yourself on a pedestal and refuse all critique, but don’t bow and humbly accept the rod of correction. Again, your book. Consider wisely.
- Don’t stick with toxic critics. Duh. If someone has more red test on your first page than black text, that means they don’t like you/your style/your story/your face. Move on.
- DO NOT GIVE UP. You have a story to tell. In the end, it’s got something worth telling in it. Use people to weed out what you don’t want or care about, but do not lose hope.
I say all of this, having never published a book, and having cowered at the whip of critics myself (though they never knew it, haha). This is for you and me both. And do you disagree? Comment and let me know!