Sunday, March 2, 2008

Critiquing: the Double Edged Sword

It might seem odd to use the sword metaphor for an all-positive thing, but if you're the defender and the sword is yours, then that certainly is to your advantage.

My point is, that with critiquing, both sides of the sword are good.

All aspiring writers know how valuable a critique circle can be. You can learn a great deal from others' perception of your work. You can take the advice given and put it into play to improve your writing much faster than plowing through your education as a writer all by yourself.

First, if nothing else, critiques should teach you that no matter what you do you're writing is never going to please everyone--editors included. It doesn't mean your writing stinks. It just means that some people don't like it. That's fine. I don't care how much person A loves Tom Clancey. I don't. Do you think Clancey's feelings are hurt by that? Probably not. He already knows that a good percentage of American readers have never read one of his books. That's OK. He's not writing for them. He's writing, hopefully, for himself.

Second, critiques help a writer develop a thick skin. Thick skins are good when you start receiving rejections. But, at least for me, it takes a thicker skin to receive a form rejection than it does to receive one that includes a few helpful comments. I once wondered (on an online forum) if the difference between a pro writer and an amateur was simply that the pros submitted everyting they wrote until they sold it, while amateurs continually worry over the story and seldom send it out, let alone sell it. I had a pro writer respond, and he pretty much said, yep. That's how it is. He said that he just considers that everything to come out of his pen is golden, and someone's going to love it enough to buy it. At first I thought of that as a little conceited, but the more I thought on it, the more I realized that he's probably a good deal wiser than I am on the matter. After all, he's a pro and I'm not.

Third--and here's the other edge of that sword--critiquing the work of OTHER writers helps you develop your own writing skills. In fact, I would argue that critiquing the work of others does MUCH more than receiving critiques on your own work. Why? Because you're too emotionally invested in your own work to see its flaws as clearly. Mothers of ugly babies never think their babies are ugly.

Now, a challenge--instead of critiquing the work of another aspiring writer like yourself, go to the library and check out a volume of short stories. Something in a genre that you enjoy or that you enjoy writing. Critique it. Pick out those things you would have changed, and most importantly, identify why you'd change them. Slam the pros!

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