How to know when the critics are right

For writers, I think one of the hardest things to overcome in order to succeed, is their critics.  Considering that writing is a relatively solitary activity, it is often difficult to make that big scary step towards sharing your work with others.  It is a widely known fact that writers regularly suffer from what I call, the it’s-not-ready-yet complex.  Redrafting and editing seem like tedious tasks, but somehow we thrive on the tweaking and rewriting, always under the pretence that we can make it better, that it’s simply not ready to be shared with the world yet.  At the end of the day, there’s no way to really know when a piece of writing is finished, or ready, but eventually we take the plunge and the deed is done.

It is at this point that we are granted with a fairly brief moment of relief.  Hoorah! I never have to look at it again!  This moment of ecstasy is shortly followed with absolute fear at the knowledge that we must now await the onslaught of our critics.  What if they don’t like it? What if they don’t like me? Or worse, what if no one reads it at all?

I have found that writers often choose writing as a career/state of being/lifestyle choice, precisely for the benefits of being able to work independently, to engage in a creative art which doesn’t require you to make speeches in front of a load of people, and to know that your work will be judged independently of your age, looks or social standing.  I believe that generally speaking, a writer’s primal instinct is to create, and to create alone.  Unfortunately, a writer must have its readers, an audience as such.  In writing courses, it is drilled into you that you must ‘know your audience’, ‘know your readership’, ‘know who you’re writing for’.  Kids, adults, fantasy enthusiasts, sci-fi buffs, romance addicts, crime fanatics.  Knowing your reader helps with your tone, your point of view, your language.  And yet, despite the fact that we write for an audience, we are often reluctant to share our work with them.

Obviously we are hard-wired to want to succeed in life, to be good, the best even, at the things we do.  So, after we have spent hours, weeks, months, years, slaving away at our work in progress, refining it and cherishing it like a newborn child, we, like a new parent, want everyone else to see how wonderful it is too, and if they don’t like it, well inevitably we take offence.

Now, back to the underlying question: how do we know when the critics are right?  Well, to begin with I’m the first to admit that I hate receiving negative feedback, but I realise that if there’s a problem with my work which readers are noticing, whether it be a grammatical error or a character flaw, I kinda need to know about it.  I understand this because deep down I know that if the readers aren’t happy then I’m doing something wrong.  This does not, however, mean that we need to change and edit every suggestion made to us by our critics.

I take you back to the concept of knowing your audience and writing for them specifically.  If you are writing a young adult fantasy novel aimed at current readers of books like Twilight, then you cannot expect to win the hearts of say classic literary buffs.  You might want to write a book about your family history, where your audience makes up less than a handful of people, and no-one outside that small group will ever be interested in, or enjoy reading it.  This doesn’t mean your writing is no good, it just means that you haven’t won over a readership that essentially you didn’t write for anyway.  I’ve had pieces of writing that some people have hated, and others have loved.  I’ve read stories that I’ve loved and that others have hated.  It all comes down to the old adage that everyone is different.  How can we possibly please everyone with our writing when not everyone likes the same thing?  Hence, finding your audience, and trying to keep them happy.

Ideally, when you receive feedback for your writing, take it all on board and try to stay objective.  It’s difficult to hear people finding fault with your hard work, and a lot of the time it might just be that they’re not who you’re writing for, your audience.  But, a lot of the time, these are the people who are going to end up helping you make your writing better.  If you receive recurrent feedback about a particular issue, theme, character, paragraph, then it’s probably worth at least taking a look at.  Get people who would be in your target audience to read over your drafts and see what they think, too.

In the meantime, remember that the positive feedback is equally important in improving your writing, because in my opinion, that’s when your readers are telling you that you’re doing something right.

~storytelling nomad~

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2 comments on “How to know when the critics are right

  1. I’m find a bit different with a different problem. I like to receive negative feedback—I actively seek it out in fact—but I can neither find anyone willing to provide it or to do so in a manner that is constructive. It seems to me that people either do not want to criticize you to spare your feelings or they are unable to tell you why the do not like a certain piece: both of which are completely useless as they do not promote growth.

    Another well written piece Katy with a good message! You have a nice conversational tone that is easy to read and makes your point succinctly.

    • I admit, I’m guilty of simply moving on and not offering negative feedback if I lose interest in something or don’t like it, but I agree that this doesn’t help anyone. I like to know what I’m doing wrong so I can make it better, but I suppose like many, I prefer to hear what I’m doing right! During my writing course last year at Deakin we had to offer constructive criticism to each other as a mandatory component of the course and it was so helpful. I’m new to blogging so I’m still figuring out how it all works, but it seems like people mostly read and comment on what they like…which is unfortunate for people looking to polish their writing, not just exhibit it.

      Thank you for your feedback though Dan, very much appreciated!

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