Tuesday, 3 March 2009

On Writers And Writing

I don’t often directly discuss writing here because this is a blog about publishing, not a writing class. But last week I read several excellent blog-posts elsewhere about writers and their attitude to writing which were so good that I didn’t think you’d mind a temporary diversion.

We all know that some writers—especially novice writers—find it difficult to accept criticism: some find it so painful that they blame the messenger, and react with anger and hostility to the slightest hint of criticism. While many writers learn to overcome their feelings and to learn from any negative comments, others never do: and guess what? As a direct result, they never really progress as writers.

Don’t take my word for this, though. Read Sally Zigmond discuss it here; or read JA Konrath’s views here; or try blogging newcomer Moccasin, here. And if you’re still not convinced then read Stephen King’s excellent book On Writing in which he discusses this in far more detail.

11 comments:

TOM J VOWLER said...

Sally's "Don't listen to friends or family, unless they're published writers" is priceless advice.

Jane Smith said...

Sally's good, isn't she, Tom? She edited a literary magazine for years: it shows.

BuffySquirrel said...

Ah, yes, the thing I've never been able to do: accept criticism wholeheartedly. Although I try.

Derek said...

We all know that some writers—especially novice writers—find it difficult to accept criticism

Along the same lines is Marion Gropen's blog post "Things Newbies Say"

http://gropenassoc.com/blog/?p=49

Donna Hosie said...

I find Sally Zigmond's advice very helpful. No one is harsher on my writing than me; keyboards should come with their own flagellation device!

Jane Smith said...

Buffy, I wouldn't dare say anything harsh about your writing--you might stop commenting here and I certainly wouldn't want that!

Derek, that's a fabulous link: I shall read more of Ms Gropen's blog, she's very interesting.

And Donna, it sounds like you need the deluxe edition of the Writer's Keyboard, which hands out electric shocks when you type greengrocer-apostrophes and superfluous adjectives. They're very effective, and I hear that there's a prototype in the works which provides whip-crack sound-effects, and dispenses coffee and gin.

Caroline Kent said...

How interesting

David Dittell said...

Jane,

As someone who spent 4 years in undergraduate fiction workshops followed by 2 years in screenwriting workshops, I couldn't agree more with this. Great post.

A lot of it is the culture of a workshop or writer's group, though. I found that as long as I always wrote lots of notes on the physical copy and framed my views as just a single opinion and -- maybe most importantly -- offered a few suggestions, that people would be a lot more receptive and would actually be more willing to honestly critique my work.

pete said...

Odd, I just posted a comment over at Cynthia Harrison's A Writer's Diary on this topic. (She teaches undergrad creative writing and has some interesting observations.)

When I was getting my BA with a Creative Writing concentration, professors pounded our workshops with peer critiques, and a substantial portion of our grades, since it's difficult to quantify creative work in a way a GPA understands, came from actually taking others' criticisms seriously and reflecting those considerations in our revisions. You wouldn't think this would be difficult to enforce, but the only way instructors can get some students to even self-edit is to fail them if they don't.

Of course many people aren't surrounded by academics, or even other writers, so they don't have that community of supportive, but blunt, readers who want your work to be better more than they want you to feel better about your work. (Especially if, at the editorial level, they have a vested interest in its improvement.) Usually the people who have been told all along that a piece is Nothing Short of Amazing, Mom/Dad/Honey/Distant Relative are the ones who have the hardest time taking external critiques. And why shouldn't they be? It's hardly their fault, at least initially.

But difficult things are what separate writers from people who like to write. To borrow from my other comment: I received advice once that the thing to which you have the strongest aversion is often the last stronghold of the internal/external forces bent on preventing your doing something wonderful.

R.R.Jones said...

Of course I can't accept criticism, it's always wrong.

BuffySquirrel said...

I usually come out from under my rock again eventually....

:)