Thursday, 27 November 2008

There’s An Odd Thing About Criticism

There are some strange dynamics to literary criticism.

The people who are most qualified to criticise—editors and agents—will usually not be eager to comment, while the people who are the least qualified—your mum or your best friend—will bite your head off for an opportunity to read and comment on your work.

When you receive criticism, this odd dynamic remains: editors and agents are likely to find fault with your work while your mother is likely to tell you how wonderful it is.

These dichotomies are paralleled by most writers’ reactions to criticism. The better or more experienced a writer is, the more likely he is to value the opinion of his editor and the less weight he’ll give to his mother’s proud comments.

Novice writers, however, insist that such editors just haven’t understood their work, and anyway—their mum loves it.


Anonymous said...

I'm pretty lucky; my mum offers up some pretty intense line editing plus detailed critical plot and character and timelines analysis...of course, she says that she likes it, but if I could just tweak this...and we'll see what happens when I submit. I have a feeling that given her rampant book reading and insane command of language it will pay off!

Sally Zigmond said...

Lucky you. My mother is to be avoided at all costs when it comes to reading my stuff. If I copied out a page from the telephone directory she would say it was wonderful.

Nicola Slade said...

My younger daughter is my First Reader, nobody else gets to see it though I do discuss plot lines with all and sundry. Daughter is a stern critic and I trust her judgement - if she says it doesn't work, it doesn't work!

Jane Smith said...

My mother insists that she's a tough cookie, as far as criticism goes. But whenever she reads anything of mine she thinks it's fabulous, even if it's a shopping list.

Lovely though she is, I've recognised I need less involved readers if I'm to rely on their advice.

John E White said...

I have a friend, Rita, and we have met regularly over the past three years to discuss the progress (or otherwise) of my book, The Messenger. She has a great eye for where I go wrong, what doesn't work (despite the fact that I might think it does) and what does work and she is usually right. She is well read and totally honest in her critique. Sometimes it is hard to accept what she is saying - but I always listen and correct where necessary. I value her and her advice so much. To have someone like this as a colabrative colleague and friend is such a boon to a writer.

My mother, bless her (she would have been 93 today), would have thought anything I did was 'lovely'.

Sometimes it is hard to listen to the truth about what we have written, but if we are serious about mainstream publication then it is the truth we want - as painful as it may be.

Jane Smith said...

I'd like a Rita of my own, John--she sounds fabulous. The Messenger sounds pretty good too (I've read your profile). You should finish it one of these days!

John E White said...

The final(final,final,lol)edit has 20 pages to go! The 144,000 words was a task and the research was a total slog, but if the story gets people to challenge more strongly the ease with which politicians and big business draw us into war then it'll be worthwhile.
The brave young people fighting in these battles - who get no choice about where they go or if the cause is just, deserve the very best treatment when they return and that means psychological as well as physical. I feel indebted to them as their bravery in volunteering means young souls like my 18 year grandson are free of that danger.

writtenwyrdd said...

I'd never ask my mother to critique my work. She might have been a good mother but she is not a literary critic.

It is pretty amazing when people get all messed up over a critique. I know from personal experience you don't like negative responses, but you have to consider even those you disagree with in order to see if they are correct. They often are. (Stupid ego likes to deny it, though!)