No one likes criticism. On some level, it hurts us. Naturally, the harder the critique, the more it can cause offense.
Writers need it, though. The people we go to for opinions on our work must be honest and forthright, if their assistance is to be of any value to us.
The problem lies within our minds. The more we work on a piece, the more invested in it we become.
Thus we can become almost protective of our work, sheltering it from any criticism it may receive.
When my new tutor, Rob, first gave me his opinion of my manuscript, I was somewhat disappointed.
The idea of going back and rewriting the entire project yet again was hard to accept. I was tempted to start rationalizing his comments; he’s American, he doesn’t get my style. He’s from an older generation, out of touch with the modern, open attitudes toward composition.
Having done two apprenticeships and having studied under master craftsmen before, I was saved from going down that path.
As long as the sun rises and sets upon this planet, wisdom garnered from years of experience will be of more value than diamonds.
Looking at our progress thus far, acceptance of Rob’s offer of help is probably one of the best decisions I have ever made.
After chapter four was completed, we had a meeting and a change of procedure was implemented.
The first four chapters were processed with Rob doing an initial rewrite. Upon receipt of the rewritten chapter, I would then write the new text over the old, adding and adjusting as I saw fit.
Rob would then explain why he had made the changes. We would discuss the technical reasoning behind the alterations.
The final product was a meeting of the two minds, many of my re-adjustments of Rob’s work being culturally based.
By chapter four, I was beginning to anticipate the changes before they arrived, so I suggested a different methodology from then on.
I am now rewriting the chapter first, then emailing Rob the result. He is then checking my work and sending back any amendments required.
It is a natural teaching progression, and one which makes perfect sense to me.
When I used to teach percussion, I would try to avoid sitting behind the student’s drum-kit and showing them the exercise. Sometimes it was necessary, to enthuse a student with a demonstration of the result which lay ahead of them. Most of the time, though, there was advantage in letting them get to grips with the physical side of the exercise as quickly as possible.
It helped them to remember what was needed, and also assisted me in spotting any negative tendencies. With drumming, the fact that the art is a very physical one means bad habits can be troublesome to eradicate.
Writing may be far less physical, but those bad habits are just as problematic.
It’s interesting to note that I could always tell which students were going to shine and which had a struggle ahead of them. It was apparent by the degree to which they had their ears open. Not as to whether they heard what I said, but as to how they accepted the guidance.
As writers, our acceptance of criticism is vital for our progress.
Some may argue that the best artists in the field were self-taught and, to a degree, I guess they are right. The great artists of the past lived in a very different world, though.
Guidance was hard-won, and dependent entirely on their having access to such wisdom. Indeed, just getting published so as to facilitate critique of their work was an achievement in its own right.
Not so today, though, is it? My publication of Highfields Volume One is relying on nothing more than a free button push.
It is this very freedom of the modern e-book publishing world that is its greatest danger. We are not forced to accept guidance from anyone at all. We are our own masters, no qualification needed.
The fact that so many e-books tank after a few weeks is a stark reminder that we have no less responsibility upon us, even with our freedom.
True, no one can stop us publishing a book, but no one can make people read it, either.
So, before we start to minimize any criticism we receive, let us check something first.
Are our ears open?