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I am a writer - late developer since I wasn't published until I was 50. I have now written 23 novels, numerous short stories and articles.

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Sunday, 13 September 2009
You could say this subject is akin to Inner Voice since when dealing with other people’s opinions then that voice is your life raft, hang on to it, ignore it at your peril. Criticism is painful. Criticism can be ignored. Criticism should be acted upon. Criticism is valuable. It’s odd but everyone of these, even though they contradict each other, is true. Criticism is painful. No one likes their work to be criticised – you’re close to it, have laboured over it, may even love it.(I met one writer who kissed her manuscript goodnight and tucked it up in a draw wrapped in a cot blanket – that, I’d say, was going a tad too far.) My initial reaction to criticism is plain fury - I want to kill the critic. I don’t get hurt, I get angry which is, for me, a good thing. Because anger produces an ‘I’ll show ‘em!’ reaction which is good and I no longer want to murder anyone. Criticism can be ignored. When can you ignore a crit? When it is from someone who does not understand and is unsympathetic to your genre. There are always people who regard commercial fiction as rubbish, without knowing or studying it. Ignore them. What to do when a crit comes and dear old Inner Voice is screaming “I like it as it is!” - then I think it’s time to carefully weigh what has been said, and if you still think they are wrong then believe in yourself. Criticism should be acted upon. If criticism is well meant then I think it is wise to study what has been said, take it on board and then act on anything which you find you agree with or jettison it when, again, the Inner Voice advises it. Criticism is valuable. If it is from someone you trust, someone who understands your field, non-malicious and logical then that is valuable. For, when writing a novel with its various drafts, false starts, and, if you're like me, endless fiddling, then it is easy to stop being able to read it impartially and there is a risk of hating it or loving it too much. Then someone else’s opinion is valuable. See how often inner voice is involved – it’s the link to all of them. My advice would be: The mantra should always be: THIS IS ONLY ONE PERSON’S OPINION. And do be careful who you show your work to. If you show half a dozen people you will get half a dozen opinions. Result? Confusion. A cautionary tale. When I was 26 I began a novel. I loved writing it but was unsure if I was doing it right. I asked two friends to read it for me. One was a Professor at the Sorbonne, the other was the producer of the cult film Siddhartha. If I had tried I could not have chosen two more unsuitable people – intellectuals to their fingertips. I found them rolling on the floor with laughter, “What rubbish!” they declared. Sadly I put it away. Thirty odd years later, now a published author, I found the manuscript, how bad was it? I forced myself to read this cringe making start of a novel. I read it, and to my horror I found there was no difference in that young woman’s work and what I was doing now! Just think of all the books I might have written had I chosen the right critics. Or, I had ignored them. Or I had listened to . . .?

6 comments:

  1. Great post, thank you.

    I think the hardest part is having the confidence to listen to you inner voice, if, like me, you haven't been published yet.

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  2. Another fab post, Annie.

    One thing I used to do when I got contradictory criticism was to try and work out what they were really saying. So if one person told me to lose a particular character and another told me to make more of that character, what I figured it meant was that the character wasn't working hard enough in terms of the book. A long-winded way of saying I listened to all the crits - and then followed my own instincts, just as you advocate!

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  3. Another great post - I love how you point out that all are true even if that contradict and Jan you are so right and have given me a light bulb as I sitting in that spot at the moment. I think I need to make a chart and see where they cross or touch and then pull back from the minutea and look more broadly - if that makes sense. Maybe I need more coffee - jet lag again :-)

    lx

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  4. Anita. I found your post so insightful, particularly as I'd been wrestling with how to deal with different views from experienced people.

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  5. Someone once said that if you sent your story to twelve people and they came back with twelve different criticms with which you disagreed, you could ignore them and do your own thing. But if ALL TWELVE said the same thing, you might be well advised to listen! Not sure if this is true. Good post, though, as usual!

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  6. Great post. Best advice I ever had was to 'zip up your rhino suit'. Criticism and rejection is all part of learning to write, particularly when you're starting out (I used to use my rejection slips as kindling)

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