I’ve been thinking a lot about the writer and criticism while driving to Melbourne. I’m on my way home from a road trip to Adelaide Writer’s Week and currently writing from the Ararat Library where I am soon to give a talk on publishing. It’s a cool morning after a solid week of intense heat. A bit of a shock to the body and I only packed summer clothes …
This trip has been enlightening in many ways. I’ve had so many conversations with people who are working hard to get their writing out of their head and onto the page. Obviously this is a hurdle when wanting to publish because you need the content first. And like anything we create, this process is filled with personal issues around mindset, self-belief and the people we associate with. Not everyone will be happy with the idea of you writing and this is often about them not you.
I spoke to someone who is writing a book and was unsure about her process or if anything she was saying even made sense. So she did the right thing and reached out to an editor. Asking a professional, you’d ‘think’ this was the right thing. Unfortunately, even professionals are not always right for you. This editor came back with scathing comments like: Who do you think you are to write a book? You’re not famous. This is full of errors and not worthy of publishing. Not one iota of constructive feedback, nothing positive.
Nothing we write will be gold on first draft. It’s simply not possible. But anyone reading a piece of writing (this was three chapters) can glean various things from it that are good and bad. An editor’s job is to do exactly that. They should be asking you, ‘What is your intention, who do you think is your ideal reader, why are you writing a book?’
Through these questions, the editor can help you shape the work to get to the point you want to get to. I suspect that this editor has a lot of her own issues around writing, and possibly some jealousy, that flavoured her reaction to it.
In work shopping circles, we have what is called the ‘sandwich’ method of feedback when critiquing someone’s work. This involves giving positive-negative-positive (the sandwich) feedback. In this way the writer can go away with some constructive feedback and some positive things to like about their work.
Criticism from a reader is one hurdle to writing. Self-criticism is another. Even a seasoned writer like Markus Zusak, who I heard speak at Adelaide Writer’s Week, suffers from self-doubt. Here’s a writer who had five novels under his belt (including the bestseller The Book Thief with 16 million sales and 40 translations) and struggled through thirteen years to write his latest novel, Bridge of Clay.He said that at one point his wife was so fed up with it that she made him give up writing! But the novel kept a hold of him and he persevered.
Not everyone will love your work. The best you can do is put your heart and soul into it and get the right help to make it the best it can be. Don’t rely on just one person’s opinion. Gather a range of opinions and look at any similarities between them. If more than two people say the same thing about parts of the work, then this might mean that there is more work to do in this area. Take on board suggestions for improvement and just keep working at it.
If you really feel that you don’t have anyone around you to help you improve your work a manuscript assessment is a good step to take to get an overall, unbiased view of your work. This will look at the manuscript as a whole and report on all the negative and positive aspects of the work as well as give you pointers for improvement.