Amateur and new writers everywhere constantly cry out to have their work ‘critiqued.’ How do you get a critique? How do you find a cheap ‘editor’ (meaning ‘book doctor’ or other hired hand) to look at your work? But I have finally grown beyond that point.
The problem with the concept of ‘critique’ is that the word brings to mind the word ‘criticism.’ Criticism tears a person down. Sometimes in life criticism is needed, as when an employee starts showing up for work late and a little drunk. But it’s a tearing-down process even then. Criticism hurts, it destroys our souls, even if it’s prissily-worded ‘constructive criticism.’ Why would people ask for that experience? Here are the reasons as I work them out.
WE WANT THE BLESSING OF ‘OTHER PEOPLE’
Somewhere in our subconscious minds, we have the notion that we are small, weak, and inept, and that everything we do must have the blessing of other people, who are larger, stronger and more talented. If we show our writing to other people— any other people— and they say they like it, that means we are OK as a writer. We don’t even want to think about what would happen if the other person said ‘wow, that’s a piece of dreck!’
FIX: Now that we are grownups, we don’t need other people to approve of our work like we did in kindergarten. When it comes to writing, random other people may know less than nothing.
WE WANT GUARANTEED IMPROVEMENT SUGGESTIONS
If you have already decided to violated Heinlein’s Third Rule of writing (You must refrain from rewriting except to editorial order.), you want a guarantee that the rewrite you labor over will improve, rather than dis-improve, your work. Some of us have a naive confidence that any suggestion by another person, if carried out in a rewrite, will fix the writing and make it magically publishable.
Others of us hold out for someone we can believe is an expert. We may hire ‘book doctors’ (‘editors’ for hire) to give us advice we hope will guarantee that our rewrite process will create a better book.
The truth is, most people who suggest something about your work won’t get it. Like the beta reader who returns your sci-fi epic with a frown, saying ‘Your novel is no good. It has a time machine in it. There is no such thing as a time machine. You’ll have to take it out and start over.’
WE MAY WANT OUR EGO SOOTHED
Many of us have egos battered by life. We spend hours working on something for school or for work, and when we are done, our work gets pissed on, ever so genteelly, by the people that count. We are accused of not having done any real work on the project at all.
What some of us feel the need for, when we let others look at our work, is validation. We really need some writing authority figure to pat us on the head and say ‘Good little writer! You worked hard, so of course your writing is excellent!’
This is why some people, asked to critique, say how excellent everything is, even first novels by writers who don’t yet know how novels work. They think what the writer really wants is reassurance.
The problem is, when I get a reassuring response to my work, I tend to just feel the work was so pathetic that the person felt I needed reassurance and perhaps mental health help, rather than to hear the truth. Even when I know in my soul that my work is good, I feel that way.
GROWING BEYOND THE NEED FOR APPROVAL
If, instead of becoming a writer, you had decided to become a plumber, after you learned the basics you would not bother with approval-seeking. If the toilet you installed flushed, you knew you had done your job.
As writers, we need to get beyond the childish level of needing someone, anyone to approve of our work. They may say you can’t ‘critique’ your own writing, but I know I find plenty of things to fix in it. Seeking critiques to get more things to fix might be a way to avoid finishing a writing project.
Heinlein’s Rules 4 and 5 state that you should submit your finished work and keep submitting it until it sells. Dean Wesley Smith says in today’s self-publishing world it’s acceptable to self-publish as long as you keep the work available instead of pulling it down in a fit of self-doubt. Getting your work published— or having it sell well if self-published— is the main kind of feedback we writers need.
Personal Note: Yes, I’m scared to let other people see my work. So I put up a short story, The Skin Shirt, on Wattpad, and intend to add a children’s story, The Dust Mouse, in a day or two. I’m also working on another short story intended for Wattpad. Because of my Asperger’s Syndrome, I have a hard time with the idea of sending my work out (though I did it with my poetry years ago) and so publishing on Wattpad is a step in the right direction. My Wattpad account, if you are morbidly curious, is at: https://www.wattpad.com/user/NissaAnnakindt