Friday, March 6, 2009

Writer's Block

Amy Jane over at Untangling Tales made a post called “Don’t trust yourself.”
She’s writing about humility and I get what she’s saying. Everyone likes to work with humble people. “Do not think of yourselves more highly than you ought, etc.” Or, like Mom used to say to squelch bragging, “Let others praise you.” But I’m really wondering what you do when you know you’ve done something good? The people around you are not always equipped to recognize the quality of what you’ve done. When that happens, how do you keep from losing confidence in your work while still recognizing that maybe the people you were hoping would give you your strokes don’t have the education or the artistic eye or whatever to give you honest praise and feedback?

Anybody who writes has had somebody close to them misunderstand or laugh at something they felt deeply about. In my case, it was an old boyfriend who read a novelette I was working on without my permission and then verbally tore it to shreds. I knew it wasn’t any good, but the characters were dear to me and I had put a lot of time into it. Another time, a person whose approval I wanted read an article I wrote for Among Worlds magazine about the difficulties of going out on one’s own after living a missionary life where someone always meets your plane. He thought it was funny and I was hurt. Those are the only two circumstances I can think of where somebody has laughed at my writing, but they’re definitive. The mind and heart tend to gloss over a hundred instances of approval and focus on the times criticism wasn’t deserved.

Yet, the writer needs an audience. What’s the use of “writing for yourself?” You’ve already thought of it; it’s all in your head, so what’s the use of putting it down? Unless you’re writing to communicate something to somebody else, there’s no purpose. Still, it’s hard not to let the fear of misunderstanding and harsh criticism stifle the willingness to share. (I do differentiate between positive and negative criticism. But in this case, I’m using criticism in the negative sense and the word “feedback” positively.)

Obviously, it is essential to select your (positive) critics carefully. Just as you wouldn’t let a child play with your great-grandmother’s crystal, I would say you shouldn’t let people whom you know don’t have the background or education to appreciate your work even see it. They’re simply not going to understand it, and if you persist in trying to make them like it, you’re going to end up with worthless feedback. Their suggestions may even damage the piece and will probably leave you feeling like the wounded artiste oppressed by Philistines. That said, you may want to collect several writing (helpers?) who are for you and can bring different viewpoints to the table. One person will probably not be able to critique your Epithalamion (Marriage hymn. I’m most familiar with the epithalamia of John Donne.) written in the byzantine style of Charles Williams. (Yes, I have written one of those. No, I’m not posting it. Nobody would understand it.)You’re either going to want a graduate student or college professor, or a self-educated Lit nut who is very familiar with Williams and Donne to critique that. But that first friend, perhaps someone with a lot of small children, will be perfect to review your children’s stories and illustrations.

Problem one: where do you find these friends to help you knead your work? Problem two: How do you punch down your attitude to be able to take it well when someone dislikes your work? Problem three: How do you differentiate between somebody just not connecting with your writing and when the writing is genuinely bad? Problem 4: How do you maintain the nerve to keep putting your work in front of people?

1 comment:

  1. 1: You find friends who have taken courses in college or just for fun that were specifically for writing. Its actually pretty easy to find these people in the Charleston area. 2: I learned how to do this the hard way, by having a class of 25 other writers and an author critique the hell out of 4 stories I had put massive amounts of work into. But, since not everyone has the experience of a creative writing course, there is the whole "you will always be better than some, and worse than others" thing. Take the compliments and the "feedback." Nothing is ever done. 3: You can't. Everyone is a critic. The question is what do you feel? 4: Again, accept that not everyone is going to be your biggest fan. You say "its nothing personal" and move on to either your next peice or to bettering that one.