Thursday, October 1, 2009

Where Seldom Is Heard ...

... a discouraging word/and the skies are not cloudy all day. -- Home on the Range

Natalie Bahm's Wednesday post on encouragement and Bane of Anubis's Art Rant got me thinking about the benefits of encouragement and of critcism. I won't summarize either set of points, because you can just check out the original posts at the links above, but I do want to add something that would end up being too long for a comment on either one.

Encouragement and criticism both have their places in a writer's development. One, in my opinion, isn't worth the sweat off a dog's back without the other. If you receive too much encouragement and not enough criticism, you might potentially have an inflated sense of your own ability. Conversely, if you receive too much criticism and not enough encouragement, you end up second-guessing yourself so many times the universe will perish before you come to a decision (extreme example, yes I know).

There's this one writing group in my area, lead by a published author, whose focus is not on publication or anything of the sort. It's merely a venue for people to read from the stories they're working on and get (mostly) positive feedback. The last time I attended this group was more than three years ago because myself and the two other fantasy authors in there spun off into the awesome crit group we have now.

This type of encouragement is good ... to a point. You need the person who's going to give your MS back dripping with red ink because they're the only ones who are going to tell you what is and is not working in the text. The above writers' group is good for those who aren't ready for this type of criticism. And it is something you have to be ready for. Otherwise you might end up just getting depressed instead of taking the comments for what they are.

Then you get into the "artistes" of the world who've received universal encouragement from their little circle of influence, or been in a place where what they create tends toward being better than the limited creative types they have contact with. These people may have an ego the size of the Sears Tower and be convinced, through the "yes" men/women around them, that they don't need criticism.

Artistes tend to look down on the folks in the trenches who are aiming toward publication. And could use a page dripping with red ink the most as a reality check, but they're also the most likely to say "oh you just don't understand my work." Said comment means two things a) they think you're a Philistine and b) you just wasted your time trying to be helpful.

Critique helps make creative types better. There's no two ways about it. Having your work deconstructed in front of your eyes and shone where it could be improved is sometimes energizing, especially because the person doing this loved (or disliked) your story/song/painting enough to take the time to think about it. Which is what we all want to have, methinks.

And remember, critique can also be a form of encouragement. If it's worded properly, of course.


Davin Malasarn said...

Nice post. Yes, it's hard sometimes to be honest, but I think writers actually accept constructive criticism better than we expect they will, at least that's my experience. I think everyone appreciates an attempt to help them, even if it isn't always useful. We just have to try our best.

Joshua McCune said...

Excellent points. I always prefer more criticism than encouragement, but total criticism is killer (my JV baseball coach was a tyrant who couldn't say anything nice about anybody... our team gave up on him early and didn't care that we ended up 0 - 14)... but total encouragement leads to American Idol auditions :).

And, as David said, when critiquing, you can do it in a positive light to soften the blow.

PS - RE: Free The Princess -- love the title -- it always makes me think of Super Mario Bros for some reason (and then later I realize it's probably more to do w/ fairytales, or perhaps something more metaphysical beyond my limited cognition :).

L. T. Host said...

It's so important to have both. One of the things that I love about my crit group is that I know I'll get all sorts of opinions there. I don't mind hearing the bad stuff because someone else (or even the same person) will tell me something I did right, too. It helps me take the criticism without feeling discouraged.

And, it really gives me an overall barometer of my work. If the comments are mostly negative, or global, or nitpicky, it helps me figure out what to work on. If they're mostly positive, I am genuinely floored because it's a group of people that can ALWAYS find something to talk about. So if you ever hear me mention that they liked something of mine on my blog... it's a big deal to me :)

Good post!