Thursday, June 24, 2010

Seeking Criticism

One of the duties that comes with being a writer is to seek out criticism. But there is an art to where you seek it and how you let it affect you.

Without knowing what we are doing wrong, writers can’t grow and improve. It is vital that we put out our work to be cut apart by our fellow writers, critics, agents, and publishers. It is only by learning from our mistakes that we can improve.

The problems lies in style. No two people really have or like or understand the same style. That is important to distinguish because if you just blindly take all criticism, your style will end up mimicking your critics and that takes away your own style. What you have to do is put on a style filter. You filter out all their comments that don’t match your style and take what is left. That is what they have for you. Sometimes that may be nothing and other times it could still be a lot. And don’t forget that part of style relates to your genre. Not everyone is cut out to write in every genre, or critique in every genre, but they try anyway. Make sure you build that into your style filter on a project by project basis.

Another area to consider is the critic’s qualifications. Are they a successful published author, writing teacher, or trained professional, or are they an amateur. Not that any of those is an automatic disqualifier, but it is something to consider. If your critic gives you advice but doesn’t know what they are talking about, how does that help you? It doesn’t. It can be very detrimental. You need strong advice from someone who knows what they are talking about. Now this could be your grandmother who is an avid reader and she knows plots and characters and is willing to put aside the role of grandmother while she reads and be as critical of your writing as she is of anyone else’s. Relatives do not often make the best test readers because they often are under or overly critical and will give you the wrong impression. Most relatives are not qualified to critic your writing, but sometimes there are few others. Take Jane Austen. Her family were her early critics and when she made it to print what appeared was truly exceptional.

The harshest critic, if you filter out for style and qualifications, probably has something of value to offer. You just have to work to see it. Weigh all your critiques take the good and bad that truly applies to you.

This does not give you leave to omit everything you don’t like. You need to weigh what everyone says and the more times you get a comment, the more likely it is that you need to look at it and take heed. You have to be accepting of harsh criticism if you are to improve and that is the goal, to improve your writing. Don’t bury your head in the sand and ignore the flaws that get revealed. You need to be brave and take what is offered and make use of it. Time has been spent reading and commenting on your writing, don’t waste other people’s time by discounting it because you don’t like it.

You can never really ignore critiques. If you become a successful published/produced writer, it can go to your head. You still need to take criticism and apply it, not matter how successful you get. Just the more successful you get, the more qualified your critics need to be in order for them to provide something useful. But at that point there is another group to consider, your fans. Among your fans may be some long time experienced readers. They know what they like and they can tell when you stray. They will let you know. Give them heed for they are your bread and butter, the reason you write. Established writers often let their success go to their head and rather than improve or even remain consistent, they digress and their writing turns to rubbish. None of us really want that to happen to us.

To recap. You need to have critical comments on your writing to improve and then to stay good. You need to filter those comments based on a variety of variables so that what you get really applies to your writing and will help you and ignore the rest. Don’t take offence and don’t waste their time, use what they offer as it applies to you and you will get better and better and once you have an audience, you will keep that audience.

Not all critiques are made equal and if you can filter them in this manner, you will have what you need from them without being overly offended by comments that really don’t apply. I hope you can see through my ramblings to what I was trying to say.

Monday, June 21, 2010

A beginning

Where to begin a blog? That is a good question. I’m not much of a blogger. I prefer to write prose or to interact with other people. Unfortunately blogs tend to show the worst side of my writing because they are written quick and dumped out to the net. My appologies if my short comings, which I normally edit out of my writing, show through.

You’d think, with four generations of journalists in the family, that some inkling of talent at that type of writing would show up in me, but I’ve never seen it. When I write fiction, I can get in place where the words flow and the characters interact almost on their own. When I write on a more journalistic bent, such as will be found in this blog, I feel awkward and clumsy.

In any case, this blog isn’t about being the perfect blogger, it is about my fiction writing. First some background. I grew up in the 70's and was greatly impacted by Star Wars and a host of late 70's media. The result of which is me ending up with the tools to forge strong fictional stories. In other words, I’m good at making things up and going with the flow to a logical conclusion. It also means I’m really into Science Fiction and Fantasy. I started reading early. In my assessment test in fifth grade, I had an eleventh grade reading level. I devoured Mysteries at first, and then Science Fiction. I came to Fantasy late and I started with Terry Brooks.

But I also love history. I still have this set of history books from my childhood that I poured over. My grandmother, having been a journalist and an amateur history writer, shared that love of history with me and in addition to my many fictional interests, I have delved back through time. The end result is that I know what it takes to research a past setting as well as I know how to create a future or magical setting.

My writing started out as what would now be called fan fiction. It probably was called that back then too, but I didn’t know that. I’d take one of my favorite Science Fiction settings and characters, and I’d build a story around my own guest characters. Basically I hijacked these other worlds to tell my own stories. I did the same thing with Star Trek: The Next Generation, but I went one better, I made a script and submitted it. It got rejected so I tried again. Instead of molding their setting around my story, I made sure to just insert my characters into their setting. I crafted an excellent work... but I used one of their recurring guest characters which earned me an automatic rejection. C’est la vie!

I let writing go for a long time after that. Too long. I found an outlet for my love of characters and settings in role playing, but it just wasn’t enough. Having been in the mode of scripts, my next writing project was a movie script. It took place in the here and now without a wisp of magic or science. I quickly followed with a romantic comedy because I understood those were more marketable. They booth gather electronic dust on my hard drive.

In 2001, while I was at work, an idea came to me. It resulted in a string of words that reached 95,000 and became my first novel. It has its issues so it also is gathering electronic dust, but it opened the door to a series of Science Fiction novels. Not knowing when I might write one worthy of selling, the series is episodic so that each one stands on its own. The second in the series was interrupted by an idea for a Fantasy novel. That has probably been my best work yet I am currently shopping for an agent as I prepare to write two more novels, one another in my Science Fiction series, and the other will explore my interest in history, covering a good deal of the twentieth century.