Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Ignorant Cretins are People Too

I just read an interview Chuck Wendig and Sam Sykes, two talented* SF/F authors who spend a lot of time (where do they find it?) blogging about the writing process and related topics. The whole interview is worth reading, but I was struck by Sykes’ final comment. They were talking about criticism—particularly writers critiquing early drafts of another writer’s work.
Most developing writers have had the experience of writing a “perfect” scene or chapter or story, sharing it with a friend or workshop member, and receiving negative feedback. And most writers will, at one time or another, react with pain, bewilderment, anger, and/or disbelief. “How can you not like it? It’s perfect!”

And maybe that injured writer will slink off and sulk and undertake a search for a more receptive reader. Or maybe he or she will simply decide that the universe sucks and to hell with everybody. Or maybe not.

Here’s what Sam Sykes says about that:

I think that's the true test of a writer, because everyone will go, "What are you talking about? It's perfect the way it is." You don't want to look at something huge you've just done and have someone say, "Alright, now tear it down and start over." I think the writers that never get anywhere are the ones that continually get angry for not recognizing how genius this is. And the real writers will rage about it and cool down before saying, "Well how am I going to make this work." That's an attitude that helps you immensely: How do I make this work? So that's just the attitude I've taken and novels have kept getting better.

He is correct. Some of the most elegant, incisive, insightful writing I have ever done has hit the trash because it didn’t work. There were hundreds of moments in my (now defunct) critique group when I listened to some criticism of my work and thought, “You are an idiot. How can you not get this? Are you blind to beauty? Christ, I can’t believe I’m sitting here listening to this moron!”

But I said nothing, because that was the number one rule in our group: Shut Up and Listen. Later, reviewing my notes, I might say, “Well, so-and-so may be an ignorant cretin, but ignorant cretins read books too. How am I going to fix this?”

And so I do.

*I’ve read a couple of Chuck Wendig’s books, and can attest to the excellence of his writing. I’ll be picking up one of Sam Sykes’s books soon.

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