Sunday, December 24, 2006

To Aspiring Writers/Artists Part 2

Dear _______,

If you didn't like my previous letter, then you won't like this one as well. No one ever said the path of a writer would ever be easy. However, I will give you one consolation. It's okay to get hurt by criticism. Everybody gets hurt--it's an instinct, an emotion. Even the best of writers get hurt by critics. Some even go as far as channeling this pain into their work. I'm not telling you to deny yourself of this pain. What I am telling you, however, is how to react after the pain. At the end of the day, it's not about you: it's about your work, your craft, your vocation. If there's anything that makes people remarkable, it's our ability to grow, to mature, to learn. In the end, that's what criticism is about: improving one's writing, honing one's skills.

Before I begin talking about criticism, it's only relevant if you know who your audience are. And writers should, even if it's only at a fundamental level, know who they're writing for. If you're writing only for yourself, then criticism from other people is moot. Feel free to disregard this letter. But more often than not, writers will write for an audience other than themselves. Be careful to note that there is a distinction from a writer saying "I will only write this for myself" from "I will write a story I can enjoy". The former is only concerned with themselves. The latter, while placing himself at the top of his priority list, still has other people in mind when writing.

Not all criticism is constructive. Not all points criticism shouldn't be heeded. But that's not to say we should ignore criticism. Who to listen to and who to ignore? That's why knowing your audience is important. When somebody critics your work, more important than them liking or disliking it, the foremost question in your mind should be why. Why do they like this story? Why do they hate it? It is only in asking the question of why does criticism become constructive. No one progresses from a comment like"this story is horrible". A writer can grow, however, if it is stated why the reader thinks the story is horrible. And when we listen to their reasons, we find out if they are indeed our audience or not.

Some writers, even successful ones, will tell you to ignore reviews, to ignore criticism, to even ignore editors. That's only true under one of a few conditions: if you're confident in your talent and skill or if you're only writing for yourself. The latter is easier to explain. You can come up with what others might deem horrible writing, but if you're honestly just writing for yourself, why should you care? The former is more ambiguous. How can you tell if your skill has already been polished? Ego plays a part. Not all published writers are good writers. But some do mistake popularity for skill, or publication for talent. One can easily claim that their writing is polished enough already and pursue publication. But there are also others who continue to re-evaluate and constantly seek improvement. I'd choose the latter, because that is the path of growth. However, a writer must at some point possess the same decisiveness as the former. One can get caught up in perpetual revision that your text never comes out.

In the end, I am writing this letter for the writers who want to grow. If you attend a workshop, you're admitting to yourself that 1) there's room for improvement and 2) the people attending the workshop have something relevant to say. The same goes when you solicit comments from other people. It's your choice what to do with unsolicited advice, but like I said in my previous letter, if you're asking for honest criticism, do not get angry at the person for giving you actual criticism. With every endeavor comes pain and disappointment, and writing is no exception.



No comments: