Friday, October 17, 2014

My Thoughts On Criticism

            I am running soooo far behind.  Very, very sorry.  It turns out my new book is going to get a hardcover release which is making me feel even more pressure than normal and I’ve been freezing up a bit.  Plus I was out at the Books in the Basin festival last weekend (which, granted, was a lot of fun).  And my editor and I just did another back and forth over the manuscript.
            So, alas, still no Clint Eastwood.  But it’s coming.  Next week for sure.  And it’s going to be fantastic.
            For now, just so I don’t keep falling behind, I wanted to offer a few of my thoughts on criticism.
            I’ve mentioned a few times how important it is to get good feedback from people, so here’s a nice simple rule of thumb about criticism.  If I have to include myself in the critique, there’s a semi-decent chance it’s not valid criticism.  If I’m giving you feedback for something, and my notes have an abundance of statements that begin like this--

            “I think...”
            “I really...”
            “This didn’t do it for me.” 
            “I feel...” 
            “I just don’t...”

--or with some similar (or more emphatic) phrasing, my critique probably isn’t that objective.  I’m not offering advice based on facts or rules, just off my own opinion.  And while opinion has a place in criticism, it’s also something that needs to be weighed and ignored sometimes.
            My editor just sent me back a 540 page document (okay, really 270 because I crushed it to single space for efficiency) with all his notes and comments on it.  I think this is our third pass back and forth, but there are still a couple things we’ve been wrestling with on our respective sides.  I’d say there’s probably about thirty-five or forty solid comments throughout the whole manuscript (plus some quick corrections on the odd typo or tweaked descriptor).
            Out of all these, maybe four or five of them use “I think” or “I feel.”  Maybe ten percent of his feedback.  There are a few places he’s telling me how he feels about things, but for the most part he’s pointing out things that need to be adjusted, and giving me reasons why when it might not be clear.  Very little of his notes are opinions.
            And again, that’s not to say opinions are bad.  But opinions are subjective.  They’re “soft” criticism, not as useful because they revolve around a single reader.
            So be clear about the criticism you’re getting.  And giving.
            Next time, I absolutely swear, Clint Eastwood.
            Until then, go write.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

The Muse and Cake

            Okay, I’ve had a couple of deadlines shift, so I’m not going to be able to talk about Clint Eastwood like I planned.  Instead, I’d like to share a few quick observations about the muse that crossed my mind a few days ago.
            There is no muse. 
            The muse is a lie. 
            There is only you. 
            Writing is work.  The muse is not going to do the work for you because the muse, as I said, is a lie.  The muse is not going to sort out that plot snarl or polish that dialogue or put down those one thousand words today.  The only person who will do that work is you.  That’s the ugly truth.
            The idea of the muse has been pulled from mythology and perpetuated by modern writing classes and gurus to excuse lazy behavior.  It’s an artistic, pseudo-intellectual scapegoat.  People who don’t feel like writing, who don’t feel like solving problems, they blame the muse.
            Waiting on the muse is another way of saying wasting time.  Every day you wait on the muse is a day someone else is writing more than you.  A day someone is getting more experience than you.  A day that someone is getting better than you.
            Stop waiting on the muse.
            Write.  If you want to write, if you want to be a writer, if you want to become a better writer, you need to write.  You’re going to write a ton of stuff and a lot of it is going to be crap.  But that’s how we get to the good stuff.  By working at it. 
            Not by waiting for the muse.
            Next time, Clint Eastwood.  For real.
            Until then, go write.

            No excuses.  Go write.