Anyone can be a critic
Last week I was – quite rightly – pulled up on a couple of grammatical errors in my newsletter. I’d been rushing to go to a meeting and only had half-an-hour to write and send the mailing, and that’s when errors wormed their way in (or, rather, managed not to get wormed out!).
I could use this post to complain of the high standards I’m held to against providers in other industries - or that I’m only human and, despite being an editor and carrying out a hefty amount of proof-reading, I’m not infallible – but I won’t. Nor will I use it as a vehicle to further confirm my belief that NO ONE, myself included, should proof their own work (it was only a newsletter).
No, what I want to say on this subject involves confidence: something all authors will need and, perhaps, lack, at some point in their writing career – particularly at the outset.
Stating any opinion moves you away from being ‘vanilla’. Voicing your thoughts means sticking your head above the parapet. And this means being fair game for criticism. To some authors, this is terrifying, and can be a reason why their debut novel is delayed, and delayed, and delayed some more. Whilst some writers can’t wait to make their work public, finding the confidence to see it judged can stall first-time novelists into a state of paralysis.
I know my worth, which is why I wasn’t offended in the slightest that I’d been pulled up. It happens. I’ve had my own writing pulled apart by literary professionals, and though it smarted, when I looked back at their words with fresh eyes, I could see they were right. I’ve stated my opinion in forums and been shouted down….the reality is: someone will always find offence at your words or find some vitriol to throw your way.
I believe there are professional ways of giving feedback and would never rubbish someone who has found the confidence to publicly bare their soul. Even if I think their writing could be improved, mine is still a subjective view. One man’s trash is another man’s gem, see. When I work with authors I suggest elements that may make their book more palatable to their target audience; I may give advice, but at the end of the day, their book is their book. They have to feel happy and comfortable with what they put out there.
Never once do I suggest they’ll please everybody, because that’s impossible. But pleasing the majority is within reach.
It takes guts to stand up and say, 'I’m an author. This is what I’ve produced.' It takes confidence to be able to give another human an insight into your imagination. And it takes faith – faith that people will enjoy what you create, identify with it, learn from it….and that they want to buy and digest it at all.
It’s easy to be the critic. It’s much harder to be the creator of original ideas.