Every Writer has been there. You’ve been there, I’ve been there and other writers will be going there, too. That place where you give yourself a stiff talking to about your performance. Telling yourself that you need to knuckle down and work harder. Before you know it, you’re telling yourself that you’re no good at what you do, writing, and then you find a hell of a lot of reasons that sound like justifications for the jury to slam you against the wall and ban you from the writing road for ever.
Constructive self-criticism is a good thing. It helps us gain perspective on our work – that perspective gets lost in the woods when we’re working so hard. But it’s always a balancing act to give yourself good feedback.
The Put Downs
The mind is a fragile tool that needs constant sharpening. If you use it again and again but don’t maintain it, then it’ll get blunt and things start to look different. We can easily convince ourselves that our writing is a bit naff, a bit on the pale side and we shouldn’t be so excited about what we thought was a good achievement.
In the heat and smell of burning rubber, it feels like the race is on. The brain reels and thoughts of greatness fill our minds. Those written words seemed to have flowed from the fingers like water from a tap.
You saw the words go onto the page and were sure that they were right. You were telling your story, a little editing and a re-read and surely it’ll be ready by tomorrow noon.
Being a good self-critic is important – imagine if you were one of those people who never stop to think about what they do. They bash away at their writing and simply believe that when the words all add-up to a big word-count and it looks like a lot of work and can be digitally transformed into a book – then it must be a book. Bang a cover on it and get it out there. Let it float into cyberspace and it’ll sell itself.
The Balanced View of Things
Those people tend to go through life using the same blinkered techniques of doing stuff. They never see the deeper value of things. The sum of words that were just a few, and with each added word things change, meanings take on new forms and a story or freelance piece can be transformed.
Learning to self-critic is about looking for the good and the bad and then weighing things up. Working in the knowledge that there’s going to be bad – all the time. It would be a strange life if you could write a piece and know that it couldn’t be bettered in any way.
Taking our work as a whole and holding it out in front of ourselves to take a good long look at it, and always staying clear of the over-subjective feelings of guilt and embarrassment at discovering that we wrote something absurd, or that we spent hours grinding away at piece that is really sentimental when the whole time we were writing thought it felt deep and meaningful.
Self-critic is about having the guts to look in the mirror and not be frightened of having the mirror speak back to you.
You want to get better as a writer – whether it be fiction or freelancing for Gigs – then it’s part and parcel of the life to become a good self critic.
Take a Step Back and Feel the Difference
So, whenever you stop to take a look at your work, a real good look, brace yourself for a surprise and be ready to stand back and ask questions about what you see. If you fail to ask constructive questions about the work, you’ll end up attacking yourself and turning yourself into a blubbering mound of sewage that hates itself. You don’t want that.
Ask questions as if your talking to another person. Be objective with yourself, it’s not hard to stand back and see yourself as another person. You do this all the time with characters.
Blunders and Stepping Stones
When you see something that is a real blunder view it as an opportunity to investigate why it went wrong. Search the piece of writing for signs of what you really wanted to say. If you do this, you will find some interesting facts that act as stepping stones to improve your writing.
Finding the Truth on the Way
You are not a writer because you like the pain of revealing your weaknesses, you write to reveal truths. You can only find truth when you get past the bullshitter that is guarding the gate, the lies that want to jump up and ruin you and your work.
By the way, when you self-critic it is perfectly okay to say things like, “Oh, fuck! I didn’t know I wrote that shit!” and then stand back and ask questions about the piece, not questions about yourself and your shortfalls.
You can also say stuff like, “Okay, so I wrote a pretty good piece. But that stuff in middle is pure dribble. I’ll just sit down and re-write it.” Then do that, and you’ll be happy.
Persistence, determination and knowing yourself are the best tools a writer can possess – keep them sharpened and create something pretty damned good.