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Short story writing: attitudes to writing, part 2


There are two kinds of criticism, constructive, and destructive. The former is to be valued, and the latter is to be dismissed. Asking someone for an opinion on your work is a risky business, especially if it is the first time you have asked that person, and you have to assess the nature of the response, as well as its content. If he has nothing but negative things to say about your work then he is offering destructive criticism and it is best not to ask him again. If he says he likes some aspects, but isn't so keen on some other aspects then this is more balanced and may be worth paying attention to.

Typical examples of destructive criticism are: 'It's been done before', 'It's depressing', 'It's self-indulgent'. If you have written something which is worthwhile and important to you then such comments are irrelevant. Some people just won't like your work, or won't understand it, and, regrettably, some will be jealous or need to feel superior. If you are unlucky enough to receive this kind of criticism pity your critic for being unable to appreciate what you were offering, and remind yourself of the good creative feeling which made you write the story in the first place.

Helpful practical criticism, from someone whose opinion you value is to be welcomed. But even then it is worth distinguishing between subjective and technical comments. Subjective responses such as 'It's too depressing' should be noted but not worried about; it is only one person's view, and the next person you show it to might think it is great. Technical comments, such as 'I thought the opening was a bit slow' or 'these three paragraphs on page 4 seem irrelevant' are often the most useful, especially if they come from an editor.

No one person's view should ever be taken as definitive, but if several people all make the same comment then there might be something in what they are saying. The final judgement must always be yours. One thing a writer cannot do without is the courage to do things the way he believes they should be done, even if everyone else disagrees.

The long and the short term

When you are working on a story you should be thinking of nothing but the story. The story becomes the world and all that matters is getting the next sentence and the next paragraph right.

When you consider the progress of your writing as a whole you should be thinking of what you might be able to do over the next three, or five, or ten years.

The middle ground is best left to fate. Will that story you sent yesterday be accepted? Will you get anywhere in that competition in six months time? Will you get something published this year? These kinds of question occupy the day-to-day thoughts of a writer, but too much emphasis should not be placed on them. Unless you are quite exceptional you will go through a long period of sending stories out, waiting, and having them rejected. Even when a story is accepted there can be a long delay before it is published, and even when one or two have been published the business of writing and revising stories, and sending them out and waiting for replies still goes on just the same. So don't let yourself worry unduly. Getting that sentence right, and feeling determined to push on for several years is much more important.

< Attitudes part 1

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