The last few posts that I've written have centred around the subject of criticism and in particular how to categorise it (Type one = immediately reject, Type 2 = immediately accept, and Type 3 = Accept after a period of reflection), but this then in turn raises another problem: how do I know if the critic is right or wrong? As an author, the best way to answer this question, is by honing and sharpening, not unlike a knife, your capacity for self-criticism. The best and only way to do this is by reading and writing more. The more you write, the better you get at it and the more you instinctively know what makes a good character and an interesting story, as well as what words are appropriate in any given situation. So when somebody - it could be a friend or an online reviewer for example - gives you some criticism (remember if it's not constructive it belongs in the bin!) you can deal with it accordingly.
Will it make me a better writer?
Sometimes I think that it's best to ask yourself this one, simple question: If I make the changes that they're suggesting will it make my novel, short story, or poem better? When I showed the first chapter of my novel, Jack Strong and the Red Giant to Sherry Ashworth, my professor at Manchester Metropolitan University she suggested several changes, not the least of which was deleting a lot of the over-description (there had to have been at least ten pages describing the living room in great detail!). Of course I'd rather she had praised the whole thing and given me an 'A', but that's not how these things work, at least not initially. After a few moments of reflection I could see quite clearly that by deleting the offending paragraphs that my novel would be all the better for it, that the narrative would flow more freely, and that the reader (Rule number 1 of writing: the reader is always right) would enjoy it all the more. Ultimately, by listening to and actioning Sherry's criticism the novel as a whole was improved, not least because I didn't make the same mistake twice.
The inner critic is also cultivated by the more books you read. Books, not unlike sunshine and water to plants, are what allow our literary and creative minds to grow. The more we read the more words swill and bounce around in our heads, and the more we connect with real, publishable characters, as well as believable worlds and convincing storylines. Ultimately, these are all what the MODERN READER wants and BUYS, so as writers we have listen to them. This is not to be confused with imitation - we always have to strive to be original - it is merely a tool to show us what is acceptable and what is not, and what is publishable and what will likely end up in the agent's slush pile.
The final draft
Criticism in inevitable, whether you are Stephen King, George R.R. Martin, or a struggling young (ish) writer like myself, but the trick is to keep it to a minimum. If people are tearing apart your final draft then the odds are that you've made some howlers, but if it's a few niggles here and there that can either be explained away (you are allowed to say you're right occasionally) or actioned appropriately then you are well on the way to getting your first book or poem published. What is important though is that you work extremely hard on your project and draft! draft! draft! until you can get it just a few notches off perfect (I for one believe that perfection is impossible). You can do this by asking yourself a few simple questions: For example, is it an interesting story? Do the characters come to life in your head and captivate you? Is the dialogue believable and modern? (remember most people do not speak like the Queen!) Is it too short? Is it too long? At the end of every chapter do you want to read further? Do you have to use a dictionary to understand some of the words? Does it make you laugh? Does it make you cry?
Whatever kind of writer you want to be, just make sure that you are a confident one. You have to believe absolutely in your story, in your characters, and in the language you use, because some people (not all of your readers will be nice) will knock you and rock your boat and attempt to do all that they can to capsize it before its even set sail. Everyone is entitled to their opinion of course but that doesn't mean that you have to listen to them, especially when they aren't being constructive with their criticism. If you are too shy, and too easily influenced by others then there is a good chance that all you will do is listen to this person's advice and then that person's until eventually you are blown off course. Sometimes, as writers, we have to be prepared to say: This is my story. I wrote it, I believe in it. Take it or leave it. After that the rest is up to the reader ...
If you want to read my debut novel, Jack Strong and the Red Giant, about a bullied, 12 year-old boy's adventures in space please check out the link below: