I took a creative nonfiction writing class recently, where I learned a lot about format (including what a nut graf is), and how to make my descriptions more relatable. The class was taught by someone who had worked for a very popular magazine (I won’t say which) for over 30 years, so I figured if there was anyone who could give proper criticism on my writing, he’d be it. The unpleasant surprise came when it turned out he’d been criticizing people for 30 years–and was tired of it. He gave us these wonderfully intricate short stories to read, and we were more critical of those than we were of our own writing.
On the flip side, criticism isn’t useful unless it’s constructive. Anyone who says, “I don’t like this because it doesn’t have enough sex in it” or “This isn’t how I would have written this” isn’t giving feedback that’s useful. I’d rather hear “This description doesn’t work because of…” or “This line of dialogue isn’t relatable because…” or “If you eliminated this word, this sentence would read better…” etc. Without constructive feedback, writers run the risk of getting an inflated perception of the quality and relatability of their material.
I have a few friends who have done professional editing for people–people who paid for feedback. What I kept hearing was “This person didn’t like my feedback and we stopped being friends” and “She gave me her manuscript because she didn’t understand why it wasn’t published. I told her my thoughts and she never spoke to me again.”
How will we grow as writers if we aren’t willing to accept criticism? Where is the lesson if we pick apart published writers (like we did in my class) and don’t take a good look at our own?
So I say this: Stop blowing smoke up my skirt! Please be honest if you don’t like something about my writing. Please tell me what does and doesn’t resonate with you as a reader.
I ended up approaching this instructor to ask how my writing could improve. After a few weeks of deliberation he told me to use more sentence variety. I am thankful for his feedback and have been taking a closer look at my sentences ever since.
-The Writer Librarian