Wednesday, October 31, 2012
I have a long history with critique groups that I've written about in the past and they have been, unequivocably, vital to my development as a writer. There have been people who I disagreed with, who I felt didn't "get" my work but even they often had very useful feedback. When they didn't, I offered my thanks and walked away, knowing I was under no obligation to do everything (or even anything) they'd suggested.
I know a lot of writers who won't critique the work of people they don't know. Why? Because time and again when they've taken the time to thoughtfully respond to something, the person being critiqued has done exactly what I've advised you not to do above, which means the hours they spent reading and responding to their prose was a wasted effort.
Look, we've all had those moments when criticism rubbed us the wrong way or when it was glaringly apparent that someone missed something or grossly misinterpreted it or decided to be a massive wanker for no good reason. But being snotty in return achieves nothing other than marking you, in that reader's mind, as someone who isn't worth their time. (If you're lucky. Things get much more murky when that nasty-gram you sent off in response lands in the lap of someone more connected that you realize.) Instead of responding with a three page diatribe, offer your thanks, take a deep breath, file away their comments, and later, when you're feeling a little more generous about it, look at their critique with fresh eyes. You may actually find something valuable there.
And thus ends today's PSA...
Friday, March 30, 2012
Those are all great answers, but they weren't what I thought made a bad story. No, in my infancy as a writer I thought what made a bad story was a repulsive premise with excessive description of bodily functions.
So I wrote a story about a man having a difficult, odorific bowel movement. Pages of description, incorporating every adjective I could think of. Oh, and he runs out of toilet paper. See what I did there? That, my friends, was my attempt at dramatic irony.
Guess what our next assignment was? If you guessed "revise that story into something readable" you are officially ten times more intelligent than I was at 19. Somehow, I didn't see it coming, and when the hammer came down I was mortified. Had I only relied on poor grammar and incorrect punctuation to define my story as bad, I would've had it made, but instead my entire premise had no merit. And I somehow had to make it work or I WOULD FAIL AT LIFE.
I don't remember the particulars of the finished product, but it was successful enough to win raves from the instructor. And it taught me a lesson I've held onto ever since that day all those years ago: never write about diarrhea.
Er...no, actually what it taught me was that any story, no matter how misguided, can become better upon revision. Everything is salvageable if you're willing to put the work into it. Or, in the parlance of that long ago tale, even a turd can be polished.
How about you? What's your favorite writing exercise?
Friday, March 2, 2012
Here's one of his short propaganda films, Our Job in Germany.