Two years ago I read an amazing book called “The Right to Write” by Julia Cameron, full of warm-hearted wisdom about the creative process, self-doubt, self-criticism, and motivation. I’ve recommended this book to a number of writers since then, and decided today I would share the notes I took while reading, in hopes that you find them as encouraging as I did.
(These are part quotes, part summaries, typed here exactly as I penned them in my notebook. I’ve made bold the ones that most resonated with me.)
“You don’t like this plot point? Let me explain why it’s good…”
“Well it’s not confusing if you remember that obscure hint from 10 chapters ago…”
“Actually, it IS funny, YOU just don’t get the joke!”
“LALALA I CAN’T HEAR YOU.”
Ahh, defensiveness. All writers do it. Hearing critique can be tough, and sometimes it’s hard to resist rallying to our story’s side.
Writers talk a lot about hooks-the thing in a story’s opening that grabs the reader and makes them want to continue. It’s a popular question among writing groups when critiquing a first page or scene: “Where’s the hook?”
This can be… frustrating.
The problem is that critiquers often don’t treat the term like the broad, vague thing that it is, which makes their critiques broad, vague, and unhelpful. First I’m going to explain how hooks are subjective, and then how to make your critique more beneficial to the writer.
One time I wrote a piece inspired by David Foster Wallace. It was unconventional, not really a narrative, hard to classify. I didn’t think it was genius or anything, but I enjoyed it. I got some scathing criticism from an individual who focused very much on the rules it was breaking. When I mentioned that I was learning from DFW’s example, the critiquer said, “Yeah, well, you’re not DFW.”
Two weeks ago I discussed writing slow, a process often touted against but which I believe has merit. I decided to continue that theme with a post about other rules you can safely ignore.
There are important rules in writing, of course. Lots of rules are well-founded and should definitely be followed. What I don’t support is the attitude some authors have about these Rules with Capital R’s, the ones they shout from their desk with a zealously pointed index finger. “YOU. BAD AUTHOR. YOU’RE DOING IT WRONG.”
Let’s start with the one I see pushed most aggressively: Write every day.
I want to talk about critiques. Namely, the right and the wrong ways to give them, and there are wrong ways, so if you’re the type who believes honesty equals brutality or that “feelings” should be pronounced with a sneer and a sarcastic waggling of the fingers, I’d like you to read this post.