Monday, August 15, 2011

The Writers Waltz

One of the first things I have learned in my prose creative writing class is this:  check your ego at the door.  The instructor wanted to make sure all the students could take constructive criticism.  His point was simple: the written work is a thing by itself.  It is not the writer.  Criticism of the work is not criticism of the person who wrote it.  That is true even if the book is not very good.  It just means the writer fails to execute or satisfy the reader.  God knows politicians fail to satisfy constantly and they still get elected and re-elected.  But I digress.

I say all this because it is important to remember for both writers (who might receive a bad comment) and readers who may be tempted to blame the writer for such a lousy story.  I think in such circumstances, it is important to remember a few things:
  • Just because one or even several readers don't like a story does not mean the story is bad.  Such things are subjective; they are entitled to their opinion.
  • Just because you read a story you didn't like does not mean the writer should be damned to Hell.  Writers are people and people are fallible.  Maybe the story is bad or maybe the story is just not for you.  Maybe you missed the subtle foreshadowing or the intent of the writer.  
  • Reading a story is like a waltz; the writer leads and the reader follows.  Make sure you (writer and reader) stay in step.  If you don't the music goes sour and no one is happy.
It is also good to remember where both sides are coming from:

The writer is a hard-working person trying to write the best story possible.  Often what can happen is that the writer works on a story so hard and so long that he or she identifies with it.  The story is personified and an extension of the writer.  When that happens, the writer needs to step back and take a break, maybe a long one, until his or her perspective is restored.

The reader, whether causal or avid, wants a good story and to be entertained.  He or her may be looking to escape from the world for an hour or more or may want to meet the characters in the story.  If they have never written anything long or if they dislike writing completely, it is easy for them to marvel the talents of any one who can string words together and weave a story.  The problem here is that this is where the reader can lose sight of the fact that the story and the writer are not the same.  When that happens it is important to remind the audience of this fact and move on.

But above all the writer and the reader need each other.  The writer without an audience might as well talk to himself.  And the reader with a writer has nothing to read.  So respect the partnership of the reader and writer and above all keeping dancing.

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