Critiques and Darlings
After I finished my last blog posting, I felt unsettled. I was okay with the piece at the time, but there were some doubts banging around in the back of my mind. After sleeping on it, I looked again and saw several things that I would have liked to change, but it was already out there in the ether, so it let it go saying “it is what it is”. It got me to thinking about both self-criticism and the comments made by my Thursday night writing group, family members and friends. I wouldn’t say that I enjoy receiving criticism, even in the best sense of the word, after all I’m not a masochist or glutton for punishment, but I do see its importance because I want people to enjoy and value what I write. I understand that critical reaction from others can be a valuable gauge of the quality of my writing.
Our Thursday night group has waded right into the minefield of critiques pretty much weekly over the years. John, our leader and the most diplomatic person I know, sets the tone with observations based on his many years as an editor. No matter how constructively offered, in many instances the response to a suggestion for removing or altering, say, a character, storyline, scene or even a snippet of description, is a protest that the writer really likes it the way it is. John refers to elements that are favored only by the writer and that they can’t bear to surrender as their “darlings”.
All of us have “darlings” in our lives that we will defend. People involved in romance, parenting and, apparently, writing have this in common: it’s not natural for them like it when their “darlings” are criticized. Most of us have the good sense not to make uncomplimentary remarks about another’s love interest to their face. Many of us are tempted to make a remark about the five-year-old running around the tables in a quiet restaurant but don’t want to tangle with the mother who becomes a cat with her tail on fire if anything negative is said about her little “darling”. But people in writing groups seem to have very few reservations to point out flaws in the submissions of others. Defensive reactions are understandable when someone or something that generates love within your bosom is under attack, but let’s look at what is really at stake.
Lovers and progenitors both have an organically occurring loyalty that will cause them to defend attacked sweethearts and offspring to the death. If, in addition, if they consider their own self-preservation, they will irrationally defend the indefensible, mindful that their enamored will be alone with them in the middle of the night while they sleep or that their children will, some day, decide their nursing home placement. Even when it doesn’t make sense, it is understandable to circle the wagons in defense of loved ones against outside aggression and maintain life as you know it.
On the flip side, a writer’s stalwart refusal to change one of their “darlings” ensures only one thing: the writer will be the only one satisfied with the work. No, the writer will be the only one reading his work. In that light, it seems that writers who want to be read have to be truly open to honest criticism of their work. This sounds so easy to see, but I guess that after you have reached deep into your soul and psyche, you form an attachment to the thing to which you have given life. I might suggest that if you, a writer feel that strongly about your creation, you should create your own little private library for your own edification, but listen and positively respond to the wider world’s reactions.
Hmmmm, I wonder how I’ll react when some megastar Hollywood director wants to make changes to my story when it’s brought to the big screen.