Fear and loathing

I wrote this at the end of May, just before my computer died and trapped my files within its Manichean folds. I’m resurrecting it here because I’ve finally finished Australis and am just about to start on the Big Task of rewriting Night Shift. And although the delay has left me feeling a little ‘readier’ for the job that awaits, all I wrote then still applies: the pain of criticism will surely stab most cruelly at my unprotected goolies.

* * *

I’m afraid. That’s what it is.

To make it as a traditionally published writer you have to be able to take criticism, but no matter how accustomed to it you are, it still hurts. You prepare yourself; whenever you show your work to anyone you know you’ll be in for a few tactful pointers – but still those words hurt. Writing is an intensely personal thing, maybe more so than it should logically be. Criticism of one’s work is like criticism of the person.

That’s why I’ve been putting off going back to Night Shift, the work I should really be doing. I’m afraid. I’ve got an annotated manuscript waiting for me; a barrage of mistakes, errors and misjudgements that I need to fix. And no matter how much I tell myself that it’s not personal, it’s just another way of making my work better, it’s still gonna make me wince and squirm.

It helps that I have good, justifiable reasons for not going back to that just yet. I’m in the middle (more of towards the end, now) of something else which demands much of my writing energy, and I’m taking time to track down a few more Night Shift-like novels to better understand the genre I work in, so I’m not exactly wasting time. But the real reason – the reason that makes me feel so guilty – is that I need a little space to rebuild my defences. I need time to take the proverbial deep breath, to re-forge my armour before heading back into battle.

That’s why I’m prevaricating at the moment. And I think – still – that it’s a sensible thing to do. I also hope that writing this blog will help shift the subconscious anxieties into the conscious mind. And I’m sure that the proof-reader’s comments won’t be that bad; after all, she wants the novel to work too.

I also know I’m got a hell of a lot of work still ahead of me. I have to go back to the very beginnings, redefine elements of theme, character and plot. I can’t say I’m looking forwards to that, but it doesn’t scare me in the way criticism does. Is it true of all writers that they have this almost split personality? Sharp arrogance – after all, you’ve got to believe that you’re doing something others will like – tempered with an almost crippling lack of self-esteem?

Or is it just me?

* * *

UPDATE: Been working my way through the preliminaries. It is indeed a painful and angstifying experience, with work I thought was decent simply ripped to shreds. But this is writing. It can hurt and it can be slow and difficult. And I’ve not written a single word in anger yet, not on this phase of the project.

More literary adventures next week!

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2 thoughts on “Fear and loathing

  1. I guess criticism of Art is more absolute than criticisms of other things; cheese, say. The sole purpose of art is to bring pleasure to the beholder. If it doesn’t then it has failed. Cheese, however, brings nutrition, interesting dreams and bait for catching mice in addition to the pleasurable tastes and smells.

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    • But cheese and Art are alike in that one person’s masterpiece is another’s adolescent scribbling. Just as one person’s rich Caerphilly is another’s Venezuelan beaver cheese. And Art can also be used to catch mice, given enough levers and pulleys

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