I’m going to let you into a little secret. Sometimes I post things on this blog that I’m not too happy with. Sometimes, for whatever reason, I can’t think of anything interesting or insightful to share with you. I’m left with a choice of not putting up anything at all or sharing something that I feel is slightly substandard. I try to make up for this by hitting the odd height; by working on my writing and actively hunting and retaining ideas that might later make a column; and hopefully my combined output might be enough to raise this blog to a basic level of readingfulness.
The only problem is that I’m an idiot.
It’s true. I don’t quite understand it. Sometimes the entries that I sweat and slave over and write and rewrite just disappear without trace. No new followers, zero likes, no comments – nothing. Conversely the posts that I toss out in a desperate, sweat-drenched half-hour and I try to sneak out without fanfare can draw me an armful of appreciation.
The moral seems to be this: you are the worst judge of your own work. No matter how good a critic you are, no matter how everyone around you comes to you for advice on matters bibliographic, you are incapable of seeing your own work through the eyes of others. This is why the fine mesh of public opinion is essential for the sieving of your literary lumps. I will always urge prospective writers to join a writing group, or at least to link up with other writers for manuscript exchanges – and to do this before you thrust your quivering, sweat-soaked magnum opus in the direction of the publishers. Hey, you might be a stonking genius and have created a masterpiece – in which case, what does it hurt to be told this? More likely a semi-stranger will be able to see things that you’ve missed.
Learning to listen to and accept criticism is an entirely different skill, by the way. There’s a chap I write with – lovely guy, brilliant prose-ist – who, upon criticism, will say ‘Yes, but what I mean is…’ and will never realise that I don’t give a damn what you were trying to say, that’s not what you actually said! With anger and frustration.
So always listen to what other people say. They’re always right.
They’re not, are they?
If you listened to other people’s ideas you’d never have written the manuscript that’s currently in front of you. Only you could have written that story (or played that melody, or drawn that landscape) in that way. It’s your combination of ideas, your unique characters, your theme and your universe. When people tell you something’s not working they’re nearly always right. Nearly always. But sometimes you’ve just got to stand up for yourself and your world and tell them to go to hell.
Politely, of course.
But they’re probably right. It probably was just a rubbish bit of writing. I reckon you can do better. And I’d give good money to take back some of my early submissions to publishers.
Hindsight. It’s not quite 20/20, but it’s a lot more accurate than foresight.