The Critic Doublethink
Don’t you know that the whole aim of Newspeak is to narrow the range of thought?
George Orwell, 1984
It is sometimes very difficult to take criticism, particularly if you are new to writing. When you write, you engender your work with parts of yourself, and rightly so! We have all heard writers talk about their babies, whether they are scripts, novels or poems, and we understand that feeling. All of the time, effort and imagination that has passed into that text makes it important and worth nurturing. Criticism seems, immediately, to rip into that feeling of significance.
However, we don’t have to be terrified of the big, bad critic! The first thing to remember about your baby is that it has to grow, and the only way it will actually grow is through exposure to the elements. You have to feed it, read books on rearing, remember to put it in the fresh air every couple of days, otherwise it will be forever sickly and underdeveloped. So we expose our babies, and ourselves, to other people and leave them for days in the hands of others, so they may see something we do not. Critics, however, are not oracles, they cannot predict the fate of your work, or of yourself and so we take them always with a grain of salt.
It is important to be objective about your work and about your critic. Do not accept criticism, good or bad, without realising where the critic is coming from and what they are trying to say. For some critics a grunt and a nod might be a rave, others may gush empty flattery without ever actually reading the work. Similarly, do not bind up your ego in your work, gifts, writing or style as these things are chimeras; fluid and impalpable. Part of the magic of writing is the omnipotence, of being able to do and be anything you want. Consider editing as an act of playfulness, take the critic’s suggestions as a new way to explore those infinite powers and refine them, whether or not you agree with the criticism.
Don’t let the Newspeak of critics pin you down, instead use it to form your own language culture. I won’t tell them if you don’t. 😉
I think this is really important to remember. We leave reviews on YWS speaking sometimes as if they are truths, but they are just our thoughts and recommendations. If you disagree and you can identify why you disagree completely, that’s fine! But if you disagree because you felt insulted, that’s generally a sign of you taking it too personally and missing out on an opportunity for learning and growth.
Sometimes it’s fun when receiving a review to follow the advice in full and then look at both pieces and see if there are parts of one you favour, or parts of the other, and whether you can ultimately mesh the both to form a poem you and your critic will both love.
However, we have to also recognise there’s only so far one can or should go in pleasing their audience. If a poem doesn’t resonate with you, then there’s no fun in writing it and the quickest way to lose passion in your writing is to always conform to your readership. Especially when that readership is unlikely to agree with one another!