Last week I made the mistake of critiquing something online that was written by someone I hardly know.  This person didn’t ask me to critique it; it was only a general call for comment on a small opening paragraph in first draft.  Now, personally, I think sharing a first draft is like sharing an uncooked pie—hard to cut and even harder to get out of the pie tin.  In addition, the person didn’t know me or my work—I don’t have a “name” or reputation—and had no reason to trust a word that I wrote.  And I wrote plenty.  (When will I learn?)

But this is not about my woeful and misbegotten critique.  It’s about respect for the craft.  Any craft—painting, acting, architecture, dancing, singing, writing, whatever—anything that requires experience, practice, time and the input of others who know what they’re talking about.  Shortly after I posted my lengthy critique, encouraging this person to get some more practice in, get input from a writing group, etc., before attempting to publish, I got slapped hard (my name wasn’t mentioned, but unlike my private critique, this was public) for being “mean and vicious.”  Condescending and arrogant I’ll accept, but mean and vicious?

Anyway, I swore off critiquing online where my tone of voice and my facial expressions can’t be included in the picture and where they don’t know me from Eve so who am I to say anything negative.  Then I moved on with my life.

Last night on American Idol, I watched as three very talented, very experienced and very committed judges (Harry Connick, Jr., Jennifer Lopez and Keith Urban) gave magic golden tickets for the next stage of the competition to contestants they felt had a chance and denied the same to those they felt either needed to practice more to try in another year or needed to reconsider their life choices.  They rejected these people (the ones the show followed through the process) in as gentle a way as they could while still being honest.  Most of the rejects came out of the audition room in tears, hugged their friends and family and appeared to pretty much get on with it, some vowing to work on improving and then return to try again.

A couple, however, got pissed.  The following are not direct quotes, but they capture the essence.  “That Harry Connick is stupid.  He doesn’t know what he’s talking about.”  “I’m the best American Idol contestant ever.  They’re idiots for turning me down.”  The gist was that these people hadn’t been listening.  They didn’t care about craft; they cared about fame.  And that’s the stupidest way to approach the creative life where fame is rare and fleeting and the work and the process should be the real reward that you seek.

My advice to this person I insulted badly was to learn the craft and then finish the book (with all the hard work that entails, not to mention the writing) and only then to consider getting it published.  I see too many books shot up to the magical place in the sky where electronic books go to live that haven’t been rewritten once, nor have they been proofread or edited by anyone other than the author.  This gives all of us indies a bad reputation.  Yeah, what you, the unwilling-to-trust-the-process author, do is screw it up for those of us who struggle with commas and “just” and “only” and why-would-the-character-do-that-when-they’ve-never-done-it-before dilemmas.

So please, I beg of you, do this one thing when you choose any creative endeavor.  Give a shit.  It matters.

5 thoughts on “Craft versus Crap

  1. Well said. I especially like way you wrapped it up at the end: “Give a shit. It matters.”
    I don’t take the title “author” for myself. I think of myself as a “writer” who hopes to practice and learn and someday become an “author”. You recently critiqued something that I wrote, and I was thrilled to hear your comments, along with the comments of others. I learned some important things.
    I will be the first to acknowledge that my novel is amateurish. That’s what I am – an amateur writer. I don’t have a problem with that. I once had someone tell me that the story that I was telling wasn’t worth telling, and I should throw it away and start over with an entirely new story (same characters and setting, new genre). I did not appreciate that much, but I also learned from it. I found ways to make the story better and still tell MY story. Ironically, that same person later released a new novel that was full of typos (40 typos, to be exact). It screamed out, “I don’t give a shit about the quality of my work”. It also said, “I don’t have any respect for my readers.”
    Seriously, unless your name is Stephen King or Anne Rice or similar, take it in stride and learn from it.

    1. Thank you so much for your thoughts, Jim. I know exactly what you’re talking about. I’ve spent over 30 years with Lisen (who originally was named Ann). Deep down to the basics, nothing has changed, but rise up through the layers and very soon the entire landscape of the story is very different.

      The sage advice is to write your first novel and then pack it away. My problem was that my purpose in life lay in that first novel. Three entirely versions (and 5 drafts or more of each) later, I have managed to not only get my vision down on the paper but to reflect it back up to the reader. Whatever happens from here on depends on if that vision means anything to anyone other than me.

  2. I second Jim. Well said. I am in the process of editing my first revision of first draft with the help of a writers’ workshop. Having people critique and give you their insights into your writing is the best present any writer could get. If you think you are perfect, move to another planet and wake up!
    I specially thank Hart for the encouragement and also for her frank critique.

  3. Plenty of good advice here. I’m a writer who has yet to finish or publish a novel. I’ve been working on my first one for ten years and I feel it’s better for the time I’m taking over it. It’s like a good wine that needs the years to pass for it to mature. Some people have a natural gift for writing and can dash off a novel in a year, but I’m not one of those: I have to work at it. It took me years to create time and space for my writing, but it’s gradually happening. Anyway, thanks for a thought-provoking post. A frank critique always has some value, even if it hurts at first.

    1. The series of novels I’m working on now (books 1 & 2 of 3 already published) have been in the works since Star Wars first landed. I’m dashing off book 3 in about a year (it looks like–still in the middle of it), but I don’t have to create back stories for characters since those are already established. And I worked on the outline while I was rewriting book 2. Every writer is different, of course, but I’m clearly with you when it comes to taking whatever time is required to get it right. Thanks for the comment.

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