ON CRITIQUE

I recently read a survey of students,(I don’t remember the age group) where eighty per cent declared they wanted to be writers.  This number of wannabes falls into my category of little boys who want to be cowboys, policemen, astronauts and baseball players.  It seems good that one has goals.

I suspect that writing has a broad appeal because you can write anytime, anywhere.  You don’t have to do physical exercise and your teachers all said you write well.  Your teachers are not critics.  They are paid to encourage your efforts.  You may be a good writer in their view simply because you completed the assignment or because you took your time to spell check or a host of teacher related goals.

The reality of good writing centers around several activities.  In broad terms you write, and you read — a lot.  Then you critique what you read and apply that critique to your own writing.

There exists a plethora of books on how to write.  Each book gives the impression that their topic, be it character, POV, plot, time management, tension, genre, dialogue, is the most important part.  They are trying to sell books.  In that regard they are like politicians.  They want your sale.

I belong to three writing groups.  Each group claims a different purpose.  The members tend to be older, having more time, education and experience.  The younger writers write well but the writing is flat, unemotional.

You can always sell or give a work away if it is 1. short  2. gives information i.e., a travel piece, a diet, a recipe, a how to., 3.and follows a journalistic format.  It is right here that the problem of technique begins.

The local editors and publishers have a different goal than the writer.  They want to fill space to get advertisers to pay them  The work must be short because the reading attention span is limited.  It must be on a topic that the local readers can relate to. So while you are writing fiction they might be reading travel.  So your efforts are wasted. The less skilled writer who knows the game has the edge.  It helps if they don’t charge much for their work.

I had a well known professor who was a driving force in my field of psychology.  At a conference of psychologists sitting by the pool he said, ?”We have to address the feminization of our field.”

This was right in the middle of the women’s right movement and this icon said this and it sounded like he wanted to revert to earlier times.  It turned out that he referred to the statistic that female psychologists would work for less than the social worker.  He believed this occurred because the degree of doctorate for some was a hobby and they did not need the money and in effect denied the worth of the profession.  My point is I see the same in writing.

To critique.  One of my writer’s groups has very strict rules about communicating.  It seems that discussing the writer’s ideas or technique is squashed in the interest of time.  HELLO!

But that is the least of the problems.  The listeners don’t read and they don’t know how to critique.  It has the same effect as giving a monkey a loaded gun.  In fact, the original group imploded because they did not allow the safety valve of communication.

In the field of psychology one branch believes that sanity can be defined as follows.  Each of us is three people, the person you think you are, the person others see you as and the person you really are.  The closer these three people are in relation to each other the closer to self awareness you are.

Critique works the same way.  When I read a book, I read to enjoy and learn.  I hope to learn something about myself.  I do not achieve this need from a travel piece or a how to article.  I get something more tangible.

I critique a work with three elements in mind.  First I look at the STORY.  Secondly the PLOT . Finally the TECHNIQUE.  And like the personality measurement above the more equal these three things are the better the read for me.

Some might suggest that character, POV, dialogue or description are more important.  I feel those are support for the three I use.  But if you believe that is crucial then use that as a benchmark in your critique.

The problem in my critique groups is exposed.  Because the group insists on short works you cannot adequately develop a character so you best use another measurement.

But I also believe I can get something from the group.  The first thing I get is the identity of my audience.  Since most group members don’t read I am reading my work to a group that will not be my audience.  So I joined a reader’s group and find out how reader’s view various writings.

But in the critique group I expect certain responses from certain people.  You tend to get the same responses from the same people.  Some are helpful, particularly in the technique area.  If I  don’t get the usual predicted response from a certain member I look at my work to see what they took away that changed their usual “I gotta say something” response.

Certain responses are a good thing because it tends to mean that that person is focusing on something.  But since you can’t interchange, communicate it is tantamount to pissing up a rope.

So I started my own group, where these issues that I believe hold a writer back, could be remedied.  Enter new problem, possibly an extension of the former problem

I found that many people don’t write (writer’s block) because they don’t have anything to say.  Sometimes they have a thread of ideas but cannot organize them to use their writing skills.

This point is validated in my belief that much of writing deals with philosophy.  Writers in most genres are philosophers.  They put forth a STORY and the PLOT becomes their philosophy.  Each article, each entry revolves around how you view something in the world.  This even occurs in travel posts.

Write for yourself, for your own enjoyment , for your own improvement and you will see your deficits.  Hopefully you will apply this change to your PLOT  and as you improve, so will your writing.

Just a thought

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