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Robert's Rules of Writing #69: Grumble and Fuss

[Rule quoted from Robert's Rules of Writing: 101 Unconventional Lessons Every Writer Needs to Know by Robert Masello (Writer's Digest Books, 2005). See my original post for the rules of this discussion.]

With rule #69, Masello advises us that writers are never completely satisfied with our work. Even after we've been over a draft a dozen times, when the work finally appears in print we're still liable to read it with far too critical an eye, scouring it for flaws that may seem inconsequential to others.

But Masello says that this isn't such a bad thing. As writers, we're supposed to want to get every word perfect. I can definitely understand where he's coming from. If we're really totally satisfied with our work, we'll never look for ways to improve. It's true that many of us have debates between our inner writer and inner editor, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. As long as we don't let ourselves get paralyzed by over-analysis, it's okay to grumble and fuss over our writing.

It's one thing when it's ourselves doing it, but quite another thing when it's others. I was just at Readercon, and one of the many conversations I had with other writers dealt with the difference between critique and criticism. Those of us in the discussion had pretty much the same opinion. Before the story has been sent out, when we're submitting it to a workshop or an ideal reader, we're looking for critique that will help us improve the story. But once the story is published and out in the world, in a final, somewhat irrevocable form, we really don't want to hear any criticism. There's nothing more we can do with that story now, and all the criticism will do is make us feel bad.

I recall once hearing a story about Stan Lee. It may be apocryphal, but it's still a good story. Supposedly, a fan getting an autograph from Lee referred to one of Lee's comics as one of the worst pieces of trash ever written. Lee smiled throughout the criticism. When that fan left, the next fan on line asked Lee how he deals with that sort of thing. Lee's response: "I'm my own biggest fan. You have to be."

I'll grumble and fuss over my own work, thank you very much.

Copyright © Michael A. Burstein

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