Thanks to Saritza @epubagent on Twitter I was able to read a great blog post by Maureen Johnson which was responding to a fifteen-year-old asking about how to deal with criticism. One of the best elements of the post was how Ms. Johnson described all the different kinds of voices one might hear about one’s writing, and she compared it to sifting through sand to find buried treasure.
At the same time, her list of voices showed how other writers might want to help someone with a project by offering advice, but none of them seemed to identify first what it was the writer was trying to accomplish. Instead, they seemed like the projection of egos. They were only saying what they would do if it was their story. This may have been the only way they knew to help. However, to add to what Ms. Johnson was saying, I think the best way to find a trustworthy voice of criticism is to find someone who is willing to listen as well. As I and other English instructors tell our students, it is about trying to find out what the writer wants to say and helping them say it better. That does not mean turning a toaster into a tractor or the mom in the story into a dad or a sister unless the writer herself can see how such a change would benefit the telling of her story.
And this of course comes back to the sifting through the voices for that buried treasure. The ideal is to find someone to help a writer sift through her work to find the treasure inside that and make it shine, but failing that, one can also evaluate the strength and value of suggestions given, sifting through their voices for hidden gems.
As Ms. Johnson points out, criticism can hurt, but it is a necessary part of writing. There are so many facets to good writing that we must polish and polish, and sometimes take a chisel to it first, and then polish and polish some more until our work is the diamond that we want it to be.