Saturday, 13 March 2010
Critique or not to critique?
Thomas Cromwell by Robert Hutchinson is a good source of information on Tudor England. I'd already read his book The Last Days of Henry VIII and find his style readable, even entertaining and I recommend them both. He really brought home to me what it would mean to be living through the Dissolution of the Monasteries 1536-1539, and of course it's all good for my latest wip.
I'm writing the last chapter, and because I'm keen to get started on the second draft, I'm doing some of that too while I wait for critique partners to do their worst - or best, depending on your point of view. Not that I always agree with them, but lots of the time they're right on the button. I learned very early that six critiques could seriously screw your self-confidence in writing. If they all say the same, that's wonderful; if they say the same and tell you it's marvellous, that's even better. But if six people tell you its wrong, for six different reasons, and then give you six ways to improve it, then the beginning writer can feel seriously disorientated.
I think there is a case for progressing alone until you have some sense of your style and what you want in your story. If you then feel able to take criticism from colleagues without feeling depressed or hurt, and feel able to filter out what you can use and recognise what is best left alone, that's the time to think of joining a critique group.
We all have our own style, and we critique, subconsciously perhaps, with that style directing our comments. But of course, my style does not necessarily suit the writer whose work I critique, and vice versa. It's one reason why I try and critique work that is a similar genre, setting and period to my own, so the baseline is the same - or if not the same, then very similar. It would be very hard work for me to critique something written in the 1920's and set in New York or China, even though it would still be historical genre. The difference would be just too great, and my anchors would be all adrift! There may be people who can critique anything without turning a hair, maybe do historical, modern and then a thriller, but I'm not one of them, sad to say.
I'm sitting in the amphitheatre at Dougga for the picture and I'm blinking because I've just shoved my sunglasses up into my hair. The sunlight was so bright!