Saturday, August 14, 2010

Criticism. Yes. Again.

I wanted to write a post about audience and criticism and how we hope to not write into a void. I wanted to think about the phrase ‘dance like nobody’s watching’, but also Shanna’s point that we are responsible for what we write: ‘As a writer, tone matters’. I think of Craig's post on Amazon Vine and felt childish.

Audience matters. Criticism, feedback matters. Recklessness, bravery, contradiction, consideration, perversity all matter. Everything matters. When you are writing, everything matters.

I believe that a writer is also their own audience. That it’s hard to see one’s own work from the outside, because we are so blinded by our own motivations sometimes; and equally it’s hard to see a criticism from the inside because we are also blinded by our reactions. We have to move back and forth, each time abandoning more, each time gaining.

I think so much of writing is digging. Out of the dark, towards understanding, towards clarity. Reading is a part of writing and that is also digging. I am maybe not making any sense, I am maybe just turning over earth now and getting hypnotised by the smell of fresh loam and metaphor. Try harder. Write more. Cut more. Try again. Fail more, fail better.

Writing means being audience and performer by turn.

I am taking lessons at the moment. I asked Alana Noel Voth if she’d take me on as a writing pupil and she did and I’m loving, thoroughly loving the process of being challenged and criticised. I’m so lucky to have found a wonderful teacher. I think not all great writers make great teachers, but maybe the best are so used to being both empathic and honest that they make the best teachers, too.

I’m also lucky that I find myself among writers who are eloquent, hard working, thoughtful, honest, brave and kind. All of these writers teach me, all the time.(I wanted to pepper that sentence with links to the people I’m thinking of, but I realised that would be unnecessary.) Everything matters. Everyone matters.

As a writer, here’s a blessing: may we have good criticism. By which I mean not positive or negative necessarily, but honest, clear and fair. Thank you.


Jo said...

This is really right. It's not always easy but I think if we try to respond rather than react, there's more likelihood of getting something from criticism we don't like.

Something for you Nikki - do you know of Seamas?

ha! WV: mines

Shanna Germain said...

Loved this, Nix. I am always so appreciative of your thoughtfulness, even in the midst of chaos. It's something I really respect in those people who carry it. I want to be thoughtful, and I want to tell the truth and my truth sometimes carries anger and pettiness and the desire to smash heads on paper. Somewhere in between there, I find a happy medium. Sometimes.

Fulani said...

The idea of getting tutored is interesting - hope it work for you. I think we all rarely get much feedback from what we've done - so much of writing is like shouting into a void, so much so that we're startled when the void shouts back...

I have more feedback of my horror/SF stuff that I do my erotica/fetish, largely because some editors do take the time to offer critiques. I've had relatively little even from a local SF writers' group I'm a member of. Most of my writing techniques, I guess, could be described as 'self taught' and based on revising and re-revising manuscripts, many times over, until I know I'd be happy to read it myself.

Craig Sorensen said...

I can relate to Fulani's take on this. My method of writing and revising is something I have developed in my own way over the years. I know when a story is done by the feel of it.

But I also know this was a long road. In my case, decades.

Your search is an important one, and I'm sure Alana will be great in helping you to continue to develop your unique and beautiful voice.

And, of course, I think this post was wonderfully expressive, which is in keeping with your writing, which I have always, always adored since the first story I read of yours.

Audience matters. Criticism matters.

So true, and to the list, I would add, perspective matters.

And finally:

Fail more, fail better. Do it Nikki. Just do it.

Alana said...

Dearest Nikki,

Criticism blows. And compliments bloat the ego. Writing is hard stuff, and I hate it. This morning I said to myself, I want to pretend today I'm not a writer. You're a gift to me. Thank you. A

Craig Sorensen said...


Criticism blows, but sometimes pollen needs the wind to carry it to the seed.

Compliments bloat the ego only if we gorge.

I've missed you, lady.


Nikki Magennis said...

Jo, thanks for the Heaney poem! Lovely. I may have read it, it seems familiar.

Shanna, oh god, I'm rarely as thoughtful as I'd like to be. But I'm trying more, lately. I think you do pretty fucking well, tho!

Fulani, tutoring is fucking ace. At least, with a good tutor it is. I've learned from critting and being critted more than I believe I ever would have by myself. I'm sure it's not for everyone, but it does me a power of good.

Craig, thanks again. You're such an inspiration, especially when I'm practising being Thoughtful. And yes! I will do it! Yes! (Um, what was *it*, again?)

Also, perspective, fuck yes. I need a sackful of that, thanks.

Alana, yes, that's probably why I am so shit hot at avoidance, heh!

Nikki Magennis said...

Good lord, sorry, I seem to have developed Tourette's.

Must swear less.
Must swear less.
Must swear less.

Alana said...


Swear more. I'm serious.