Monday, October 09, 2006

Writing & Criticism

I'm not a lover of drama. Actually I generally avoid it at all costs. I'm the sort of over-socialized person who never once screams or swears during labor, and apologizes to the nurses for making quiet moaning sounds. The attraction of creating a scene simply eludes me. Why would anybody want to do that?

I realize that my attitude on the matter is far from universal - and probably not even terribly healthy. Sometimes a little drama is good for the soul. Nonetheless, some people, and writers are often prime examples, seem prone to the kind of passionate responses that make good opera, but poor life.

Writers in particular are very prone to react badly to criticism intended only to help. Even when they say they want it. I'm beginning to understand why so very few professional writers will give any opinion on work from people they don't know very well indeed. It's not just because of the time, or the fact there's no real recompense, though I'm sure those play a role. It's that you can put serious time and effort into giving someone the very best critique you can. You can be specific, honest, thorough, and even tactful - and have their response be to blow up in your face. If you do review things generally, but don't review something specific, they can bemoan your apathy and lack of commitment to their work (Err - it's their work, not mine, right?). The same person who demanded brutal criticism can fall over in despair in reaction to a far from brutal critique.

I'm dealing with this right now with a specific author. Her work is wonderful in some aspects, but has a long way to go in others. Not surprisingly - at least to me - her biggest difficulty seems to be writing a cooly academic character consistently. But her plotting is tight, and her descriptions, when they go right are wonderfully lush.

What do you do when you're committed to trying to help someone's work, and they turn out to be this un-self-aware about how they handle criticism? I really, really want to help - but now I'm clueless as to how. If I simply encourage, I'm not helping the writer develop her craft. But when I critique, there's a sudden outburst of despair that simply leaves me stunned in its intensity. She's got me stumped.

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