Think wrongly, if you please, but in all cases think for yourself. – Doris Lessing

Go forth into the unknown, explore the caves of your unconscious, fear not your “dark side,” find the gold.

— Robin Hoffman (@AuthorAlchemy)

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Writers, Do You Really Want a Critical Assessment?

By guest blogger Raff Ellis

Editor's note: Though aimed mostly at writers who want to publish books, this advice is worth pondering before seeking critiques for your screenplays.

I’M OFTEN ASKED by writers, aspiring or otherwise, to review their latest creation. The first time I was asked several years ago, I dove into the work and told the author many things I thought needed to be fixed. I was being frank and, I thought, helpful. I was shocked when the defenses went up and the author rationalized nearly every comment I had made.

Of course, one man’s soup is another’s slop—meaning that judgment is pretty much subjective, especially with works of art, and writing is indeed a work of art. Even with this qualifier, most writers take umbrage at almost any criticism. This is why I have become hesitant when asked to review another author’s work. It has turned into a lose-lose situation, sort of like giving stock tips—if it goes up, the buyer is a genius; if it goes down the tipster is a bum.

Many years ago I participated in a writer’s forum where the moderator was a best-selling author (you may have heard of The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit). Everyone was encouraged to submit writing samples, which would be read aloud by the moderator, and commented on by the group. Some of the criticism was pretty frank but I nonetheless submitted something to be read each week. Others never submitted, something I couldn’t understand. What was the point of being timid? If you wanted to be a writer, you must have realized that your work, if you were lucky, would be exposed to a large and critical audience. Better to suffer the slings and arrows from a small group than a much larger one.

When I was finishing up my book, Kisses from a Distance, my publisher assigned me an editor and over a four-month period we exchanged some pretty rancorous eMails. In the end we became friends and my work was a much better product because of his efforts.

Speaking from personal experience I would like to tell writers to adopt a more receptive attitude towards criticism. Cultivate a group of readers who are knowledgeable, trustworthy, and honest. If all you are looking for is affirmation, there are many more who will give it than not—because most people are non-confrontative by nature.

Admittedly, publishing has changed a lot in the last few years and some really good works aren’t attracting offers. However, if everyone likes your work, and you aren’t getting to first base with publishers, it’s possible that your readers aren’t critical enough. And, by all means, before you invest in self-publishing, make sure that your masterpiece has undergone a reputable critical review. Once it’s printed, it’s too late.


RAFF ELLIS is a former computer industry executive and prolific writer of short stories, essays, and political commentary. His first book, Kisses from a Distance, was published by Cune Press, Seattle, Wash. He lives in Florida with his wife Loretta and their faithful companion Antar.

Watch the book trailer for Kisses From a Distance on YouTube


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