Thursday, April 3, 2014

Writing Basics: Criticism

There are plenty of blogs available on the Internet that can provide grammar and syntax tips to clean up your writing. I could give you generic advice about spelling and comma splices. All of these things are deeply important to the central idea of writing: storytelling. There are a variety of ways to tell a story. It might focus on a character, an object, the pursuit of something, or just revolve around plenty of action. The further along you get in writing, the more something becomes apparent.

You can't take anything personal. 

Art is a personal endeavor and writers, regardless of skill level, are attempting to convey something about the human condition through the written word. There is no right way or wrong way to do this. There is simply the way with which you are willing to accept your art. 

You don't want to produce a piece of prose riddled with spelling errors. 

Editors (including me) might suggest cutting down on the use of passive voice. 

These are more guidelines that are meant to help you think about your process. 

When you first become an editor, you think that you will suggest changes and an author will be so overjoyed that they will simply accept what you have said and make those changes. It sinks in over time that you are not really the expert. The author is the expert on their world and you have to help them find a way to make sense of the senseless without violating the way they want to tell their story. 

In the end, you need to be able to defend your choices and understand why you made them in the first place. When I first started writing and publishing (a decade ago), I took everything personally. I took advice personally, thinking it meant something about my process or how I should think about myself as a writer. A bad or lukewarm review was a testament to whether or not I should continue writing. 

What I learned (and this is really true of everything in life) is that nothing is about you. Everything that someone else says informs you of that person's ideas of how things should be done. They are no more valid than your opinions on a subject or on a turn of a phrase. Some people can break down our existence in words better than others, but that doesn't mean that you shouldn't write the way you want to. 

The reality is quite simple: if you can be talked out of being a writer, then you are not a writer. 

Writing comes down to a series of choices. Looming quite large for writers is the idea of criticism; and I will keep this on the constructive side and pay no mind to the trolls. When someone takes the time to offer you suggestions and notes about your work, you have a series of options. One might think there is one option:

  • Take the advice and change your work immediately. 

However, there are plenty of things you can do:

  • Take some of the advice
  • Take all of the advice
  • Take none of the advice

You are the author of your work, so start acting like it. Understand the rules and the reasons why you did something so you can stand up for them. 

Agree? Disagree? It's all part of the process. 


  1. Okay, I know, blueberry pie isn't a fruit, but you have to love somebody who thinks it is. Seriously, Clayton Bye is more than a good writer, he is also an outstanding person.

  2. I think you meant to post this on Clayton's interview :)