In today’s Journal
* Quotes of the Day
* Topic: Reviews and Critiques
* Speaking of Which
* Of Interest
Quotes of the Day
“As we all know, a reader’s opinion of a book is enormously subjective. The way [readers] approach a story can vary at different points in their lives, or even their day. They read things into it that you might never have intended—and they’re all going to have vastly different opinions about what worked and what didn’t.” Joe Moore, whom I believe is a founding member of The KillZone blog, on why he recommends not reading reviews.
“If the desire to write is not accompanied by actual writing, then the desire is not to write.” Hugh Prather
“Organizations for writers palliate the writer’s loneliness but I doubt if they improve his writing.” Ernest Hemingway
“No passion in the world is equal to the passion to alter someone else’s draft.” H.G. Wells
Topic: Reviews and Critiques
As Joe Moore expressed in the quote above, reading reviews is a bad idea. I’ve never seen this thought expressed better.
Also, the reason he stated so succinctly above for not reading reviews is exactly the same reason I recommend writers should not invite critique of their fiction.
Critique partners or critique group members, in their capacity as critiquers and in the guise of “helping” each other, are just readers by another name. The only difference is that the critiquer (who is usually also a writer) is slightly more likely than the everyday reader to fall prey to the overwhelming urge to alter your work.
Hence, both lay readers and critiquers
1. “… read things into [your work] that you might never have intended,” and
2. “have vastly different opinions about what worked and what didn’t.”
In summary, readers (and critics) are opinionated folks who like what they like, don’t like what they don’t like, and seldom agree on anything. And every one of them believes s/he knows best what will improve your manuscript.
To me, this is as cut and dried as it seems, and at this point I’d like to write ’nuff said, class dismissed.
But there’s an even bigger downside to giving credence to others’ opinions. Accepting either negative or positive opinions will almost certainly affect the writer’s future production. Of course, everyone knows reading or receiving enough negative opinions might negatively affect your self-confidence.
But reading or receiving positive opinions can cause the writer to fall prey to the pursuit of perfection. How can you possibly attain in your next novel the same level of excellence the readers or critics say you achieved in your previous novel?
Trust me, it’s better by far to stay within yourself. Write your characters’ stories as they’re delivered to you and ignore any opinionated input, good or bad.
There’s a reason the best writing is done in solitude.
Speaking of Which
When you read Hemingway’s 1954 Nobel Prize acceptance speech (see “Of Interest”) be prepared for some over-the-top, purely fictional drama.
I really hope Hemingway enjoyed writing. That’s how I like to think of him. I really hope he didn’t see writing as a melodramatic striving for perfection. Or as he put it, “Writing, at its best, is a lonely life” in which the writer “tries again for something that is beyond attainment.”
First, solitude and loneliness are not synonymous. I enjoy being alone to do my work, but I’m not lonely in the slightest.
Second and more important, seriously? “[T]ries again for something that is beyond attainment”?
Whatever. That all sounds way too important, self-righteous and haughty for me. Even a Hemingway novel never achieved more with a reader than serving as a few hours’ entertainment.
Don’t fall prey to the silly notion that being a writer is some sort of grand “calling.” Like pretty much anything else, writing is something you can learn to do quite well if you have a passion for it. If you don’t, well, then you’ll do something else well.
Talk with you again soon.
See “How To Learn Anything, Anywhere – Elon Musk” (7-minute video) at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r34KwZzUmV8. Narrated by someone other than Musk himself.
See “TKZ’s Words of Wisdom” at https://killzoneblog.com/2022/05/tkzs-words-of-wisdom.html. Points for discussion should you wish to engage.
See “Work Alone: Ernest Hemingway’s 1954 Nobel Acceptance Speech” at https://www.themarginalian.org/2013/03/21/ernest-hemingway-1954-nobel-speech/. Be ready for some purely fictional drama.
See “Universal Book Link User Guide” at https://www.thepassivevoice.com/universal-book-link-user-guide/.
See “World’s only nonuplets celebrate their first birthday” at https://people.com/human-interest/worlds-only-nonuplets-celebrate-first-birthday/. That’s NINE children. All at one time.
Disclaimer: In this blog, I provide advice on writing fiction. I advocate a technique called Writing Into the Dark. To be crystal clear, WITD is not “the only way” to write, nor will I ever say it is. However, as I am the only writer who advocates WITD both publicly and regularly, I will continue to do so, among myriad other topics.
8 thoughts on “The Journal: Reviews and Critiques”
I tried a critique group, with a paid moderator (our writing teacher), once, for a month.
It cured me of any desire to repeat the experience.
Harvey, its like you read my mind across the internet! I was going to message you about reading reviews of our work later on today.
Now it seems I don’t have to haha.
On Hemingway, didn’t he say every time he sat down to write he always tried to write “One true sentence.”?
If he did (and I’m not remembering wrong or misunderstanding what he meant) that seems to be putting a lot of importance into just a single sentence.
Hi Matt. Yes, among many other pithy bits of advice, he said, “All you have to do is write one true sentence.” On the other hand, isn’t every sentence “true” in itself and in its own world? He’s also one of those guys who said a lot of things to mess with beginning writers, like how hard writing is, etc. Possibly to enhance his own mystique. And I say all this despite the fact he remains one of my favorite writers. I regularly re-read most of his short stories and some of his novels.
I enjoy Hemingway’s short fiction but for some reason I can’t get into his novels. I tried several but every time I find them boring and eventually give up.
I guess his longer prose works just aren’t for me.
Possibly. I love most of his stuff but have never been able to read beyond the first few pages of Islands in the Stream.
I have no desire to have my work “critiqued”. I have had friends with specialized knowledge (i.e. sailboats and sailing) critique the specific parts of a book for technical errors or better description. But other than that and copy edit, nobody gets into my work before it’s published.
I have a hard enough keeping my own critical mind out of my writing. Why would I invite anyone else’s in?!
Hey KC! Yep, advising on technical details is different than critiquing the writing itself.
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