Guilt, Blame, and Writing Anyway

review.pngWhen you get too far out in the extremes of politics – whether the left or the right – it starts getting really hard to tell the difference.

Guilt and blame are the same way.

I was raised Catholic, so we can get the de rigeur jokes about guilt out of the way. Ready? Cool. I’m actually going to use writing as an illustration anyway. There’s two stereotypes of writers out there – well, almost stereotypical types of writers.

The first is The Next Big Thing. This person believes that everything they’ve written is, simply, awesome. Every word comes out perfectly, every plot twist is unforseen yet has readers amazed they didn’t see it coming. Second drafts are for lesser beings who do not have a Muse at their beck and call. Editorial changes? Pshaw! This person refuses editorial changes with a level of scorn usually reserved for art critics judging a fingerpainting, and rightly so! For is not every word that they enscribe simply Art?

The second is The DrawerHound. This person has manuscripts all over the place – but they don’t submit them anymore. Nor do they go to critique groups. They used to, of course, but then they got rejected by a magazine, or they were told that the phrasing in the third paragraph was a little sloppy. That, of course, was when they knew They Couldn’t Write. So manuscripts – if they still write at all – are hidden in a drawer. Nobody sees them because someone might not like them. Besides, didn’t Uncle Rudolph say that nobody’s a writer anymore? Obviously he was right.

I said these were almost types of writers, and there’s a good reason why: Neither is going to get published, not regularly, because neither one of them is ever going to improve.

Whether through denying any critique or accusation (and avoiding blame and guilt) or through overdwelling on critiques and accusation (and making blame and guilt the total focus), both wannabe-writers put the manuscript aside and never improve thier craft. Both extremes are unhealthy and, more to the point, are not useful at all.

Sometimes critiques are wrong. I tend to knock adverbs at my critique group; sometimes the others agree, sometimes not. Sometimes critiques are right. A criticism about a character’s lack of voice led to a much stronger (and well-defined) character in The Burning Servant.

The trick – with critiques, blame, and guilt all – is to examine them and objectively judge whether or not there’s a basis for them. Sometimes the answer’s “yes”. Sometimes “no”. Sometimes it’s “maybe”. But by judging each critique on its own merits, we can improve our work and our lives.

Otherwise, we’re just pretending to write.

Or live.