Let the Right Ones In
No writer should ever go without critiquing. Receiving writing advice is beneficial. It helps test our mindset and keeps us thinking about the reader. However, there are many types of advice- sometimes good and sometimes...well, corrosive. It's the responsibility of the writer to understand the difference between a valuable assessment and harmful opinion. While you may think that this is easy, you'll find that your relationship to the source, the experience of the contributor and the preference of the reviewer all come into play when measuring the value of one's opinion.
I'm a strange kind of writer (shocked, I know). I write for friends and family, but rarely ask for their opinion. That's because I learned early on that I associate deep rooted emotions in anything that loved ones might say. On the contrary, I've been told by editors, reading analysts and critics alike that they strongly disagree with the direction I've sent a story, and I haven't minded one bit. That's because I understand that outside sources aren't judging my work based on the link between who I am and what I put on paper. Bending a paragraph in order to satisfy a friend's opinion can be counterproductive. It's up to the writer to understand that asking a loved one what they think may leave you more confused than when you started.
Another factor a writer must consider is the knowledge of their contributor. In my early years as a writer, I often made the mistake of asking someone that I wanted to be my reader (coworker, blogger, and online-reader) to analyze my work without considering what they know about the writing process. I've bounced ideas off of these respected individuals, only to find that I've let them deviate me from an underlined theme, highly thought out conflict or well developed character. In essence, their opinions have derailed the course of my story. By the time they read the book, they're either disappointment that I didn't take their thoughts into consideration or I've compromised, forcing a triangular thought into a circular peg. Once again, shame on me.
Finally, one has to question the source of a critic's literary preference. I've made the mistake of asking a biography editor about absurdist fiction, and a rationalist about urban fantasy. That's like asking a Trekkie why Darth Vader ultimately returned to the light side. You're begging for the Vulcan Death Grip. Instead, make sure that your source has written about the subject or is a knowledgeable fan. Ask the butcher about steak, not taxes.
Writing and criticism go hand-and-hand. The wrong kind can complicate your story. No criticism and you detach yourself from the reader. Critiques are useful. It’s up to us as writers to decipher the delicate balance between the beneficial and the poisonous. Just remember- don't ask unless you're prepared for something negative. We're writers. It should be expected. In the words of Grub Street journalist, Samuel Johnson, "I would rather be attacked than unnoticed. For the worst thing you can do to an author is to be silent as to his works."
Justin Alcala, Author of "Consumed" and "The Devil in the Wide City"
Visit at www.justinalcala.com