Critics, critiques, professionals, and creativity have all been topics of regular conversation in my world over the last few days. One such conversation has resulted in the decision to write this particular Blog entry.
I have a postgraduate degree in the written word. I earned that degree through hard work, a serious commitment, and a gruelling set of standards that I placed upon myself. I never received a grade lower than a ‘distinction’ because I simply would not allow myself to put anything other than my very best into what I did.
I am also an artist. Yes, I still intend to place links to my latest work here once it is finished, so some patience would be appreciated please?! Anyway, I am qualified to critique both art and the written word. Yes, that’s right. I am qualified. I even have a piece of paper to verify that simple statement of fact.
However, I am not qualified simply because of my nicely framed degree and the letters that I can legally place after my real name if I choose to do so. I am qualified because I earned that right through practical application and a great deal of serious effort.
The written word really is my forte so, for the sake of this Blog entry, my examples will focus primarily on that particular area of creativity. The concepts behind these examples are equally applicable to any creative process, but I intend to discuss what I am most qualified to discuss.
Now, I can (and do) metaphorically slaughter published pieces of writing in my role as a Critic. Nothing escapes me. I can critique everything from scientific texts to junk mail. So, if you think that something must be good because it is published, scientific, or hanging on a gallery wall then you are, quite simply, wrong! All it means is that it has been published or has been chosen to be displayed by a curator in an art gallery somewhere.
My degree has given me far more than the skills required to critique work. I am also able to edit, guide, and teach. I am available to do all of these things. My fees are very reasonable. Now, don’t roll your eyes like that and assume that this Blog entry is nothing more than a cleverly constructed advertisement to gain unsolicited work off you all! Stop it right now! I am writing this entry to let you know that, if you are brave enough to submit something to me for review, the following is what you will not hear me say: “It’s good, but I would have written it this way”. Why will you not hear me say that? Because the moment that I start to tell you how I would have written your story is the moment that your story becomes my own. As a result, my own creativity suddenly subsumes your own.
So many so called ‘professionals’ forget this basic principle. A good editor, teacher, or mentor will help you to be the very best that you can be. We are not interested in creating clones of ourselves, and we are equally disinterested in stroking our own egos by creating a series of works that are really nothing more than imitations of our own styles and preferences.
I am not talking about simply looking at the technicalities of your writing. Punctuation, spelling, and grammar are fundamental aspects of writing and, if you have made errors in any of these areas, I will point this out to you. No, I am talking about your writing as a means of expressing your own creativity and thought processes. In short, it is your story, not mine. I will make suggestions, I will make you think, I will force you to look at what you are actually saying, I will quite possibly make you loathe me now and then, but I will do so in order to bring out a coherent piece of work that glows while remaining true to your own intentions.
I have heard, read about, and seen far too many professionals and critics who will tell an aspiring writer that their work is good, but it is not how “they” would have written it. Really? Is that any surprise? Of course it is not how “they” would have written it. It is not their work! And, sadly, I have also heard, read about, and seen far too many aspiring writers give up on their passion as a result of the words of these ‘professionals’. Every aspiring student naturally looks to those who have been successful in their own field, but their very success is often misinterpreted by the student to mean that their ‘professional opinion’ is actually a set of immutable laws carved in proverbial stone! Just as not all published work is actually good, not all professionals are good, either. It is not what they say, it is what they do not say that really speaks to their own level of professionalism.
This blog entry goes out to all of you aspiring creators out there. Be aware of what you are being told by those whose opinion you seek. The moment you hear, “I would have done it this way!” excuse yourself and make a rapid exit. Someone dear to me would add that you should also say, “Fuck YOU!” on your way out the door, but I will leave that decision entirely up to you!
We all have different ways of expressing ourselves, and that is what makes our art or our stories unique. This Blog, for example, is informal and, as such, I write it in a way that reflects the tone I wish to convey. Do not let it fool you though. I am able to write in whatever tone is required, as required. Oh, and one last thing? This Blog has been written by me. It is not how “someone else” would have written it.