Monday, July 05, 2010
Ridi, Pagliaccio, ridi!
I was born with a strong inner critic, so I'm never surprised or offended when someone says 'Actually, this doesn't work' about my writing. I'm usually there before them, already wondering how to fix it or improve it, and I'm often grateful to have those doubts spotted by someone else in the trade, as it demonstrates that I'm not imagining things.
If they tell me such things with a laughing sneer, or an obvious agenda, or if they have almost no experience in that line, then I probably have a right to be suspicious. But if they are experienced and have no reason to speak up except in the interests of helping people understand the work better - and that includes the person who wrote it - then why should I not take what they say at face value and examine it with an equal mind?
Sadly, that response to criticism is beyond some writers. They would rather believe the person pointing out the fault is wrong - either incompetent or deliberately nasty - than believe they might need to correct an imbalance in their work.
It's like throwing a line to someone who's in trouble in the water, and having them flail about angrily and question your motives in stopping to help, rather than grabbing on.
I am convinced that this aching sense of self-importance and rightness is connected to an inability to laugh at themselves.
Self-mockery is a necessary correlative to success as a writer - or a lack of it. Without humour, you rapidly lose perspective on yourself and become either an egotistical monster, convinced of your divine right to crow from the top of the dung-heap, or a twisted creature in the dark, bitterly blaming others for your lack of success.
Naturally, the opposite is simultaneously true. A strong writer must have an absolute sense of mission and purpose, and be able to shrug off criticism at will. But without perspective and humour to temper that side of the creative process, all that is created is more ego.