Monday, June 18, 2018

Those Who Can Do, Those Who Can't, Criticise...

Recently, one of my esteemed students wrote me a letter - yes, an actual piece of paper with handwriting on it - gasp!

She thanked me for one of my courses that she was working through at home. She said she liked my 'metaphysical' approach to writing because it helped her move out of a block she'd been having.

I've never really thought about my instruction being 'metaphysical' to be honest. It's not meant to be. A better term might be 'holistic', in that I see writing and the writer as equally in need of guidance and advice.

The writer, to me, is inseparable from the writing. You can't be a good, honest and effective writer if you don't aspire to be a good, honest and effective person. If that's metaphysical, then so be it!

But you don't have to be perfect.

In the same way as your writing doesn't have to be perfect. What's perfection anyway but an intellectual tool we use as a benchmark?

Perfection is relative.

The newbie may feel sheer joy at a piece of average writing - infused with that rush we all feel at times at our accomplishments.

But a writer with years of experience may still cringe at something she's written when others see nothing but genius.

It's all relative.

We each must aspire to our own concept of perfection - but learn to be satisfied when 'enough is enough'.

I've never know a decent writer who didn't think that something in their work couldn't be improved.

Famously, Fitzgerald once broke into his publisher's office at three in the morning and crawled inside the printing galleys, pulling out letters, rearranging the text of his novel - the day the book was going to press!

Okay, he was probably drunk. Fitzgerald often was. But most writers can relate to this kind of obsessive need to 'fix' their own writing until it shines.

Talking of obsession and the need for perfection, Steve Jobs is sorely missed - not least at Apple. His kind of focus is rare - more especially because it was justified. A lot of people - artists especially  - may be precious and difficult to work with - but not all of them are so right!

But maybe they are - in their own way.

May be we don't give enough credit to those 'control freaks' who strive for perfection and, like Steve Jobs apparently, make life hard for those around them. 

I guess that's the great thing about being a writer. You are in control - most of the time. Your world is exactly as it should be, within the confines of your pages.

It's one of the reasons I've never really understood the need for criticism. It's too easy for others to find the flaws in other's work. It's destructive - not only creatively but personally too.

A critic can crush a writer's spirit irreparably but... to what end?

Also, I've never known a writer to improve dramatically as a result of criticism. Quite the opposite.

It's encouragement that helps improve a writer. Because when writers feels good about what they do, they seem to become more aware of the flaws themselves - and seek to better their work independently.

Criticism closes a writer down more often than not, forcing them to consider giving up the whole thing - as was probably the critic's intention.

No, we should always strive to 'lift up' an artist - to help them feel 'enlightened'. Inspiration comes from a feeling of transcendence. Criticism can only drag us down to earth and make us feel inferior, misguided and misunderstood.

How would God have felt - if there's any such thing as a deity - if some critic was looking over her shoulder, pointing out all her mistakes as she created the universe?

Maybe she would have scrapped the whole idea of creation - and taken up some other activity like playing atom solitaire or cosmic cloud busting.

Where would be then?

I'm not being as flippant as you might assume.

I really do think that artists, writers, filmmakers and musicians - even inventors, engineers and entrepreneurs - should be encouraged without question. Because true creators know the flaws in their designs better than anyone. They really don't need others to point them out!

But I guess it's the way of the world.

The ninety ten rule. Ten percent of us want to change things, create new possibilities and understand the true meaning of our existence.

The other ninety percent just want to sit back and bag.

To be realistic, they say.

Well, if being realistic means that nothing should ever change or that none of us should aspire to perfection or dedicate ourselves to the attainment of truth or beauty or enlightenment, then I'd rather be called anything but realistic!

So I don't really mind being thought of as metaphysical - as long as it doesn't marginalize what I do.

I try to speak to everyone, not just to those who will listen.

But isn't that the point of art, of good writing, of transcendent music, film and whatever?

To create something that speaks to us all?

I hope so.

Have a great holiday this year - and give some thought to how you might improve the world - especially if there were no such things as critics, naysayers and other members of your friends and family!

Seriously, have fun - and be good, at whatever you do.
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The Writing Academy

Welcome to the official blog of Rob Parnell's Writing Academy, updated weekly - sometimes more often!