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» Hatrack River Writers Workshop » Forums » Open Discussions About Writing » Critiquing Inward

   
Author Topic: Critiquing Inward
JoBird
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This might sound ridiculous. I've noticed that I have an easier time being critical of other people's work than I do of my own. It's like I get lost in the trees of my own story, and can't see the forest anymore.

Do any of you have this problem?

I suppose the best solution is to withdraw from the work for a while, and come look at it later with fresh eyes. It's also probably one of the reasons that folks tend to rely on alpha and beta readers for feedback.

At any rate, it can be very frustrating. I look at something I've written, and I know something is wrong, but I just can't put my finger on it. I think it's because I start excusing the things that I know are wrong before I really examine them critically; and I probably excuse those things because I know how I got to that decision along the way.

Anyway, there are a lot of you here who surprise me with your insight. I'm curious if any of you have any advice on how to more efficiently critique inward.

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extrinsic
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For me sell-evaluation or "critiquing inward" is a matter of appreciating audience response from looking inward by looking outward. Most on point are the three identities of plot: antagonism, causation, and tension. Antagonism's attributes are problem and want in opposition. Causation's attributes are cause and effect, action and reaction, stimuli and response. Tension's attributes are empathy and suspense or caring and curious about what will happen to who, when, where, why, and how.

I have a toolbox and utility belt full of evaluation processes but in the end it's still a matter of trial before a discerning audience. Interpreting the test audiences' responses and reworking accordingly is a matter of deciphering their aesthetic hunches and applying them constructively, again, by resorting to my toolbox and utility belt skills.

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MAP
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I don't think we can ever view our own work with the objective eye that we can view others'. Time away from it does help, but we always know where the story is going, and it is hard to see what might be unclear or what isn't working.

I think that is why we will always need outside critiquers.

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Robert Nowall
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I've tried to be harsh with my own work...but if I'm too harsh, I wind up with nothing to send out to anyone.

In most literary matters I think it best to get a second opinion---one gets some guidance from that, even if one doesn't do precisely what the second opinion opines...

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EVOC
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I am more harsh with my own work then others. But I am trying to find a balance. I often think what I write is the worst thing I've ever written. But by my second or third edits, I often find I like my work. My third edits come after Beta Readers, so perhaps it is their feedback that makes me think I may have actually written something decent.
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LDWriter2
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It's been said, by more than one pro, that writers are the worse critics of their own work. Part might be ego, part is that we know what we are trying to say so it comes across better to us than it would for someone else. Which is one reason I have so much trouble with nitpicks, I know what is suppose to be there.

Sometimes on the opposite side, our inner critics likes to come out and play when we write something, so we can revise, revise, revise and while we're at it revise again.

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rcmann
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That's the thing. Good or bad, nobody can be *objective* about their own baby.
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JoBird
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quote:
Originally posted by rcmann:
That's the thing. Good or bad, nobody can be *objective* about their own baby.

Fair enough. I was afraid that was the answer.

I think I gave the impression that I think what I write is good. That's not the case. It's more that I realize something is wrong with the stuff I write, but I have a lot of trouble putting my finger on what the problem is.

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hoptoad
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I think that the emotional side to writing can be fraught with soaring certainty of the value of our own work one minute and plunging self-doubt and a conviction of the work's worthlessness the next.

Either extreme is usually wrong. The virtue is somewhere in the middle, not necessarily half-way, but counterpoised, in that delicate position that allows work to progress but is not beyond self-examination.

On another note, the difference between our own baby and another's is the hope we hold for its future. It will not always be the pooping, dribbling, dirt-eating monster that it is right now.

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extrinsic
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quote:
Originally posted by JoBird:
quote:
Originally posted by rcmann:
That's the thing. Good or bad, nobody can be *objective* about their own baby.

Fair enough. I was afraid that was the answer.
No one can ever be objective about anything because one person's objective is another person's open to question and interpretation or wild fantasy or delusion. That is; subjective. No writing can be sufficiently comprehensive to fully express a circumstance. Otherwise, the writing would be the original circumstance, a fully perfect clone copy. Impossible.

Yet a degree of objectivity is possible so long as a consensus of sufficient size agrees a circumstance is objective. The Earth was factually a platter world for eons, still is in some consensuses. I like to see their point of view. In a sense, the Earth is flat, at least in an objective way for local region cartography. Curvature of the Earth doesn't have to be taken into account for small bridge building. League-spanning bridges are another matter.
quote:
Originally posted by JoBird:
I think I gave the impression that I think what I write is good. That's not the case. It's more that I realize something is wrong with the stuff I write, but I have a lot of trouble putting my finger on what the problem is.

Please put aside terms like good and bad, right and wrong, correct and error, proper and improper, problem and solution. They're presumptive value judgments that usurp ownership through diminishing creative value, raising doubts, asserting superiority and authority, maybe imposing a dose of artistic jealousy, too.

"Works for me," "doesn't work for me," subjective assessments, nonetheless opinions, are about the only meaningful qualifiers for creative writing that hold up to close, objective scrutiny. One, winning an argument against an opinion is impossible. Two, paradox, I know. How can a subjective position also be as objective as humanly possible? Paradoxes seem irreconcilable contradictions, yet once reconciled reveal a greater underlying meaning if not truth.

For every so-called writing rule that not following doesn't work, a host of does-work exceptions prove the rule isn't absolute. Exceptions tend to outnumber the proofs anyway. An exception may prove a rule isn't a law, but an exception doesn't prove a rule must be abided absolutely.

Guidelines or principles of any writing for others derives from the first principle: facilitate reading and comprehension ease. In other words, consider the audience's sensibilities and provide for them meaningfully, appealingly, and accessibly. Persuasive communication is the purpose of language, of writing, of rhetoric.
quote:
Originally posted by JoBird:
It's more that I realize something is wrong with the stuff I write, but I have a lot of trouble putting my finger on what the problem is.

Aesthetic hunches something's not working are valid. Study, research, investigation, practice, and application will provide reconciliations for hunches.

When I read a struggling writer's work for subjective assessments, a few hundred words, a few words if I encounter reading or comprehension ease disturbances sooner, I note what's disruptive, what's not working for me and what I feel does or doesn't work for what I can gather is the audience niche target. If I choose, I'll comment on one area that stands out that's working, one area that's not working for me. Maybe accessibility is foremost in either case, or appeal--audience considerations--or voice, or craft, or mechanical style.

I believe a writer's degree of facilitating reading and comprehension ease development follows the opposite order: mechanical style learned first, and so on. That is; beginning writers are grammar students; intermediate writers are craft students; advanced writers are voice students, and winning writers are audience students. Yet every writer is a struggling writer. The writing struggle doesn't end without surrender or the only unavoidable end.

[ August 13, 2012, 01:41 AM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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skadder
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quote:
I believe a writer's degree of facilitating reading and comprehension ease development follows the opposite order: mechanical style learned first, and so on. That is; beginning writers are grammar students; intermediate writers are craft students; advanced writers are voice students, and winning writers are audience students. Yet every writer is a struggling writer. The writing struggle doesn't end without surrender or the only unavoidable end.
I agree.
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MattLeo
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There is no substitute for independent scrutiny of a manuscript. On the flip side, independent scrutiny is no substitute for proof-reading and editing yourself.

They're two different things.

Handing a manuscript to someone else that could easily be improved is a wasted opportunity. Not only will you tax the reader more than is justifiable, you'll get *obvious* feedback in return, and end up someplace you could easily have got yourself. Proofread and self-edit, then send the best manuscript you can manage and you'll get the feedback you couldn't figure out for yourself.

Setting the manuscript aside for a bit then coming back is certainly a good idea. Another one is hearing the manuscript read aloud -- you can read it yourself or even have the computer read it back. If you've got to the point where you know something needs attention, but you can't figure out why, that's a good point to hand the manuscript to someone else.

I find that others are seldom as critical of my work as I am myself -- by critical I don't mean "not liking", I mean "analytical". That's fine. Mostly what I want from readers is their emotional reaction, although I do take critical feedback very seriously.

As for "liking", I find different people respond to different things -- so much so I take a "like" or "dislike" response with a grain of salt. These attitudes are like an electric potential that can spark in random places. Not totally random, of course; just as lightning is more likely to hit a tree in the middle of the field, reader feelings are likely to strike a prominent feature in a manuscript. Reader feedback tends to focus on an obvious point, but the potential behind the stroke of liking has usually built up over the course of the story.

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Owasm
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I fill in too many holes when I critique my own work. Time to let the story rest is the best solution for me, but I still know what's going on too well that I slide right by obvious errors and holes because in my mind I correct them or I have a better knowledge of what's going on because I haven't written down key information.

I also mentally correct all of my grammatical errors and haven't yet gained the ability to pull myself away from the manuscript.

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Brendan
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quote:
I find that others are seldom as critical of my work as I am myself -- by critical I don't mean "not liking", I mean "analytical".
That's because you are on the extreme end of analytical. (Such a comment required such a reply [Razz] ) I am pretty analytical. But when I write, I engage a different part of my brain - the more imaginative one. But when critiquing, I find I can go very analytical, delving into why I think things weren't working. Ironically, I sometimes have to work harder to find things that are working.
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