Friday, January 21, 2011

The Psychological Profiles of Critics (PART 2)

In an earlier post I talked about the different kinds of writing critics you might encounter. The profiles included: Your Mom (in a scientific context, not as the brunt of a joke surprisingly), Friends and Illiterate Strangers on the Internet. Today I have a few more psychological profiles of people who might give you feedback on your work and how to deal with them. 

The Mentor
By definition The Mentor is someone that you look up to and who has taken a particular interest in your work. Notice that this particular relationship is a two-way street. Ernest Hemingway is not your mentor. For one thing Ernest possesses a substantially larger number of traits consistent with being dead than one might like to see in a mentor. For another, Ernest has no interest in your work. A mentor is someone who recognizes the relationship with you and hopes to help you grow in your career and personal life. You are Mentor and... Mentee? Mentoree? Manatee? Master and Apprentice.

Because the mentor implies a teacher-student relationship, your mentor should be someone with real world experience. A professor or teacher, a friend or relative who has been published or is nearing publishing etc.  If you take a look a around you might actually be surprised how many people are fiercely mentoring at you right now. Choose carefully. If you are looking for someone you might actually ask someone you admire if they would be interested in the position. Most people want to share their knowledge and will be incredibly flattered.

Criticism from a mentor should be considered carefully. Ultimately you are the one who will decide what should happen with your writing, but remember that a mentor has invested an unusual amount of time and emotional commitment in you personally, so rebuttals to critique should be handled tactfully.

The Proficient Amateur
The proficient amateur isn’t necessarily a separate entity from the other profiles. For example it could be a friend of yours who writes, or even someone you find in an online writing community or writer’s group. What sets this individual apart is their ability to actually construct an intriguing, engaging and well-rounded sentence with all punctuation intact. These are the people who share a draft with you and you find yourself getting lost in the story, as opposed to lost in the grammar. 

The PA is also someone who is able to give a good critique. This would include actual substantive suggestions for improvement, or even tactfully phrased negatives. Yes that’s right, they will tell you what they hated about your work. Prepare to undertake Furniturial Evasion Tactics!
Once you crawl out from beneath the sofa you should seriously consider the suggestions and decide if you want to apply them to your work.

The Literary Critic
The Literary Critic is someone who regards criticizing as matter of professional integrity. An LC could be someone who reviews books and writing for a living, or the peer who is wisely scratching their chin as they prepare to scratch out vast swaths of your draft in red pen with a knowing, fecal eating smirk. 
LC’s generally find little good in your work. This is because the goal of this person is not to be helpful or encouraging, but rather to show you how much better they are at scratching out months of work than you are at writing it. 

Personally, I think it’s best to simply avoid reading reviews from the Literary Critics, especially in the early days of writing. Little constructive criticism will come from it. Ultimately, if you are successful, you will have to deal with people who are so skilled at picking out how stupid you are at writing that they get paid to do it. Reading nasty (or possibly nice) things about your writing in a paper is a risk of the profession. One that we will all have to deal with someday--assuming we learn from our critics and write a bestseller.

Are there other types of critics you’ve had a run in with? Share your story and tells us about it in the comments sections below, or on Twitter or Facebook.


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