Yes, you

If you have a good body of work and are submitting pieces or pitches regularly, following all the guidelines and are still not getting results, it’s possible that it’s you. Yes, you.

Have you got an artistic temperament? (When it comes to that, do you even believe in the artistic temperament?) Are you possessive of your work and resistant to suggestion? Do you believe that art comes out of the aether, or out of your own genius, fully-formed and perfect?

If you answered “yes” to any of these questions you have Wanna-Be-an-Artist Syndrome. The good news is that if you apply yourself, you can recover.

Let’s be clear here. Anyone can write, or follow any art. They may not produce the world’s best work, or even very good work at all, but they can follow the art. People with talent are gems in the rough, something that will catch the light and sparkle if the matrix (the stone the gem is held in) fractures the right way and shows the crystal to the light. Talent is sparkle, with the potential to be more.

The fact is, though, that to take a chunk of pressurized carbon and make the Crown Jewels requires both work and skill, and doesn’t actually come naturally. The ability to take talent and add work and skill is what makes a serious, proficient artist. You notice that genius isn’t a requirement. Genius is in a class of its own, and it’s as scarce as hen’s teeth.

Now, the important thing about developing skill, and about improving, is this: you have to acknowledge that you – and your work – may not be perfect as is. I’ll give you a moment to get over the shock (or to quit laughing because Elizabeth said something so obvious it’s hilarious).

I’ve met artists who can brook no criticism at all. They get up in arms about any suggestion that their work could use improvement. “Where would Monet be,” they huff, “if he’d listened to his critics?” All right, but you ain’t Monet, or anywhere close.

I’ve met people who request, nay, demand, detailed feedback on their work and do nothing discernible with it. They’re always surprised when you point it out. Asking for critique and acting on it are two different things.

As an editor, I’ve had writers say they’d rather not work with me on a rewrite. That’s their right. I’ve also had writers say they’d like to work with me, then fight me on changes until I’ve said, “No, thank you” to a piece I would have liked to take, if that sparkle had been a little more polished.

Who got published? The writers who were easy to work with, who listened to critique and rewrote, trusting that as a reader I had a perspective that they didn’t. I wasn’t asking them to rewrite the story as I would have told it. I was asking for changes that I thought would help their story come out.

If you believe your work is perfect as is, I challenge you to do this: really think about the next critique you get. Imagine how that rewrite might improve the story. Try it out – you can always toss it, and you might actually find that your reader is – gasp! – right.

You can stand your ground on something you think is important. It had just better be about the work, and not about your ego. It’s about the art, boys and girls, not about the artist.

This entry was posted in Doing the Work, Fumbling towards competence and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Yes, you

  1. lucinda kempe says:

    Amen, Ms. E. Amen. And its about the craft, which in my case, I’m still learning. I’d be nowhere big time fast if I didn’t submit my work to better writers for scrutiny Before (very important) I submit. How else can you know? Oh, sure, some folk are good editors, but no one succeeds without peer and su-peer review. No one. The greatest geniuses in the world have editors for content and copy editors, yes? Again and again I run into “writers” who really aren’t writers at all. They are people who put a few words, first drafts, down on paper and want Immediate, laudatory praise.

    Please Gawd hep us from dem.

    Wry, brill and right on as usual, La P!

  2. This is the most kindly-written essay on the need to accept criicism that I have ever read! What a heart you must have for writers! 🙂
    If only I were Canadian, I could write for you! 😉

  3. You are dead-on! While it might sting to have one’s ‘baby’ criticized, we need to accept that it’s not perfect, that there is room for improvement or we will not grow as a writer. 🙂

  4. ecreith says:

    Thank you all for your kind words. I sometimes approach a critique with dread – I know some things are going to hurt, and I’m pretty soft-hearted for all my prickly exterior. But it’s gotta be done. Katharine, who says you have to be Canadian to write for me?

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