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Posts Tagged ‘Critical Thinking’

Thanks to a comment I received today from an annoyed author, I wanted to talk a little bit about writing and relinquishing control of that writing.

Writing a story or book is often like having a child. The original idea, as it grows and changes within you and then begins to pour out onto the page, is comparable to birth and sometimes just as painful and exhilarating. As you write the story, polish it, pass it around to your friends for analysis, you are raising that story.

When you send it off to the publisher hoping for acceptance but fearing rejection, it’s like the first day of school. Once that book is published and available to the masses, your child has graduated and is at the mercy of the world at large. Just as you wouldn’t follow your kid to every friend’s house, every job interview, and every party, at some point you won’t be able to keep up with everyone who has read your book.

Some people will not like your book, it’s inevitable. They won’t “get it” in the way you had intended. There will be misunderstandings and interpretations that may not make sense to you. However, you can’t control every reaction. In most cases, you can’t even argue it. You can try to understand where the person is coming from with calm discourse and clear discussion, but a defensive posture won’t win anyone over to your side.

Criticism is the bane of every professional, be it writer, artist, or teacher. Criticism means somewhere, someone thought you did it wrong. A consummate professional learns to take criticism in the spirit in which it is given. It is directed at the work, and the impression that person garnered from it. Basically, it’s not personal. Learn from criticism; that’s its purpose. If you feel you must engage with critics, do so in a manner that reflects well on you. Cries of “My baby!” or the equivalent will not bring about real constructive conversation.

A great way to learn and grow as a writer is through discussion. Why didn’t they like this character? Why didn’t they get the tone I was trying to portray? Ask. No story is perfect and the best way to improve upon future works and future children is to learn from the mistakes of their older siblings. Once that book has left your hands, you lose control of where it will go and who will read it. You lose control of people’s responses and interpretations. If you find you don’t like what you’re hearing from critics, listen to what they’re saying and decide if you should change that in the next book.

As a reviewer, I try to ignore the author completely when I’m reading. Although I might be interested in them as people later, when I’m reading I honestly don’t care. I care about the story and characters in it. If I feel like it’s a good story, I then try to analyze why. If I feel like it wasn’t a good story, I go into as much detail as I can about why that is. If the author of the book comes across my review, it is their job to interpret my response in a rational way. If you can’t do that immediately, go away and come back later after the initial impact has passed.

Being a writer means being brave. You pour your innermost thoughts and feelings out onto a page and hope for the best. The bravest thing you can do as a writer, beyond writing, is letting go. Once that story is out there, it’s over for you. What comes next can only be another story. There will be some minds you can never change, and it frankly is not your job to go around explaining what your book really meant. It is the job of your book to tell its own story. If you’ve done your writing well enough, your book will be able to speak for itself.

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As an (aspiring) book reviewer, I’m trying to teach myself how to read critically, not just for enjoyment. This is at times fun, and other times distracting. It can be difficult to concentrate on the story, when I’m thinking about how I’ll write a review for it.

I have begun to develop a strategy, though.

1. A notebook next to me. As I read, I jot down my thoughts and observations, but it’s really just a streaming thought, not a coherent whole. I put these notes together later.

2. Peer discussion. I’ve mentioned my bookclubs on here several times, now. I’m a member of several local clubs that meet once or twice a month to discuss the book we picked and read together. This allows me to hear other opinions on the novels I’ve been reading, and helps me articulate and defend (or concede) my own opinions on the book. I also visit message boards, for those books that I’m not reading for a club.

3. Falling back on education. While currently not in school, I was once (and hope to be again) an English Literature major (also majoring in Biology). Years of reading, and then writing papers on what I’ve read, has definitely helped me out in my reviews. A college essay is not the same as a review, but you use many of the same skills with each.*

These three strategies have begun to help me bring my reviews more thought and depth, as well as perhaps more relevance. I am, of course, still learning. My eventual hope is that I might even make a little money from my blog, but my true goal is to share my love and understanding of books. If even just a few people get something out of my writing, I’m happy. I want to be a published writer someday, among many dreams, and I can only think that writing here, and reading with my brain turned on, are great places to start.
*This is not at all to say you must be (even partially) college educated to do intellectual work. It’s just helped me personally in this particular instance. There are many continuing education and community outreach programs, even through local libraries, that adults can learn critical thinking skills from. Many great minds, though, were entirely self-taught.

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