Writing is Re-writing and why Criticism can be your Best-Friend

15 Feb

Writing can be a lonely business. This isn’t always a bad thing – we as individuals need time to write and think about our writing. You could say that this is the beauty of writing. In such a demanding technological world we’re very rarely alone. We’re always connected. With writing there is time to take a step back and reflect, to make sense of all the people and experiences you’ve come into contact with, to actually hear and understand what’s inside your head.

I think as a writer you have to be prepared to spend a lot of time by yourself. Writing and editing work takes time after all! But that’s not to forget the people who you are always in correspondence with – your readers (or your audience). A big part of the editing process is thinking about how your writing might be received. Asking somebody to give you feedback whilst you are in the editing stage can be a good way of seeing your poem in a new light. 

William Faulkner is famously quoted as saying: ‘In writing you must kill all your darlings.’ I’m pretty sure that there are very few people fortunate enough to be able to write flawless poetry the first time round. Of what we have of the manuscripts of authors we can see how painstakingly they have pruned their work.

Our much loved child-hood “Oompa Loompas” would have been known as the considerably less hilarious “Whipple Scrumpets” to this day if Roald Dahl hadn’t changed their names at the very last moment before publication. It’s a very personal thing and you might want to clutch onto every word but sometimes taking a step back, letting it go and thinking about a better way of saying it makes for much better poetry. Writing is re-writing!

Mouthy Poets is a great opportunity to receive specific feedback about your work. Deborah recently took the time to engage with each of our poems and give us detailed constructive criticism. I never like how negative the word criticism sounds. When it’s done well, criticism can be invaluable to the writing process. It’s a great feeling when someone tells you that they like what you’ve written, but it’s much more rewarding when they tell you that they like how you’ve improved it. Deborah gave me some really useful feedback, pin-pointing the exact moments of the poem that she felt worked well, and the bits that she felt I could push further. Since then I have been working hard to kill all of the clichés and produce more specific imagery which better says what I want the poem to say.

You can see on this blog how many drafts of people’s poems have been posted. Feedback is encouragement. It must be handled delicately. I think the worst response to something I have written has been when the reader has just said casually, dismissively, ‘it’s good.’ I’m like, what’s good about it? Do you really think that or are you just saying that to be polite? Although of course, if somebody came out and said, ‘it’s crap,’ then that would hurt considerably more.

So how to give good, useful feedback? I think the key is to be specific about what you feel could be improved. Bearing in mind the fact that the poet will have worked very hard on his/her poem and that it’s usually very close to the poet’s heart, you don’t want to undermine what they’re doing by being more negative than is necessary. Showing an awareness that it’s a work in progress and that there is scope to push it further is a good basis for a relationship of mutual respect between writer and feedback-giver. And don’t forget to say what you really like about the poem, or what you feel works well. 

To some extent, as a writer, you have to trust your own judgements. There might be some feedback which you just disagree with. But sometimes all it takes it for someone to say, “yes, but you can do better”, to make you realise that there is more you can do with a poem.   

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