Amongst the professions I have managed to fall into over the years (and sometimes, eventually crawl my way out of) the most bipolar of them all, is definitely the circus side show that is proofreading & critiquing. Most writers – script, copy, limerick, whatever their poison – will argue that things like proofreading, editing, critiquing are the residue of a good night out. The emotional nightmare ensuing an all weekend rave orgy at Caligula’s Dance Hall.
And they are correct.
You have to have a thick skin to critique and proofread, because if there’s one thing I have come to understand about writers it is they don’t like people reading their stuff.
You have to understand the writing process. There are, for the most part, two kinds which govern writers: the Stephen King Approach, and the Ernest Hemingway.
Stephen Kingers are methodical in their approach. These writers manage to keep to a schedule, writing every day – sometimes long into the night, and can quite literally poop out a finished novel length manuscript in a matter of months. Sometimes it is perfect, other times it’s a few miles short of having “it”.
Doesn’t matter though, as these types of writers are quite happy with any sort of critique you care to throw at them. You can say that it is “shit”, it’s okay. They can take it, because they’re not listening to you anyway. They have moved on to their next writing endeavour.
In contrast, are the Ernest Hemingways. These people live and breathe their stories. They don’t write because it is trendy, they write because they have to. The skin will crawl and itch otherwise. They are governed by the necessity to observe; cataloguing every possible trait, flaw, nuance of character, movement of nature, irony and innocence – so much so, they do it even when they are asleep.
These people have notebooks. Pencils. On occasion, they may use both, sometimes in mid-conversation with you. It is an involuntary impulse, like sneezing, and for most Ernests, an act they don’t even realise they are performing, and should you point it out to them, they will deny any such activity.
For them, writing is an addiction. A tortuous process resulting in an incredible moment of pure joy.
Until the critiquer comes along.
Some Ernests can handle it. In a borderline Stephen King sort of way. They understand the power of criticism. Even though they have bled their soul into each.and.every.word, and the characters have quite literally fractured their reality to the point they will never look at a sunset again without weeping for the loss of time, or they will forever carry with them a deep contempt for commuters who have no understanding of the destruction they cast across rush hour traffic in their incessant need to check their phone at every light, plug themselves into an iPod and “switch off” to the simple sounds around them – for these noises will be lost in time one day. Much like that sunset, casting a stiff shaking outstretched hand up to the twilight. And my GOD, how the pure Godliness of twilight has equally been assaulted of its innocence by a housewife in Utah.
Ernests are a tricky bunch to critique for. Usually their works are, thankfully, flawless. So invested are they in their stories and characters, that their tendency to have holes is often limited. It also means, you will very rarely see an Ernest’s work. Unlike their counterparts, the Stephen Kingers, these writers are insecure and selfish. It is not that they can not bear to see someone else reading their work, it is that they are insecure in its readiness. Will it be understood? Is it truly finished?
By and large, there is a gap between contributions an Ernest makes to the literary world. Which is a shame. It’s just not cricket.
In the meantime, the Stephen Kingers litter the changing landscape of the bookiverse with thinly veiled stories rehashed time and time and time again.
If we are to make any sense of the simple story, we need more critics. And not just of the written word, but for all medium. Film, art, computer games, even freakin’ ad campaigns. Film especially has become stale and repetitive. There is a safety in doing what you know, that just translates to boredom if you do it often enough.
Excite us. Be creative. Inject some Ernest into the Stephen Kingers before we forget what it means to be inspired.