Scenario A: My wife comes into the house, fresh from the hairdressers and says, “What do you think?”
Scenario B: My wife shows me a hairstyle in a magazine that she is thinking of getting herself and says, “What do you think?”
Scenario A: My six-year-old daughter brings me a page covered in pencil lines and dodgy felt-tip and says, “Do you like it?”
Scenario B: I am in an art gallery, looking at a canvas covered in pencil lines and dodgy felt-tip and the gallery owner sidles up to me and says, “Do you like it?”
Scenario A: I am in a writers’ group meeting and I have just heard someone read out their own work and the chair of the group invites me to share my thoughts and criticism.
Scenario B: I am in a writers’ group meeting and am looking at a nameless manuscript that I’ve read the night before and the chair of the group invites me to share my thoughts and criticism.
In all three cases, my responses given to the ‘A’ scenarios would certainly be politer but the answers to the ‘B’ scenarios would be more honest and accurate. Does that make me dishonest and evasive? Or just British?
Although Heide has blogged about the curious business of writing in public, I think constructive criticism is something that is most useful when delivered anonymously or indirectly (e.g. through written feedback). We don’t tend to give good criticism when face to face with the author. If someone looks me in the eye and says, “Tell me what you think. Be honest. I can take it,” the last thing I am going to be is honest.
Heide and I have each written a full chapter of the Clovenhoof novel. We intend to submit them for anonymous criticism at Birmingham Writers’ Group in January 2012. This will involve us providing anonymous printed copies of our work for writers to take away at one meeting and to feed back on at the next.
The criticism we will get from that might be harsh, might not be what we want to hear, but it’s probably going to be the most useful criticism we’re going to get.