Criticism is difficult to grasp as a skill. I had to learn to do it with writing, a while ago, and it helped being in a room full of strangers when I did, because it is somehow easier when you have a tangible gauge of how easily people can be offended. I realise now that if I’d have learned to do this earlier in my life, a lot of the conflict I encountered could have been far more comfortably dealt with. The undoubted issue when being critical of text-based mediums is being unable to grasp the reaction of the person you’re speaking to. So, inevitably, you will err on the side of caution. That can mean your intent has the potential to be diluted, and then you’re looking at a page of comments that don’t actually help the person you’re attempting to support.
Basically, it’s a right arse pain to help people be better.
Everybody, even the most adept of people, could use a critical eye from time to time. I did a criticism ‘swap’ yesterday with a friend who’s looking to expand into You Tube as an avenue for their creativity. I watched 30 minutes of him (and his mate) effectively pissing about in a game, and then was as helpful and critical as I could manage, without going into pages of in-depth consideration. He, in turn listened to 30 minutes of my interview for the second gaming podcast (points left at the links) and his feedback was… well, a revelation. Considering the way I do these things, and that it is a ‘standard’ template for both questions and direction? He was staggeringly complimentary. It is always a bonus, in these situations, to discover you are hitting the right targets. When you do, it’s a good idea to not then automatically assume you’re good enough and that’s it. Asking for feedback can be quite daunting, yes, but it’s ultimately so worthwhile. Because nobody’s perfect, and everyone needs a hand.
Mr Alt is possibly the best person I know to be critical of my work, and I’m sitting here looking at the hatchet job he’s done on the first pages of my novel, and it is glorious. What it does is give me a starting point, a new direction, and allows my mind to take the path I’ve not travelled but know exists. He’ll tell me if things are ugly, if there’s work needed on words or phrasing to make them feel correct. Most crucially for me, he doesn’t often comment in plot, as that is my job. He’s here just to audit the words, and that’s exactly what I need.
Needless to say, today is already looking pretty fabulous.