Friday, October 1, 2010

The Horror of Self-Critique pt 2

Posted by LD Keach on Friday, October 1, 2010

(Or, Why don’t we just put the Writer’s Market down for a bit and relax?)

I collect old college Literature textbooks. It’s a wretched habit, because it means there’s now 70 copies of Faulkner’s “A Rose for Emily” in my house—but, then again, none of my habits are particularly healthy.

Still, this week, I stumbled across a comic short by Lynda Barry called “Two Questions” in one of those old Lit textbooks, and if you have not encountered this work of life-changing brilliance, I suggest you check it out here. (Especially if you’ve ever suspected your spectral octopus friend might be a manifestation of your creative muse.)

The two questions are, of course, Is it Good? and Does it Suck?

That little scowly-faced “You suck! Get in the Box!” ghost wafts over my shoulder ever time I put a word down on the page. It’s horrible. I’ve been trying to exorcise him, but holy artifacts have a habit of catching on fire as soon as they cross the threshold of my apartment. (It’s weird, I don’t know why…)

Anyway, it took me reading through Barry’s doodled self-reflective insight to realize, Hmmm, maybe I’ve been letting that little “You suck!” ghost get his way too often. He's not the sensible inner-reader voice who often gives out good advice. He's the predatory artistic bully inside all our heads. And who am I to be bullied around? Nay, who are we?

What happens to us as writers when those two questions take over our brain is we’re denied the joy of the act we love. When we cram over a story or manuscript with little in our heads other than “Is it good? Does it suck?” then the art can become centered around pleasing someone else. When our minds are infected by our inner-Predator critic, and the drive for publication and acceptance, then the writing becomes work—and any good thesaurus will tell you, work is not synonymous with fun. Or art.

Work is, however, synonymous with “Man, this blows.”

I’m not saying we should all completely ditch the idea of producing marketable fiction that other people might enjoy reading. Having an audience is good, and writing to make that audience happy is good, too. And I’m not completely contradicting myself from part 1, in that we should completely ignore that inner-reader voice that tells us what’s wrong with our writing. No—what I’m saying is, maybe, during the creative process, it might behoove us to put those two questions down for a bit. Let them haunt somebody else’s desk.

While we’re creating, we shouldn’t trash that weird, challenging, or freaky idea we get when we suspect it might not be “marketable” enough. We shouldn’t adhere to other people’s definitions of “good” or “suck.” We gotta write what we gotta write. If we take the time to forget about critiquing until we’ve got a finished product to critique, our inner spectral octopi will appreciate it.

And that’s good, because any second now those inner spectral octopi could go all Dagon on our butts and devour our sanity, so you want to make sure and keep them sleeping happily in their sunken R’lyeh. (Ia! Ia!)