Spirit of Writing Week 5: Be Your Own Best Critic

(For the last 12 weeks of 2014, in thanks for my phenomenal year of growth here at Negression and in my overall writing life, I am offering my Spirit of Writing practices here. I have taught these lessons and sessions in schools, libraries and community programs. in Chicago and New York City. I will post new segments each Wednesday. Happy writing!)


Writers must feel comfortable and get used to looking back over their work, considering how they feel about and also determining whether they think it is the best or most powerful they can do. This can often be something many writers neglect or simply do not want to do. Why? It is very hard to confront the various words, voices and ideas within. Is this right? What will people think? How do I sound? Is this good enough? These are all valid questions and should be asked, no matter what genre or format. Yet, they should never be deterrents to continuances or starting.

Essentially, what criticism is (self or otherwise) is a consecration of failure of the work to either reach a point of optimal function or a semblance of perfection. Perfection is impossible. Optimal function is not. Remember what you were trying to do to begin with, and judge yourself based on the original dream. Chances are, you are closer than you think.

Four years ago, J.K. Rowling gave a commencement address at Harvard and her topics of choice were, largely, FAILURE and IMAGINATION. She speaks of how an overactive imagination, which all writers possess, is not really a commodity in our world; she did not follow her first destiny to major in literature for fear of having no real vocation in the job world, but when that vocation failed her overactive imagination rescued her. She speaks of how a Harvard graduate’s idea of failure is probably not too far from the average person’s view of success.

So is the case with most writers I know, no matter where they went to school or if they went to school at all. We love writing because we love stories and books, perfected by editors a million times over or seasoned by time. The root of criticism is comparison, and comparison is the root of competition. If you are competing with your favorite writers, you will always fail. But if you lower your view of success (which does not mean lowering your standards), you may be better off than you think.

Compete with yourself in your writing. Compare your new work to your old, your next draft to your last, yourself to yourself. Be your own best critic and look for all you have corrected or done right. Be kind to yourself and your work. This week, go through your latest project and highlight was you have done RIGHT. Ignore Microsoft Word’s green lines on bottom of your sentences and red marks all through your text; give a sunny yellow glow to every great sentence, beautiful line, strong paragraph and “Damn, I’m good!” place you see in your work. Then, criticize and revise from there.

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