This week, I’m taking a few days to travel the back roads of New England with my good friend K. My book will be percolating away in the back of my mind, and I”ll be ready to revise when I come back. But for this week, some of my dear writerly friends are going to share their thoughts on critique. Most of us hate it and love it and hate it and love it, all in some cycle of necessity and improvement that keeps us going.

Today, Brian Wigg – my friend from college and a good ole Canadian – shares his own wisdom on how we bear up in this process.

Once upon a time I was an actor, and as often happens for actors, I found myself in a weak production of a popular musical. I knew it wasn’t very good, but at the same time I kind of hoped that my efforts might be seen to be above the mess.

I read the reviews.

One of the them singled me out as having about as much personality as a doorstop.

Ouch.

It would have been easy to dismiss this review. It wasn’t constructive and it was kind of mean. But I’d read it and I was having trouble with it so I decided to try and learn from it. I began to think about the show, and I began to think about the fact that it was a musical that had been cast with a lot of musical theatre types – who sing from the gut, put out over-the-top characterizations and play to the back row. I am not a musical theatre type. I played to the darker side of the story and kept things more subdued. Compared to most of the other players, I must have looked like cardboard – especially to someone who was coming to see… a musical.

The production had been a failure and I had been a part of it, but this didn’t mean I was just a lousy actor, it meant that I needed to know what play I was in and act accordingly. Normally these kinds of issues are one of the reasons that directors are so handy, but nonetheless, I learned something, and that is all I could ask for.

***

Why do we write? If we have ideas or stories in our heads and we want to translate them to words in our own voices and/or styles, and if we want people to understand them, then receiving and interpreting criticism is vital to getting us there.

I think that most writers know this, but facing the necessary, and often painful, work of exposing our writing to the light can be agonizing. Whenever I send something out for critique, I always hope for unbridled gushing and praise. I never get it. But then I remember that writing is a process and that’s why I sent my stuff out in the first place.

(Incidentally, if all you want is gushing praise, even if your writing is crap, there are people who will do that – some for free.)

I’m not suggesting you seek out people who will be mean. But the thing about mean comments is that often they’re the most honest, and that is the kind of critique you need (honest not mean). Seek out honest critique – find people you trust who will tell you what you need to hear. Be patient, sometimes you need to interpret a comment or ask for clarification, but just make sure you get over any hurt or disappointment and learn from it.

I had to get over the hope that I was a genius who churned out masterpieces from scratch. I’m now aiming for competency and perhaps some flashes of wit – with a little help, sometimes I get there.

Brian Wigg is a husband, father of three small children, trained actor and economic analyst. He is working on a book about the lies of pornography and how life without it is far better. He blogs now and then at p-rnfree.com. In his spare time…never mind he has no spare time.