Writing and making art are like chess. Opinions are a dime a dozen as to how you should have played it, what move you should have made, which would have given it “a fine touch,” and what combo would have made you the victor. And they could be right. All of them! The problem lies in you, in listening to any of them. If you accept the verdict of one, you might as well accept it of all. At the end, you’ll never know your own child, and the music you intended to put there is gone.
Because writing literature, or even designing a cover, is like writing music. It has its own sound. You can hear it, and it even makes you emotional. If your story or art does not make you emotional in either a happy or a sad way before you start writing it or drawing it, it is the wrong story or the wrong sketch. You must feel your poems. They must mean something to you. Yet, don’t take my word for it, I’m just one of those with an advice to spare.
In my experience, a good way to ask an opinion is not to ask for it. If it’s a story you’re writing, hand in a bit of it to someone, and don’t say it’s yours. Our shield is broken once we say something is ours. People cannot wait to give opinions. Even the stupid give opinions, people who would slaughter your treasure with their wisdom.
To spot one of those jewels, those genetically disposed to find error even in the shape of a perfect grape, pick a quote from one of your favorite writers, a classic writer. Chances are it is grammatically incorrect based on today’s standards. Say the quote is yours and, after the opinion—which will come—admit it’s not yours. Lucy might hate you, but she never liked you, anyway.
Back to chess. It is my favorite board game, so why not? Don’t disregard all opinions, especially from strong players. Those looking over the game can often see better than the player. I’ve—more than a few times—had the pleasure of strangling strong players to death by continuing the game of the weak player who gave up tossing up his hands in utter hopelessness. I was always welcome to the seat with an ingratiating smile, but didn’t leave it the same way. One Indian guy, a very smart and good guy, a doctor of the medical kind, with a beautiful Indian wife, and brother to my best friend at the time, never spoke to me again.
But to continue! Oh, breaks! What will an editor say here, class? Never start a sentence with your BUT! BUT we ignore them, those wise editors, who want nothing but the best for us, whose children we are, whose future is cemented in our future, and our fuckups are their fuckups or incompetence.
There’s, however, a way to thresh the chaff off the grain. It’s the same way you thresh grain, by hitting a lot of them. Never run with the first opinion. Always take as many as you can. 20 at least, more if possible. That should give you a good metric of where changes should be made in your work, or if they should be made at all. If everyone or almost everyone focuses on one thing, that’s where a problem exists, and you should view to change it.
The best advice, I believe: pick a good editor. Who is a good editor? She’s either got a resume or a few articles or books that prove her merits. An editor—a good editor—is your friend, not your judge. Any criticism she gives you (the field is almost completely dominated by women nowadays, drink to that and get drunk), comes from a different place. She sees your strengths, while critics, a dime a dozen at Woolworth’s or Safeway, only your weaknesses. A good editor doesn’t think she’s better than you, but your partner in the endeavor to bring your story to life as much as you do. She cares for it and for you.