Saturday, April 02, 2011

It's Subjective

By Keith N Fisher

I’ve been learning my craft for a long time. I go to writer’s conferences, workshops and a critique group. I read books about writing and try to incorporate that wisdom into my own work. I polish and worry that my manuscript isn’t good enough. I polish some more, submit, and write another great idea.

Its part of the process, some would say its paying my dues. Whatever it’s called, it makes me a better writer/editor, but the procedure has affected my reading. I can’t open a book without noticing errors. The thing is however, I might not read it the same way as other readers.

While attending, (as a spectator), the 2011 World Championship Dutch oven Cook off, I realized something I already knew. Judging is subjective and cooking is relative. I learned those facts while competing in a cook off in Southern Utah. Although perfect, our dishes didn’t score very high. Six months later, we cooked the same dishes in the same way, and took first place at worlds. We attributed the loss to the judges and unfair judging practices.

Afterward, I observed another truism, you could take the same cooks, making the same dishes, the same way, on a different day, with the same judges, and there could be a different outcome. Some people will never learn that fact. They want to attach blame. Either it’s the judge’s faults for being stupid and wrong, or its some other reason. It’s never the fault of the cooks, and it could never be dumb luck.

As a reader, I’m fairly dense. I want to get into the story and stay there so I try to overlook things like typos, spelling errors, and syntax. I even try not to notice an over abundance of foreshadowing, and phrases like, “little did he know”, but when those errors make me lose the story, I object. When the POV changes many times on the page, I lose my perspective.

Now, I’m not the best writer and as an editor, I sometimes suck, ask my critique group. I’ve been known to be wrong. I sometimes miss key sentences that explain what comes later. I’m not perfect, and neither are many proofreaders and editors.

Inevitably, we’ll all get our work in front of a reviewer or editor and they will tear it apart. Worse yet, they’ll like it, but there’ll only be a couple of things wrong. Like the cooking competition, things don’t always turn out the way we expect. It is possible to pour our heart and soul into something, to sweat blood over a project and have someone not like it. Even when we believe our work was inspired.

When it happens to us, we’re tempted to lash out. Sometimes we turn it inward, vowing to quit writing. At the very least, in no way, will we ever let that person see anything we’ve written again.

In the cook off circles, I used to hear competitors mention certain judges with scorn. They would always say something like, “If I find out so & so is judging I won’t cook.” I’m sure I said that once or twice, but I was missing the point. It’s true, the joy is in the journey as I discussed in a previous blog.

I’m not saying you have to agree with, or like the review/critique, just remember that on some days the cake will be perfect and not win. Judging and critiquing are subjective. The risk we take is in believing every word.

Sometimes reviewers can be wrong, but if we’re honest with ourselves, we might learn something. Still, how many of you read the bestseller, Nights in Rodanthe by Nicholas Sparks? Here’s a book with POV issues. In one sentence we’re in Paul’s head. In the next sentence we’re in Adrienne’s. I even noticed a sentence started in Adrienne’s head and finished in Paul’s. Who can read that without getting lost? I wonder, how many editors overlooked the head hopping because of who wrote it?

I can’t afford to make those kinds of mistakes because I’m a first time Author, trying to break into the market. And when I do, break in, I hope I’ll take the criticism with a grain of salt. I expect to remember some cook off judges are crazy people . . . no, I’ll try to bear in mind that everything is subjective. It doesn’t make rejection easier, but at least I’ll know I’m not a terrible writer.

Still, some reviewers have it in for—uh, never mind.

Good luck with your writing—see you next week.

1 comment:

Tristi Pinkston said...

You are asking your critique group, and they say, "Of course you don't suck!"

And we mean it.