The Importance of Receiving Earnest…

…FEEDBACK!

I’m at a point in writing where I’ve completed first drafts of my current creative assignments (opening of YA fantasy novel + short screenplay) and it is freaking me out, to be quite frank. Quite confident and satisfied (if one ever is) about one, extremely self-conscious about the other, I decided to bite down on my pride and send both off for feedback.

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I’ve done all I can do at this point.

Now for the nervous waiting. Of course I’ve sent them to people I trust – but also people who will (even without me asking) be brutally honest about my pieces.

Constructive criticism has become bit of a cliché expression – does anybody know what it

means anymore? It seems like one of those words various professionals throw around to

either defend their own work, their own feedback, or prevent peers from absolutely trashing each other’s work. It is, nevertheless, very important.

Being criticised on a creative piece of work is not like being criticised on an academic essay. Oh, no, far from it. A (good) piece of writing is a part of yourself, a slice of your interiority contained in blotches of ink on a sheet of paper. Rather ludicrous, when one thinks about it.

It’s a part of your soul flaked up for others to see. To read. To criticise.

Feedback is, nevertheless, necessary – crucial, even – and a writer must learn to handle. You are after all writing for a readership. After hammering out thousands of words, you will inevitably become at least partially blind to your own writing and what does and does not make sense. Of course you get it – you made it up! In those moments there is nothing as important as EARNEST criticism. It can be as constructive as it likes, but the feedback isn’t honest, it’ll do you no good.

At least so I think. Maybe that’s just my masochistic side speaking…

Miller: Creation vs. Work

“When you can’t create you can work.”

– Henry Miller

Mr Miller here provides a very good point (and a fitting one at this point in time for me). Writing is creation, granted, but what happens when the inspirational well drains temporarily, when other things take over mind space and we, writers, simply fail to squeeze out creativity?

Do we give up?

Hardly. I have often heard that writing is like a muscle: it needs constant exercise to grow strong, proper nourishment to recover and develop, and oxygen to rejuvenate and spiral onwards.

Do we give up when a muscle is weak? No, we work it harder!

As Miller says – if creativity is low, we can still work. Use previous notes and plans to work on your story, and if it’s too dry even for that – work paragraphs an sections individually. Do they work? Check consistency, grammar, flow and so many more technical parts. Use this time to your advantage, and it will be to your story’s benefit.

My dry spell has been going on for a bit too long now, and as deadlines come nearer, it’s starting to worry me. I will have to work, even if I can’t create at the moment. For I feel that the longer you put it off, the scarier it becomes. I have neglected my novel for a week or so now, and the mere thought of picking it up and continue working on it causes mild panic attacks inside my chest. Flutters only, but substantial enough.

But in Miller’s words: when we can’t create, we can work. A muscle even needs time to recover, and collect energy for the next killer work out. It must be okay that not every writing session manufactures wonders, I suppose. The important thing is that you at some point come back to the inspired/creative state.

What YOHIO Can Teach a Writer

If YOHIO is unknown to you, here’s all you need to know: his latest hit. He did not quite make it in the Swedish national competition for the Eurovision Song Contest, but did receive the majority of the people’s votes. Sweden likes him. And why? I’ll tell you why, and I’ll also tell you how this reason can be worth keeping in mind while writing any kind of creative work.

Obviously this 17-year old Swedish star is a personal favourite of mine, but whether you like him or not, I think his unique image can teach aspiring (and accomplished) writers a simple but valuable lesson: be original.

Nobody likes a copycat and although the writing might be decent, the after taste will be somewhat sour if your material relies to heavily on already published works. I’m all for intertextuality – salute it, even! – but there’s a fine line between referencing, borrowing, and stealing.

The genre I mostly write in is Fantasy, admittedly a genre which can oftentimes feel repetitive and inbred. Without mentioning specific titles, perhaps you can think of a few works that reminded you of earlier ones…

But where there is risk, there is opportunity. This is where YOHIO comes in. His style is unique in our country – probably even in Europe – and we have quite honestly never seen anything like it done by a Swedish singer! On paper it is music, it is a solo boy artist – and we’ve got plenty of those – but his image is new, fresh, and exciting. And he does it regardless of any muttering critical voices.

In writing my YA novel, I sometimes feel that parts of it is dry and unoriginal. So I cut it out, edit, and reinvent. In other words, I make it my own. We already read Eliot, Larson, Childs, Dickens, and [insert author of choice]. Nobody is asking you to write what they already have written – and few would want you to.

Take a leaf out of wonderful and one-of-a-kind YOHIO’s book – create and become your own unique writing vision!

Juliet’s Misconception: Character Names

What’s in a name? That which we call a rose / By any other name would smell as sweet.

Juliet was wrong.

In fiction, a lot can be contained within a character’s name! Dickens was particularly keen on making his characters’ names speak for their personality and he gave us symbolically significant ones such as Twist, Steerforth, Rose, Pocket, Dedlock, and Scrooge. Each name subtly, and sometimes less subtly, reveals something either about the character’s nature or how the author wants us to feel about them.

J.K. Rowling follows in his footsteps: Severus Snape and Voldemort as lucid examples; Darth Vader as a derivation of ‘dark’ and ‘father’ – the list goes on.

Personally, I much enjoy when characters’ names carry significance, however subtly. It gives that extra fictional feeling to a story, and, for me, adds weight to its content. One could of couse also argue that such a device detracts from any realist claims made by the author/narrator.

I don’t read much ‘realist’ fiction anyway.

Back to the topic: how does one find suitable character names? This aspect is one of my weaker ones I must admit, but the feeling when I get it right is so sweet it’s worth all the work. For it is work. Whether you make up your own names, create them from Latin or mythological origins, or use your own connotations, it’s a lot more complex than simply perusing through a list of Most Popular Baby Names.

Don’t be lazy. Give your characters significant names, regardless of how ‘common’ or ‘realist’ they are. In Jane Eyre, it is often argued that she is called Jane because it is a simple, plain name to reflect her character. It doesn’t have to be more difficult than that, but at least there is thought behind the naming of her. Swap her name for Broomhilda in Django Unchained. Both stories alter enormously – and lose a lot of their creative flair.

What’s in a name? Well, perhaps not everything, but I’d say quite a lot. It is part of your character’s identity and needs as much thought as any other aspect. You’ll know when it’s right, because if your character is a ‘real’ person there is a name out there which will fit and extend his/her portrayal even further. And it’s a thrill when you find it!