Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Constructive or destructive? De-constructing criticism

By Judith Ross for Talking Writing

This morning all the managers in my office are huddled with an outside consultant in the main conference room. The meeting is on how to give constructive criticism. This session was prompted by feedback received on a staff survey. Apparently, not everyone on the staff finds their managers' feedback helpful.

When it comes to criticism of our work, most writers have seen it all: the good, the bad, and the ugly. The best criticism I ever received pinpointed in a matter-of-fact tone what was wrong, included a suggestion or two, gave a couple of paramenters, and then left the rest to me. The result? One of the best pieces I have ever published.

The worst criticism was emotional, rambling, and included several erroneous judgments about how I do my work. The result? Resentment, anger, and a never-ending round of that age-old phrase going through my head: Take this job and shove it!

What about you? What kind of input do you find helpful? What kind makes you want to throw in the towel and hide under the covers with a trashy novel?

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Why I Write

By Martha Nichols for Talking Writing

Two essays, same title: One by George Orwell in 1946, another by Joan Didion in 1976. For me, they represent two poles for nonfiction writers: stepping aside and letting the story tell itself (Orwell) vs. creating a point of view through which everything is filtered (Didion).

Didion was deliberately riffing on Orwell, who famously wrote in his essay, "Good prose is like a windowpane."

Didion's reply: "I write entirely to find out what I'm thinking, what I'm looking at, what I see and what it means. What I want and what I fear."

The irony is that Orwell had an extremely strong—some would say caustic—point of view, and the good sense to realize he had a tough time stepping out of his own way. Didion's ice-cool persona is a turn-off for some, who view her as the ice queen rather than a stewing cauldron of subjectivity. So which is it for the rest of us? How do we balance the need for factual accuracy with subjectivity?