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Teach us to care and not to care Part 2

There is something about creative activities that makes us vulnerable. We become children again proudly showing off our work to our teachers, anxious for a gold star or a smily face. Generally people find the whole business of writing, exposing, even if, as in my case, their work is not directly about themselves at all. I suppose in writing we assert that we have something to say that we want someone else to listen to and that we want someone else to like. I think those of us who write seriously have to get over this vulnerability to separate ourselves from our work - to find the distance that allows us to see it as a thing in itself and not the pure outpourings of our souls before which everyone else must stand in respectful awe. Teach us to care Unfortunately, we have to accept that our work is imperfect. Personally, I'd rather not, but the sad truth is that criticism is helpful. The best kind is focused on the work and the work is something you have produced not something you are. It is hard to see that if the work is about you, your life, your feelings, your finely tuned aesthetic, your profundity and insight into the complexity of existence, but it is true. Perceptive criticism is never about you at all but explores how your work might be better structured or expressed. I am fantastically bad at accepting criticism. About anything. I will continue to make my own bad pasta sauce, because its mine, rather than follow a recipe and make a better one. So you can trust me when I say that accepting criticism and responding to it in a positive and reflective way is part and parcel of being a writer and if I can manage it, anyone can. ( You are allowed to swear and get angry in private.) My first response is always to defend what I've done. My second response is to mock the criticism, I then run through an entirely predictable but reprehensible gamut of emotions before accepting that, yes, possibly, it would be better if my hero didn't have lunch three times on the same day and that the reader should probably be able to pronounce her name. We do have to care what other people think and yet... And not to care If you take criticism too much to heart it will break you. Some criticism, however well meant, might not be relevant. I did not for example omit the expression 'bare headed' from a novel because one friend confused it with 'bald.' Similarly there's not much you can do about the one star amazon reviewer who objects to the genre you are writing or the efficiency of amazon's delivery service. You don't have to take all criticism on board, some people will never like what you do, and that's fine, they don't have to. It is wonderful when people like what you have done, it can give you a lift that lasts for hours sometimes whole days. An appreciative word, a good review, good sales figures, letters from fans, can temporarily assuage self doubt, but it is never enough. A writers' ego isn't satisfied with anything less than JK Rowling's level of 'positive feedback' and I guess even she has her bad days. You have to be your own cheer leader, you have to believe enough in what you are doing to keep doing it. You have to reconcile your very reasonable desire for constant gold star's with the reality of a writer's life: long periods of uncertainty and self doubt, brief periods of manic self confidence in which you rehearse your Booker/Carnegie/Whatever acceptance speech and pick your Desert Island Discs, too much time of Facebook/Twitter and a lot of coffee drinking. Luckily, as Henry Miller said, 'Writing is its own reward.'

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