Monday, September 19, 2011

Making Room for The Critic

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Stand-Up Comedy
Is there anything better to do on a long road trip than tune in to some comedy?

I knew I would be finishing my manuscript soon, and wanted to listen to this audiobook before I began editing, but it was hard to find the time.  Then I had 700 miles of Interstate 5 to burn.

Problem solved.

So what does stand-up comedy possibly have to do with editing a manuscript?  True, my particular work is (or tries to be) funny, but what's in here that would be helpful to writers who are not working on comedic material?

For one thing, all writers do need to know how to write a joke, how to add lighter moments or a funny character.  Even if your work is Deadly Serious, if you don't understand humor, your work is likely to be unintentionally funny in all the wrong places.  This audiobook has wonderful tips for creating and understanding jokes and humor, and for anyone who would like to learn to write humorous material.

It also delves into writing different Points of View.  How you not only have to write dialogue, for, say, an argument, but you have to become each character, to emotionally believe his (or her) POV when you are arguing his point.  It doesn't work if one character believes what she's saying, and her opponent is simply a straw man.  You've got to spend time in that head, too, truly believe that POV is right.

But it's Chapter 7 that I found most fascinating, as a writer.  It's about the rehearsal process.

Yes, boys and girls, comedians don't just leap onto the stage and start telling a bunch of jokes they've memorized.  In fact, great comedians don't memorize routines at all.  They focus on being storytellers, conveying the emotional impact of their jokes, rather than reciting a string of memorized words in exactly this or that order.

Okay - so what does this have to do with Writing?

Writing is about rewriting, that's what.

Greg goes into wonderful detail breaking apart The Creator and The Critic. 
For example, while practicing his material, a comic may allow The Critic to interject a constant stream of negative comments through internal self-talk.  It usually goes like this:

Creator: This guys goes into a confessional.  He says to the minister...
Critic: That was terrible, it's not a minister, it's a priest.  What's wrong with you?  You're so stupid.  It's a priest.  Now, try it again.
Creator: This guy grows...
Critic: What the hell are you doing?  Take it from the top.
Creator: This guy goes into a confessional.
Critic: You didn't pay your bills today.  You're going to get late charges added on to them.  Why did you stop?  You idiot.  Do it again.
Sound familiar yet?  Has The Critic made an appearance and started mouthing off while you're trying to work out a scene in your novel or short story?

Greg has many wonderful suggestions on how to encourage The Creator, which is the lively, fun spirit that the audience wants to hear, and still save a place for The Critic, who will sharpen the performance and make it better.

The Critic (aka, The Editor) is not simply a mean, heartless a$$hole, but somebody who is vital to the process for any creative person.

Part of Greg's process is to rehearse with our body in two physically separate locations.  When it's The Creator's turn to let fly and rehearse, it happens in THIS room or spot - and The Critic isn't even permitted within eyesight of The Creator.

Then when it's time to fine-tune, we walk to a different room, or at least a different location in the room.  Then The Critic can offer suggestions, point out weaknesses, etc.  It sounds a little nutty, but by creating two different physical locations for two different mental activities, over time the brain truly does recognize what to do in spot A, and what to do in spot B.

The Critic is only allowed to talk/interrupt when s/he is in The Critic Space.  And that's where I think these concepts could be very helpful to those writing or editing a manuscript, who have a constant stream of negative comments running either inside their heads, or coming out of their mouths.

Again, The Critic is only allowed to say his piece when our body is physically is in his corner.  (Or whoever else we want to put him.)

The thing is, The Critic is a necessary part of the psyche.  The Critic is not the enemy (though sometimes she feels like it).  In The Creative Fire audio series, Clarissa Pinkola Estes also talks about The Critic, allowing him a space to be.  To even interview him and ask him what he is thinking.

She even suggest visualizing him (or her).   Her critic looks kind of seedy, like a bookie.

We can't bury important parts of ourselves, like The Critic.  We need him, even if often we don't like what he has to say. 

Magnificent Audiobook -
Every writer should give it a listen.
Available here
If we don't make space to listen to The Critic, this often leads to The Critic breaking free and running amok, talking all the time.  What works is finding a role for him, and allowing him his rightful place, listening to him, but not letting him take over everything.

One thing I am trying to learn, is to make the writing and editing process separate.  I tend to edit while I write, which means I take waaaaay too long to finish a chapter or a piece, and I still have to edit it again, anyway.  My Critic shuts down my Creator all too often.  I am trying, now, to write, and then later, print out pages, step away from the computer, and edit them elsewhere.

Now I just have to learn to give my own, inner Critic the space to say what she needs me to hear, without letting her rule the roost.

What do you think about The Creator and The Critic?
Have you tried reserving a space for The Critic - and a safe place where she is banned?