Friday, January 15, 2010

"Sometimes art can be too personal."

Self-Portrait with Easel (1888)

A young man showed his student film to its first audience... and no one "got it." He thought he had been very clear in what he had depicted, but it turned out that too many of the references and required thought-connections were too closely tied to himself and his own particular ideas and experiences. Other people didn't see what he saw. "Sometimes," he said, "art can be too personal."

I wrote a short story last week that I love. The kind of story where you finish it and think, "This is so cool. I've really got something here. Revising? Pshaw. It's ready now!"

I gave it to a crit partner who has read my work before, who "gets" me, and who I trust.

She didn't get it. Worse, she didn't understand it. The ending flat-out confused her.

It's not ready.

Quite frankly, I'm a little bummed. I know that everything needs revising, and that writing is rewriting, but... yeah. I kinda hoped I'd gotten it flawlessly the first time around. And now I need to figure out how to translate that which is totally obvious to me into something which is comprehensible by people who, well, aren't me.

Recap of post for people who might not see things exactly the way I do: This is why you need a crit group or beta readers.

Hang in there, everyone.


  1. Great food for thought, Carrie. I got a crit from someone who doesn't normally read my genre, and felt pretty annoyed by some of her comments, but realized it's always valuable to get a totally outsider snapshot to test for whether I'm entirely too inside my work, and not adequately translating my ideas for the audience.

  2. I've had that happen before too. It's frustrating when you think something is wonderful and other people don't get it, but I agree--Thank goodness for beta readers!

  3. So true! Good crit groups (and partners) are priceless.

  4. I know exactly what you mean. In your head it's so clear and logical, yet subtle and delicate... and then people just don't get it. Your great piece comes off as unstructured rambling to everyone but yourself. It's really painful.

  5. Sometimes, I worry that my writing is too personal. Maybe my humor, I worry, only works if you know me. That's why I make an effort to pass it to a lot of people. I need to know it makes sense to others.

  6. Why can't they just be in our heads! I totally relate to this, both as writer and reader. Thanks for posting it.

  7. So true. We're immersed in our own "world" and need the objective view of someone else to help us see our work the way a "reader" would.

    BTW, I referenced one of your posts in my blog post today!

  8. Good luck with your rewriting. I know it's frustrating. I see things and think, "My now that's great!" only to have a reader say, "you know, you could do it this way and it be better."

    Happy Friday,

  9. The worst is when you write something, think it's beautiful, then go back to in a few weeks/months later and not even you understand it. Crit groups and beta reads are priceless, but just giving yourself time between drafts is valuable too.

  10. This made me smile. It's so true.

  11. Crit groups are like good friends who tell you when there's spinach in your teeth.

  12. I agree, generally...but I would also caution to pick your beta reader carefully. For example, my mother, god love her, is not a good barometer. She *always* has to have stuff explained to movies, tv shows, novels, etc. I give her a story and half the time she says, "I don't get it." And I have this one friend who also never gets anything I write. She's always focused on the wrong details and misses everything else...I have learned that her general reading interests are so far removed from what I write that she's not a good beta reader for me. (Both my mom and this friend didn't "get" a short story I wrote that, untouched after their confusion, ended up winning first place in a fiction contest. Lesson learned.)

    I have, thankfully, found some people who will give me clear critique after evaluating their reactions carefully...and are willing to read re-writes as well!

  13. What about the flip side of this? You write something that you aren't sure is ready and others say "go for it on this."

    I find it just as hard to trust whether or not others know if something's "ready." I might have in my heart more and more revising as the result of the reactions others have to my work. You end up on the hamster wheel again. Full of doubt.

    Writing is so confusing. And everyone's tastes are, of course, so unique. You are really lucky to have a crit partner you trust. And you are lucky to feel so strongly about your work. That's a really good starting point! Really good!

  14. That happens to me too. Oftentimes I haven't phrased something in a way that makes sense. Sigh...

  15. Hang in there indeed. This I think is why so many writers are into Jungian archetypes and variations thereof.

  16. Oh, I know that feeling. sometimes I feel that way about poems I have written and them I let others read them and they go, "Huh?"
    Sheesh! Really? It was perfectly clear to me!

    Hang in there. And I hope you do rewrite and it turns out even better than you could have imagined. And I agree with your comment about needing others to read our work. We can never be our own critiques. We don't have the eyes for it.

  17. I think that happens when we're so close to a project that we *think* we've put across our ideas on the paper...but they're still really in our heads. I've had first readers tell me things like, "You haven't told me what these people *look* like!" and I was completely surprised--because I knew exactly what they looked my head.

    Mystery Writing is Murder
    Mystery Lovers’ Kitchen

  18. Why can't people just read my mind and understand all things I want.

    Yep. that's what I want.

    No - really.. I get it. It's frustrating at time.. it's a blessing at times.. mostly, it's bloody maddening.

  19. I feel your pain. Finding people who "get" you is invaluable, but then when they don't get something you're proud of, you kind of have no choice but to listen, even if it sucketh.

    And boy, does it sucketh.