Am I Overly Self-Critical? Who Wants to Know?

Having been a victim – and perpetrator – of self-criticism all my life I often recognise it in others. As I’ve mentioned before, when I started writing (as an adult) on a German mountainside, Christmas 1980, I barely managed to get two sentences out before I slagged them off (‘too wordy and Dickensian.’) And that was a good day; on a bad day I’d hardly manage to write anything because the blank page would accuse me with its perfection – writing on it would be like peeing in fresh white snow. Self-belief is crucial for a writer; it is also horribly hard to attain, particularly in the face of constant rejection. But you pick yourself up, you blow a raspberry at the editors too foolish to recognise your genius, and you carry on.

What’s harder to excuse (though I understand the impulse) is folk who are afraid to put themselves out there but slag off those of us who do. I’ve had one or two of these in my life, and when I look at what they’ve produced there’s invariably nothing there – or very little. I’m guessing these people have a lot of warheads aimed at themselves but are armed with deflectors so that the flak gets splattered at those nearest to them – but however that goes, it’s harder to condone criticism from people who haven’t had the courage to put themselves out there.

But in the end the biggest enemy is oneself; and my own method of cheating the demon of self-flagellation is to outrun them. I simply start writing, put my fingers in my ears and say lalalalala and carry on writing so fast that they can’t keep up. Of course, once I start the editing process they’re there again – but that’s a whole ‘nother story.

Happy Wednesday

Kirk out

5 thoughts on “Am I Overly Self-Critical? Who Wants to Know?

  1. Anyone who has nothing but unequivocal admiration for what they turn out is almost certain to turn out very bad stuff.

    It’s natural for the ‘creator], if they are serious about what they do, to find their creations wanting. They are the only people, after all, who can see what it is missing, gauge how far it fell short of their goal.

    Scott Walker coulldn’t listen to his first four albums (the ones everyone loves – including me) because he felt they were failures. They don’t sound like failures to me – but then, I don’t know what he was aiming for.

    I’m not an unqualified admirer of Woody Allen, but I thought he had a point when he said the only type of criticism you should feel pleased about is ‘faint praise’ – ie, you didn’t do too badly, there were some good things about it, it could have been worse, etc. “Gushing’ and ‘tear down’ reviews are both equally misleading.

  2. An ‘overly self-critical’ person is a person who never produces anything – or, if by some chance they do, they immediately destroy it ‘because it’s no good.’

    That is what I’d call being ‘overly self-critical’.

  3. I wouldn’t call myself a songwriter, though I do run workshops in songwriting (!) and one example I use to give people confidence is Peter Sarstedt’s Where Do You Go To My Lovely? It’s not a good song (but it’s not a bad one, either). It has a charm that isn’t calculated (it woudlnt’ be charm if it was). It’s the work of a stumbling songwriter who struck lucky and it includes some genuinely horrible lines like ‘You’re loveliness goes on and on’. But when he wrote it Sarstedt wasn’t a sophisticated person and things he might have cut had he been more experienced songwriter stayed in – and I think it may be those banalities that sold the song to the public in massive numbers. Had Sarsted been more ‘self-critical’ he might have hurled it in the dumper and missed out on a lifetime of financial security.

    I make the point that it’s a song literally anyone with a reasonable command of the English language, a reasonable level of general knowledge and the ability to strum three simple chords could have written.

    Another point I make is that had I written Noel Gallagher’s Wonderwall, I would’ve chucked it straight in the bin and given up songwriting as something I didn’t have a knack for.

    ‘But you’d have been throwing away millions of quid!’shouted one outraged student.

    ‘Exactly!’quoth I. ‘So, what do I know?’

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