We All Need a Lytton

Keeping in the line of writers groups and mentors and honest critiquers, I’d like to point out a conversation that Woolf recorded in her diary between herself and Lytton Strachey (author of Eminent Victorians and fellow member of the Bloomsbury Group).

First off, Lytton says to Virginia that he doesn’t like Mrs. Dalloway — he finds the structure (stream of conciousness, creative) not in balance with the subject matter (boring, everyday stuff). And he tells Woolf so. She doesn’t seem to take it too badly: “I like him all the better for saying so, and don’t much mind.” ~V.W. A Writer’s Diary

This illustrates something very important, I think: When you are the person being critiqued, you must understand that it is not you who is being critiqued. You must ‘not much mind’ when someone is talking about your work with only the work’s best interest in mind. And you shouldn’t be offended if someone’s personal opinion prevents them from ‘getting your genius.’ Again, it’s not you. Though it is personal.

I think that your personal feelings towards the critiquer also influence your reaction to criticism. Virginia greatly respected Lytton and appreciated his insights. A good thing too. Because if she had behaved all crazed and emotional she would have missed this:

“Perhaps, he said, you have not yet mastered your method. You should take something wilder and more fantastic, a framework that admits of anything, like Tristram Shandy. But then I should lose touch with emotions, I said. Yes, he agreed, there must be reality for you to start from. Heaven knows how you’re to do it. But he thought me at the beginning, not at the end.”
~V.W. A Writer’s Diary

Based on his advice and encouragement, Virginia then developed Orlando. A fantastical story set with a basis in reality, and in keeping with emotion. And Lytton’s advice was based on a complementary foundation. He didn’t say “You suck, Virginia. You should throw out all your pens and take up gardening.” He didn’t even say that Mrs. Dalloway was horrible, just that it wasn’t her masterpiece. She still needed to develop; she still needed to grow–and he had faith that she would. (And she did! Mrs. Dalloway is a definite classic, but the later works are really brilliant.)

I think that we all need a Lytton. I know that I have more than one! (I’m so lucky.) Do you have someone who encourages you, but doesn’t pull back when you need to hear the truth? How do you react to criticism?

P.S. Happy Groundhog’s Day! Come on spring, come on!







2 responses to “We All Need a Lytton”

  1. Matt Avatar

    Though from certain sources you know the critique of the work is a commentary on you. Don't know if you know some of those individuals, but I do. And no, I don't let them bother me. 🙂

  2. Jenny Avatar

    Yes, you always have to examine the source of the critiques too. Everyone needs to be coming at it from a place of mutual respect…or at least politeness.

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