A Guest blog from Paul Roberts. Paul is the Director of a successful management consultancy, but also has a passion for writing, with several management textbooks to his name. His first was issued through The Economist, another formed part of Kogan Page’s hugely influential ‘Business Success’ series and is being reproduced as an iPhone application. He has also written for television. Read Paul’s new book, Effective Project Management, published by Kogan Page.
We – or perhaps it’s just me – tend to think that once we’ve learned something, that’s it. There is no need to re-learn it; the message has been received, understood and directs what we do. We trust that having learned, our behaviour is changed for ever. But recently, it became clear to me that my behaviour as a writer had slipped backwards. Simply put, I wasn’t exercising enough.
This is not to say that I wasn’t writing enough (I’d recently completed a book and was preparing another). I was reading a manuscript which had been sent to me for review. I was seeing another writer in the early stages of development. The review required me to read not just what they had written, but how they had written it.
We all know the importance to the writer of reading. It’s like stretching before going for a jog: it’s not the jog itself, but it helps us jog better. Reading for enjoyment is a wonderful thing, and it certainly helps the writer to explore their imagination, and to know what is possible. But reading critically – reading with the express purpose of learning about writing – is something which can provide truly extraordinary insights into what we do.
As I sought words and expressions which might articulate precisely what I hoped to convey to the author, I myself was stretched as a writer. It caused me to question that the observations I was making were true, fair, informative, clear and that they contributed to the positive development of the work and its author.
I have heard it said that it is easier to criticise than it is to create; only the creator commences with a blank page. As a writer, I know that challenge. Yet a piece of criticism – constructive, supportive and fair – is itself a work of creation, demanding diligence, honesty and insight. With the development and education of the writer in mind, the critic treads a fine line. On one side lies the work, and on the other, the writer. It is my personal opinion that the critic’s role is to use criticism of the former to develop the latter. This is why John Ruskin played such a vital part in the development of authors, artists and entire movements. He, and they, knew the power of supportive criticism.
So, what I learned was not only to seek more criticism of my own work, but also to exercise my own creative, critical powers in the support and service of other writers.
And that’s why we’re all here, isn’t it?