Dull and lifeless? How some Dutch verbal can help


We were on holiday and having a drink before supper in a hotel. My friend Amphora and I were discussing our hair.

‘I should have washed mine,’ I said.

‘Stop worrying,’ said Amphora, just as her partner Schmutter joined us.

‘What’s this?’ said Schmutter, ‘What are you worrying about?’

‘Nothing,’ I said, ‘I was just saying I should have washed my hair.’

‘Yes,’ said Schmutter, ‘It is a bit dull and lifeless.’

This is the joy of the Dutch.

I think  it may be a middle-European thing too. I once complained to a Czech friend that I’ d put on a few pounds.

‘Yes,’ said Gazelle ‘I was quite surprised to see you are so fat now.’

I think of Schmutter and Gazelle quite often when I’m asking for people’s opinions on my writing. Honest, informed feedback is hard to find.  It’s like searching for a powerful metaphor after a tiring day.

This week I was lucky. Two new friends, and one older one, gave me some really helpful criticism. I am so grateful. They gave it to me pretty straight but kindly as well. This is not just rare. It’s Marks and Spencer’s unusual.

If you’re not a writer and you’re reading this but you have friends who are writers, please don’t take it as any kind of license to slate. Most people want their medicine sugared, at least a little bit. Encouragement is always critical, especially for people who are just picking up their pencils.

But I’ve been trying to write for a while now, on and off, and although I still roll over for praise, I can take the pill without water. I really need it too, when I’ve lost all critical distance and a deadline is looming. At these kinds of moments,  ‘lovely’ or ‘nice’ are worse than useless. You can’t fix mistakes if you can’t see them.

How does this end?

I eventually washed my hair, I bought some bigger clothes and I rewrote the story.

(NB: if I don’t get a good mark for it, I’ll know who to blame.)

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Posted in characters, feedback, friendship, life writing, literature, reading, Uncategorized, women, Writing, writing novels
3 comments on “Dull and lifeless? How some Dutch verbal can help
  1. zencherry says:

    I lived in Germany for a while. I came to find out that they think of compliments as insincere and bordering on lying. A vast difference to what I’d been used to, definitely. 😉 Interesting to see how the aspects are different once you cross the border, if a bit hard to take at first. Good post!

  2. cathbore says:

    Robust critiques are the best, the whole ‘Oooh that’s lovely that’ response doesn’t do you any good. Having said that, I’ve had feedback from people who get their jollies by telling you gleefully what’s ‘wrong’ with a piece. I’ve left a writing group because of that. Not nice!

  3. Tanya says:

    It’s great that you know people who can be critical and supportive. Is it because they are confident and understand the art of writing? Reading your blog I find myself thinking is it relevant to me and does it inspire a response? I find writing quite intimidating and so feel that you are brave to lay yourself open like this. It’s a process and you have declared you are learning. I’m excited for you and hope it evolves into what you want it to be.

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