The Ultimate Critique

Monday, June 30, 2008
I have lots to say today, meaning if you need a bathroom break or some munchies, now’s the time to take care of that . So, okay. This weekend, I became a member of another writing group. Mid-American Romance Writers has over forty members and meets monthly in the Kansas City area. They’re a great group, share lots of laughter and smiles, and contain some talented, published authors that are very willing to give helpful advice. I had fun and can’t wait to go back next month.

After the main meeting, one published author took a few minutes to sit down with me and go over the first chapter of one of my completed stories. I still appreciate all the time and consideration she put into the critique, but… wow. That one stung. After ten years of practice, one correspondence class, and a bachelor’s degree in fiction writing, I realize I have so much more to learn.

It was harsh, though. My rational brain realized this wonderful, talented author that gave me so much advice wasn’t trying to hurt me or kill my creative muse. My logical side was well aware she was attempting to help. Her words were terribly honest and insightful. And, yes, I do mean terribly. Fixing the problems she found will make my manuscript stronger and so much better. But the thing is, my rational, logical self didn’t write my story. That was all emotion, baby. And I should note here, I have terribly sensitive emotions. Yes, terribly.

I figure emotions have no room in the revision process. After completing the main rough draft, emotions might as well go on vacation and logic needs to step in and clean up that emotional, wordy, sloppy, “creative,” mess. Revision is where the story needs to be virtually re-written so other people can read and understand it too. My emotions must’ve gotten too much sun in the Bahamas—or wherever they went— though, because they returned from their trip a bit early and I found them hanging around during this oh-so honest critique, hoping to maybe hear a little praise. No such luck.

It wasn’t like this wonderful, talented author disliked my style, or word-choice, or had problems with any specific element of writing. She didn’t even say the characterization was bad. They had to be pretty well developed characters actually because she was able to despise them… all of them. That really hit home with me because I’ve put my heart and soul into these people. A little of me is in each and every one of them. So, all I saw was her pointing at me and saying, “You’re a weak, immature cry-baby and no one will ever like you.” No, no, she didn’t say that verbatim (of course not), that’s just the summary of what reached my ears—told you I was too sensitive.

All I thought during this, was “Oh, my God, she’s right.” How had she so cleverly been able to reach inside me, pull out my deepest, darkest insecurities, and expose them to the entire world? It devastated me and made me question who I was as a writer… heck, as a person.

I’ve been critiqued a lot lately. In fact, another published author has read the exact same scene she did—before a revision. The other author’s comments left me energized and excited, ready to go forth and revise my story immediately. But not this critic. I went away, wondering why I was polluting the world with all the filth I had written. She hadn’t even given me suggestions for repair. No salvation in sight. I had, in no way, meant to project most of the themes she found and was horrified when I realized someone could actually see my story that way. It was embarrassing.

I went away and bawled… the entire rest of the weekend (Yep, she nailed weak, immature crybaby on the head, didn’t she?). My poor husband didn’t know what to do with me. I think he was worried I would turn into a manic depressant because he assured me it didn’t matter if I was a bad writer or not, I was still a great wife. Isn’t he a sweetheart? He’s the one that’s the wonderful spouse.

Now that it’s all over and done, however, I’m still glad I received that critique. After I finally got over myself, I realized I was still alive and nothing was going to stop me from writing what I love. I’m going to make her words help me un-sensitize myself and grow a thicker skin.

I’m also grateful she gave her point of view. It was interesting to see how a complete stranger perceived my work. But I do realize hers is only one person’s perspective. I think I’ll get a second, and maybe third, opinion to see if anyone else saw the horrors she did. If they all agree with her… well, then, okay, at least I’ll know what parts to fix. Now, all I have to figure out is… how.

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