Last night I went to critique group with a very short chapter to read aloud. It wasn’t my best effort, but technically, I thought it worked.
Boy, did I think wrong! I mean, talk about your blunt criticism. Plenty of not-ready-for-prime-time feedback there. It was enough to make me drive home with an angry headache and the determination to blow off my group forever–well, at least until next week.
So how do you handle critiques that don’t go your way? Should you crawl into a hole of embarrassment and never show your face again? Should you cry and stomp your feet? Should you rip back at those people who are “only trying to help?”
Okay, so I didn’t sleep so well after that. I’ve been up since two-thirty or three, playing Sudoku and licking my wounds. Now it’s time to get back to being a pro about my work.
FIRST THINGS FIRST
I have to realize that not everything I write has a golden touch. Hard to believe, I know, but true. Even Barack Obama and Mitt Romney have been known to produce the occasional “oops.” I’m allowed a bad night at the keyboard.
But, I also have to believe that when I receive opinions from others, those are simply other people’s knee jerk reactions to my work, not carved stone tablets. And one thing I’ve noticed is that if my first critic is harsh, the rest of the group tends to pile on. That’s why our group’s rule is to SAY SOMETHING NICE before ripping into the person you’re reviewing. This may not have happened, but that was my critic’s problem, not mine.
The key is that if multiple critics focus in on the same challenge points, there’s where you start looking to improve.
NEXT, LOOK AT YOUR WORK AGAIN WITH FRESH EYES
One of the best things about having others read your work, is that it allows you to step back and see it from a reader’s perspective. And when you have three, four, or five other sets of eyes on your work, you’re definitely going to get some very different perspectives.
Last night, my story was challenged on two levels: the pages had “no conflict”–an absolute no-no in story telling–and my main character–my Daisy, for heaven’s sake!–was too wimpy, not loyal enough to Gabe, and a doggone victim! Ouch, ouch, double ouch.
FIND THE TRUTH IN THE CRITICISM
After the sting wears off, I try to step into my critics’ shoes. At this point, I allow myself to agree and disagree with the comments, and think through how I might adjust a chapter.
Was there truly no conflict? The conflict was there, but so soft and internal that it made for dull reading. Do I have to have a flaming argument to make the point? No. I was using this chapter to set up Daisy and Gabe for an explosive disagreement a few pages down the road. However, if I don’t shove those two into battle on these pages, then I can’t allow Daisy to wimp out entirely. Maybe she can snap at others around her, trying to diffuse her own anger. Or maybe she does confront Gabe, but in a dump-the-guilt-on-you kind of way.
Was Daisy too wimpy? Yes. I saw that immediately after, of course, it was pointed out to me. I can’t have her hide from the situation, even though she may want to. Daisy definitely needs backbone surgery in those pages.
Should Daisy be more loyal to Gabe? Here lots of people will disagree with me, but I think these days, women are allowed to have thoughts about other men, even when they’re in a committed relationship. It may be fun to become all consumed with love, but that’s for junior high school and cheesy made-for-TV movies. You can love and be loyal to one man, but you can’t ask your eyes to stop working.
One of my critique friends is writing a romance. Her hero and heroine always seem to have eyes for no one else, so their internal conflicts tend to be more along the lines of “am I good enough for this other person, or will the guilt of my past life come in and stop all this fun I want to have?” Sorry, but as a grown-up, I like to have a more exciting internal conflicts–do I want creme brulee or will I stick with an ice-cream sundae? What’s a woman to choose?
BOTTOM LINE: ATTITUDE IS THE KEY TO SUCCESS
Just like with everything else in life, your attitude determines how you’ll grow from an experience. If you can’t handle the occasional off night, then maybe writing isn’t for you. Me? I’m going to treat myself to a bunch of sweets today for having earned a bad critique, and jump right back into writing. I can do this!
Now it’s your turn. How do you deal with harsh criticism? How do you grow from the experience?
Write well, my friend, but if you don’t, at least have fun with your words.