I don’t care what anybody says, its hard to have your work critiqued. I know, I know, its not personal, and we shouldn’t take it as such, and blah blah blah. Do you know anybody who doesn’t take critiques personally?
And yet, learning to be critiqued is an integral part of the writing process, because from good critiques we learn so much about our work. For the same reason that we take critiques personally, its hard for us to be objective about our own work.
Last weekend when I was in LA, my Nashville friend Walt was attending the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators conference. I went over to the Hyatt Regency Century Plaza to meet him, where a glass of Ravenswood Zinfandel cost $10 (I buy a bottle for less than that at Fred Meyer). We had a blast, and Walt was really excited that he had an appointment with an editor who had read his work ahead of time.
She gave him quite a thorough critique, and emailing with him about it made me think again about the nature of critiquing and what a delicate balance it requires.
It’s also on my mind because I’ve recently been rewriting my first chapter in order to spiff it up to send to an agent. This chapter went through my critique group and then I rewrote it according to their comments. I hadn’t read either version in a couple months, so it was illuminating to pull both versions out and have a look at them.
The original version had a drive and force and energy that was completely lacking in the second version, which by contrast felt dead and lifeless. (Let me just point out here that I love my critique group, and their advice is generally stellar. I blame all the lifelessness on operator error)It was pretty amazing to see the difference. Now here’s the crucial thing–my task today has been to go back and fix the plot problems that led to the rewrite in the first place without editing the life out of it.
A wee small task.
Actually, it went pretty well. I think that sometimes we have to go way far off on a bad tangent in order to get the yayas out, so to speak, and be able to come back to the center. Sometimes we throw the baby out with the bath water in rewriting, when all that is really needed is to scrub that baby a bit harder in a couple places.
The other thing that often happens in critiquing is that someone will make a comment that doesn’t quite ring true, yet from that comment stems an idea that you implement that works perfectly. That’s the magical alchemy of critiquing.
And the overall point to this? You da man. You’re the one who felt the impetus to pull the words out of yourself and put them on the page. You’re the one who got up early or stayed up late to writer. You’re the one who ultimately knows what advice to take and what to reject.
So listen to your critiquers, but learn to know when to accept their advice and when to ignore it. And figuring that out is probably a post for another day.