Critters--Don't Bite the Hand that Feeds You
(Note: This was previously posted on Jody’s blog, I think, a while ago, but since I wrote it, I can re-post it here. Plus, I did tweak it. Carry on.)
My best friend Sharron was the first person I ever showed my attempts at putting words to paper. Not even my husband had read any of my stuff. (Come to think of it, I don’t think he has to this day. Hmmmm. Dear...?) Why Sharron? Though all the people “in the know” tell you showing your work to your friends and family will probably only yield over-gushing, possibly false gushing, I knew I could trust Sharron to tell me the truth. If it sucked, she’d find a way to break it to me gently, or at least make suggestions. I trusted her to be honest without being brutal. That’s a very important trait in a critique partner.
I eventually joined a local writers’ group to get more points of view. Want to know fear? Submit your work to a bunch of relative strangers and have them tell you to your face what didn’t cut it. Again, I appreciated their honesty and the constructive criticism, but man, that was the most tense two hours every other week I’d ever suffered through.
Between Sharron, Jody, Amy and my crit groups past, I not only learned to receive criticism, but how to give it. It’s very easy to find what doesn’t work on a piece, but sometimes finding something to praise is tough. What if it’s just okay? What if nothing in it makes you nod with its brilliance or laugh out loud? You can’t *not* say anything a la “if you have nothing nice to say, don’t say it at all”. Your purpose as a critiquer is to point out problems as well as what works. You just have to do it in the right way. “This sucks” doesn’t help the writer and it hurts feelings. I know, because I’ve received similar notations on my submissions. (Not from Sharron or my more recent CP’s.) But you can’t play false adoration either. Not every thing will shine all the time. I’ve read some pieces by my crit partners that come close, and I let them know how fabulous they are, but there are still a couple of things I end up questioning.
We may write all by our lonesome, but you cannot seriously seek publication on your own. I’ve learned to work with my crit partners, learned how to accept and give criticism, learned that revising isn’t horrible, nor does it mean you stink as a writer. I can take suggestions and not take it personally. I believe this has prepared me for the day when I must deal with my future agent and editor. I won’t be the petulant writer pouting about having to make revisions. I’ll listen carefully to what is being said about my work and recognize that they know what they’re talking about. Will I agree with every little thing? Probably not, but I certainly won’t fight them on every little thing either. I put the story down on paper, but it’ll take more than me to get it in the bookstores someday.