June 1, 2011

Critiquing and Indigestion

     Some people are terrified of critiquing.  Yes, I've heard the horror stories of critique groups populated by brain-sucking zombies and I've gotten a few off-the-wall critiques myself, but I'm still much more likely to grin than lose my lunch when I send out something for critiques.  Why?   

  1. I'm only risking a bruised ego.  No one e-mails the whole world and tells them to block me if they didn't like my story and ultimately, I'm the one editing my manuscript.  If someone thinks the story needs carnivorous were-hobbits, I don't have to throw them in if I disagree (more on how to utilize critiques and give useful ones in later posts).
  2. The critiquers, if they're other writers, are just as scared.  Like anything else, critiquing is a skill, but that empathy usually encourages constructive comments (check out this article: It's Not What You Say, But How You Say It).  If I get a critique by someone who isn't constructive -- merely shredding everything or only giving vague praise -- I can refer to #1 of this list, kindly thank them, and make new critiquing friends.
  3. No one expects my manuscript to be perfect.  If it was, why would I need a critique?
  4. Critiquing lets me take my book or story and turn it into a better version of itself.  I don't have to hit my head on the desk twenty times, asking myself if a scene is working or not.  If it's working, great!  If it's not, I have a better idea how to fix it.  Scariness - Frustration = Net Excitement.  Promise.

      That's Critique Secret #2: Critiquing needs be no scarier than indigestion.  That said, I have a suggestions.  Once upon a time I took a writing class from Brandon Sanderson.  He split us into writing groups and told us we all had to write something new during the span of the class, first chapter due next week.  I shrugged and got to work.
      Looking back, this was a stroke of brilliance and not just because it taught me the importance of critique groups.  A brand new project doesn't have years of heart strings tied around it.  No one cries over the manuscript and wails that it's their baby (I'm still not sure how a large stack of paper gets mistaken for an infant -- my children are easily cuter and messier than paper).  
      If critiquing sounds terrifying, send something new, something less emotional to the sharks.  Once the thought doesn't send chimichanga burning waves of panic up your esophagus, pull the magnum opus out and turn on the surgeon's light.  It'll be better for it.

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