Saturday, January 14, 2012

Tough Love

I’ve often said writing a book is the easy part. That is if you consider sacrificing time with your family and staying friends with people after boring them with your latest plot dilemma easy. Me, personally, I’m okay with my children being raised by Phineas and Ferb for extended periods of time. No, the hard part is the inevitable rejection every writer is destined to encounter.

I still remember my “first rejection”. I was a senior in high school and was working on my dialogue between two characters. I knew it sucked, but I was also smart enough to know it wasn’t ready for someone else to read. But it fell into the hands of someone I definitely didn’t want to reading it who then proceeded to publicly mock me. That was all it took to push me from budding writer to future college administrator. I wish I had been stronger then.

Writers are creative beings. We NEED to create worlds that are real and characters that won’t stop talking to us. But with creativeness comes a curse: we really don’t like anyone tearing apart our masterpieces. Even our closest friends are capable of the ultimate betrayal known as constructive criticisms. And, unlike the countless agents and publishers who have the power to judge our work, we can make our friends pay for days and months, years even. It took me a long time to get a thicker literary hide. If I’m being completely honest, there are still some worn thin that make it impossible not to take things personally. And those are dark days in my house, let me tell you!

My writer’s group often begins each of our meeting by saying something along the lines of, “Let the shredding commence.” When we first formed, we had a couple of agreements: 1. everyone brings something every meeting; 2. everyone comes prepared to give each member feedback; 3. we are only supposed to answer questions about our work, not defend it (I suck at this rule) and 4. while we must be civil to each other, the only way we will ever be better than what we are is to get the brutal truth, so everyone has to give honest feedback. Truth time: we have lost a member, in my opinion, to the intensity of our feedback. We aren’t mean and I think everyone is careful to temper the negative with positive, but we don’t hold back either.

I once told a fellow member that I couldn’t connect with the MC, but if “she” was changed to a “he” and the story was written more like a bromance then it would make a better connection. The writer didn’t make the change and it’s become a running joke within our group, but the point I was trying to make is I wasn’t connecting to the character. I should add that I am now able to connect with the character better, but our relationship is still a work in progress (the MC, not the writer). With that said, I take it as much as I give it.

I had to miss our first November meeting due to a family commitment but my group mates were able to get me their notes. As I was going through them, one in particular crawled under my skin and laid eggs. The next day, the eggs had hatched into full on irritation.

Here’s the beauty: that comment forced me re-evaluate the way I had written the chapter and I realized the critique was right on. There’s something awesome about being a part of a group that wants you to succeed so much they are willing to make you mad in order to make you better.
So be creative writers, but realize that getting your worked hacked to shreds is a chance for you to pick up the pieces and put it back together six million dollar man style, without the dragging back story and characters that take you on a journey to the bridge to nowhere. But no matter what anyone says, no matter how much they think your “she” should be a “he”, BE PASSIONATE about everything you write!


  1. Interesting post. I'm wondering how many are in your group and how long the meetings last. That is quite a commitment to read one another's work every week. How did you find equally committed people who could meet that long?

  2. Cathy,

    We were all part of a monthly meeting sponsored by the library but felt the pace/agenda (ie. no advance copies, reading aloud, etc.) wasn't helping us achieve our goals of becoming published novelists. (I've revised the first criteria in my above post to read "meeting" instead of "week"... it's more accurate.)

    We decided to add a second monthly meeting, in addition to the one at the library, for those who were working on novels and interested in more in-depth critiques. We started with six members, meeting once a month, for three hours. We lost one member, but have since added another. We've also decided that switching between the library and our group slowed us down and made consistent feedback hard to come by and have splintered off, meeting officially twice a month.(We're going to begin going weekly, with the 1st, 3rd and 5th Thursdays being crit meetings and the 2nd and 4th meetings being dedicated writing time in March... no crits, just uninterrupted writing time with support.)

    Like I said, we're all working on novels... 5 of the 6 of us are working on MG/YA, with a historical fiction writer thrown in there for the fun of it... and really only send out a chapter or two for review each meeting and we have a one week in advance deadline, which helps when we follow it... since we're all guilty of being late, we give latitude on this one.

    Hope that answers your questions.

  3. This is very motivating. Maybe I'll start up a critique group.

  4. Yeah, R... better make it on a night that's not Thursday... see you in April!