|Image by Mr Clementi, via Flickr|
I’ve been a member of a critique group for almost a year. In that time, they’ve helped me slog through the second draft of one manuscript, helped me plot my next story, and advised me on the first draft of a new manuscript.
They often give me specific feedback that I don’t like. They tell me my characters’ motivations are muddy, my sentence structure is clunky, and I don’t show enough of my protagonist’s reactions to events.
When I used to hear these criticisms, it’s not that I necessarily wanted to murder them, I simply daydreamed about interesting accidents that may or may not befall them. Just daydreaming… I’m not a monster, after all.
But all that murderousness abated when I learned how to leave my ego at home.
My words are my teeny tiny textual babies. They are sacred to me. When I pour my blood, sweat, and ink onto the page, it’s virtually impossible for me to remain objective about my prose. That’s exactly why I need critique group members and beta readers: people with sufficient emotional distance to detect the rough patches I miss due to my close proximity to my work.
They don’t always give helpful feedback. Some of their notes come from a place of stylistic opinion, not from experience, and I tend to disregard those. Like Neil Gaiman said, “when people tell you something’s wrong or doesn’t work for them, they are almost always right. When they tell you exactly what they think is wrong and how to fix it, they are almost always wrong.”
But if more than one member of my writing group marks the same passage of text in my submission as problematic, I have to pay attention. And even then, maybe I need to let their critiques sit for a few days so I can get a fresh perspective on how to correct it.
I used to have a screenplay writing partner. We would squabble over how to approach a particular scene. When we hit an impasse, each unable to convince the other to change, we were forced to sit in awkward silence and come up with a new, third way to approach the scene. Usually, the end result was a better idea than whatever we had each initially fought so hard to implement.
My writing group challenges me to see things in a new light, and make changes to the bits that don’t work. And when I do find that new road, my desire to bludgeon them all to death subsides… a little.
Have you joined a critique group, and how do you defeat the irresistible urge to murder them?
|Jim Heskett is a writer of short fiction, long fiction, and the snarkiest blog posts in three states. You can currently find him slaving away at a laptop in an undisclosed location in Broomfield, Colorado. More details about current and future projects at JimHeskett.com|