“If you’re going to say what you want to say, you’re going to hear what you don’t want to hear.” ~ Roberto Bolaño, The Insufferable Gaucho
“People will react to you as a result of their own mindset, rather than as a reflection of your worth. Most people use others as mirrors for their own darkness. If you have been hurt by such people, perhaps you can use these experiences to become a different kind of person – one who reflects the light within others instead of using them as mirrors. Maybe your experiences of pain can lead you to being a great leader, someone who lights up the world. Your most painful struggle is ripe with opportunity.” ~ Vironika Tugaleva
Earlier this year I joined the Women’s Fiction Writer’s Association and yesterday my request for joining a critique group was granted. I’ve not met these women in person. We’ve begun to communicate via email and so far I’m encouraged. I hope these women will offer helpful comments on my work. I’m excited to see what happens.
One of the most vulnerable things artists can do is receive feedback on their work. It’s a necessary part of the artistic process, but it can feel like you’re standing in front of a group with no clothes on. Part of that feeling is because often the criticism hurts. If you’re lucky, the group doesn’t want to hurt your feelings, they just want to help you improve your work. Of course, there are those who just love to watch the poison spread as they tear your work apart. We’ve all met those kinds of people. They’re hard to deal with, but it’s important to speak up and not take their abuse.
As someone who has to give feedback as a director and to student actors, I see the situation from both sides. When I’m working with my students on their scenes, I tell them what they did well first. Then I give them the “Here’s what you could do better,” comments, and finally I give them more positive feedback. Often I offer up a bunch of suggestions among the improvement comments. I let them know that since they are playing the part, they need to decide why their character is saying and doing what they are doing. I think that helps them feel like they have some control over their performance instead of me telling them exactly how to do it. In almost every class, as in any critique group, there is always that one person who doesn’t want to take any suggestions. They think they know everything there is to know about their character or story. In those situations, I just keep my mouth shut because they aren’t open to learning anything new..
When I am on the receiving end of criticism, I try to remember that, for the most part, what my partners say will be helpful and give me ideas for improving my work. I’m tempted to have the attitude that no one knows my work better than I do, but the reality is, I don’t know how what I’ve written comes across. That’s what I want from my critique partners. I want them to tell me where the story bogs down, or where I go off on an unnecessary tangent. I want them to point out parts of the story where they were confused, where I left out vital information, or gave too much away too soon.
Unlike theatre, writing is a solitary endeavor. I love the collaboration of doing a play, but when it comes to writing, I prefer to work alone until the first draft of my manuscript is finished. I thought seriously before I asked to be put into a critique group for that reason. But I don’t want to take seven years to finish this second novel, so I decided to get help earlier in the process.
Another reason I wanted to join a group was to gain more exposure. If I’m going to be a member of a writer’s organization, I might as well get acquainted with some of the members. This seemed like a good way to do that.
I do, of course, have a couple of writer friends near by who are also willing to help, so if it turns out that this new group doesn’t work out, I’ve got a back up plan. I’m keeping my fingers crossed.
Thanks for reading. I appreciate your likes and comments.
Lucinda Sage-Midgorden © 2017
Lucinda is the author of The Space Between Time, a historical, time-travel, magical realism, women’s novel. It’s available in all ebook formats at Smashwords, and print-on-demand at Amazon and other fine book sellers. To join her email list, click here. She will never sell the names on her list.