Monday, February 22, 2016

Are You Ready?

The first writing class I enrolled in outside of high school or college billed itself as a workshop. Which meant that each week, one person's writing would be read and critiqued by six other strangers sitting around the conference table. To this day, I'm not entirely sure what possessed me to think that I could survive a class like that, but I went ahead and not only survived--I found a family there, too: The Plot Sisters still meet every two weeks to read and critique each other's work.

Since that fateful day in May 2012, my reaction to being critiqued has changed. In the beginning, I would cower at the side of the table with an explosive heart rate and sweat on my brow, while now, I find myself looking forward to everything my cohorts have to say. And by everything, I mean everything. Even on those days when the ladies look at me, eyes bright and energetic, and say, "This piece needs some work."

Because that's why I'm at writing group, right? To get honest feedback from my trusted peers and make my work better.

The other day, though, as I sat and listened to the discussion about a fellow writer's work, I wondered how she felt about the task in front of her.

Was she ready to accept the challenge and make great writing even better? Was she annoyed by the fact that we all thought the piece could be improved? Did she think the work she'd given us was the best she could do and therefore, would she simply throw our suggestions away?

I didn't have the chance to ask her, but my guess is that she'll go home and work on what we suggested. At least I hope she does. After all, she has hopes of being published in the big leagues someday.

All that thinking about feedback and what I think and what other people think made me consider what I think is a decent list for taking and receiving feedback. That's a lot of thinking, I know, and I know you can find some of these suggestions almost anywhere else. But know this. Just like when I blogged about how to be successful in NaNoWriMo, I want you to remember that I'm an amateur. I've only published a few items and I've only been an online editor for two years. Sometimes it's easier to take advice from someone like yourself.

And so, here we go:

  • Listen to your gut. Yes, it's important to listen to the advice your fellow writers are telling you, but if there is something that really nags at you--something you absolutely do not want to change--then don't. It might stifle your creativity in the long run if you cave to the wants of the masses. On the other hand, sometimes you listen to that gut and get to the end and realize that what your writing group was saying all along was true. (Gotta love that karma.)
  • Sometimes it's okay to compromise. Having read my first point, though, realize that what your writing group is telling you is something you might want to listen to. And in that case, you might consider the art of the compromise. Come up with a way to keep the mystery and still give a bit more backstory, thereby satisfying yourself and your readers. (That's just one example. Of course, there are many ways a writer might need to compromise.)
  • Remember to distinguish between opinion and fact. Yes, the writing business is very subjective and so is writing style. But what I might tell you to fix is sometimes just an opinion. Maybe I think you have a hateful character and I can't sympathize with him. But maybe another writer loves him and finds his character development so nuanced, she's jumping for joy when she reads his scenes. Opinion, really. On the other hand, a piece full of bad grammar? Uh, yeah, that's a fact. Go fix it.
  • Sometimes you need to focus on the content and not worry about the delivery. Get the story out, right? But then there are times where the content is fine and the delivery, for lack of a better word, stinks. That situation is not a bad place to be, necessarily. I've read plenty of books with  content that has been delivered poorly. (Yep, they still find their way to being published.) What I'm trying to say is, don't chuck the piece if you're delivery needs work. Just work on it. (And remind yourself that's why you're in the writing group to begin with.)
  • Be open to critique in the first place. If you bring your piece to the table and your mind has already decided not to make changes, then it's clear you won't be making any changes, and you've wasted everyone's time. Most of us don't have time to waste. Keeping an open mind is a must in this business.
  • Remember that the old adage is true: you get what you give. Some writers phrase the sentiment differently: you get what you put into it. However you say it doesn't matter. Just know that in order to learn how to make your work better, you should be paying attention when you're being critiqued and when you're doing the critiquing. I almost always walk away from every critique--whether we've looked at my pages or not--having learned something. And as I always say, learning something is never a bad thing.

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