Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Receiving Critiques

Writing is not a solitary activity. It may seem like it because we sit there on our computers, or at our notebooks and write on our own. But that’s not all that writing entails.

Once we get the words written, and once we’ve polished that sucker as much as we possibly can, then we need feedback. We need to hear from other writers and readers. None of us are perfect, and none of us can make this on our own. Feedback is really what makes us great, and it’s a never-ending process.

I remember the first time I received any feedback. I’d been writing on and off my whole life, but in college, I picked up a novel I wrote in high school and rewrote it. I was pretty proud of that little novel, and I was starting to think about possibly publishing it. I started researching and found a writers forum (now incredibly inactive) where different writers were offering to do critiques for one another. Not knowing what I was getting into, I decided to offer my little novel as well.

My first critique partner and I sent one another our first chapters, just to see if our critique styles meshed. She tore my chapter apart. She made me cry. It was the most devastating thing I’d ever experienced in my life. That was my baby, and she didn’t appreciate it! After a week of feeling sorry for myself, I picked myself up and decided to prove to her that there’s no other way to write that first chapter. So I rewrote it, knowing that the new chapter would be worse than the original. I was wrong. Her suggestions were spot on, and the chapter was amazing. I decided to keep exchanging chapters with her, and through those few months, I grew an incredibly thick skin. She was ruthless, and every time she tore something apart, I had to regroup with myself to figure out what to do. I had one scene that was absolutely pivotal to the story, one that I’d imagined from the novel’s conception. She destroyed it, and I knew there was nothing that could be better for the story than that scene. But, like I had so many times before, I decided to prove her wrong by trying something else. That scene is now one of my absolute favorites. And all subsequent readers of that book have said the same thing. The new scene outshines the old one so much that I’m embarrassed by how determined I was to keep it.

I don’t keep in touch with her very much anymore, but I still value what she taught me. Not everything I write is gold. Not every scene, not every idea is as amazing as I think. I also learned to think for myself. Now, whenever I get critiques, I really consider what they say, but ultimately, it is my decision.

I couldn’t have become the writer I am without feedback from the people around me. Every single person sees something different. I had one critique partner who told me that I had a specific phrase that I used way too much. I did a search for that specific phrase and found 33 instances in my novel. 33! I cut it down to less than 10. I had multiple critique partners tell me that they hated the ending for Commissioned.

Writers can’t write in a bubble. We all need feedback, and in turn, we should be providing feedback to others in our circle.