Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Writing Life: The Value of Critique

Once again I'm humbled.

I've been hesitant about sharing my writing with other people but when I had my last short story critiqued by my writing group I was amazed. I thought the story was good when I went in but they gave me fantastic suggestions, all of which I incorporated. Their suggestions made the story much better, more moving, and allowed me to really bring out the relationship between the two main characters. I'm now working on sending this story out for publication.

I have another story I've been working on for a while and I sent it to someone to review (or beta as we call it). It's a fan fiction story. Sorry, I won't say anything more than that. Once again, I thought it was in good shape but this person gave me wonderful suggestions for making it better, more accurate, and consistent.

The process of becoming a writer is all about falling in love, stepping out tentatively, gaining confidence, then relearning that you need to be humble. Here's what I mean:
  • Falling in Love - In order to keep writing you have to fall in love. If you're writing fiction, you start out by falling in love with your story and your characters. This keeps you writing and helps you develop your own style. When you see your own style unfolding, you fall madly in love with your own thoughts and words. As I mentioned before I LOVE reading my own stuff out loud. I love hearing my own words strung together.
  • Stepping Out Tentatively - In my case, I started out by writing for this blog. I learned that people like my words and I became a much better writer with regular posting. After that, I started going to my writing group and writing fiction regularly. More improvements followed.
  • Gaining Confidence - After a while, I started thinking that my writing was going well, might even be pretty good. Falling in love starts to spill over into a bit of egoism. A fellow writer explained to me that he thought all writers have to be egotistical to some degree. He's right.
  • Relearning You Have To Be Humble - It's difficult for me to to let go of my own words. They're safe and I'm already happy with them. Why should I invite somebody else in to take a look? Writing for yourself is good if that's what you want, but your writing can't improve unless you subject it to scrutiny. I was afraid when I had my writing group critique my short story even though I knew they would be gentle about it, but sending my fan fiction story to someone I didn't know scared the hell out of me. Even after I received the comments and verified all of them were excellent, kind, and constructive, I still had a hard time starting the process of reviewing them in detail and making edits. I spent a good deal of time psyching myself out just so I can could open the documents on my desktop. Once I got into it, the process was fun and satisfying.
This process is so humbling. I read and re-read this fan fiction story, made a ton of edits, and did many revisions to get to where I am now. I also spent almost two months reviewing the source material and taking extensive notes since I wanted the story to follow the existing canon. And I felt I was familiar with the source material to begin with! This process was tremendously instructive for my novel writing because I learned that this kind of scrutiny of the characters' back stories is essential. The person who critiqued my fan fiction brought up plot holes I knew about but had not resolved simply because I decided to be lazy about them, made outstanding suggestions to bring the story in line with the source material, pointed out where things weren't clear, asked great questions, and made excellent grammatical and sentence structure suggestions.

I thought I'd done everything I possibly could to make the story the best it could be but I was wrong. It's impossible to catch everything so a second set of eyes is necessary. It makes me wonder about my blog posts. I'm really comfortable with writing, editing, and posting my own stuff but it occurs to me that they could be so much better if someone critiqued them. On the other hand, this is just a blog and the writing isn't supposed to be out of this world.

I keep wondering what the hell I'm going to do when I finally finish the third draft of my novel. It will be in decent enough shape to show it someone for feedback but who am I going to show it to? I'm so intimidated by that idea. So much work and love has gone into these characters and this story and I'm terrified to let someone else see it. Fortunately it will be a little while before I have to really think about that.

1 comment:

Hemraj said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.