Posted by : Sherri Cornelius Tuesday, November 10, 2009
In a recent post outlining the purpose of critique groups, literary agent Chip MacGregor says,
As a writer, you need a place to be bad, so that you can learn to be good. So if your ego is too fragile to allow someone else to read your work, it's time to learn this lesson. Allow yourself to be bad. Give somebody else (preferably not your mom, your spouse, or your best friend) the permission to be honest with you about your writing.
I'm great at taking literary criticism. Other areas of my life, maybe not so great, but about my writing? Yeah, for some reason that's easy. Maybe it's because I don't have an arrogant bone in my body (that sounded a bit arrogant itself, didn't it?) and always assume I'm in the wrong. But really, when a reader tells me a passage didn't make sense, or my character's profanity seemed forced, or to should have been too, how can I argue with that? It's the reader's perception, inarguable. But although accepting a reader's perception comes easily, I did have to learn how to sift through that information and use only what will nudge my book toward my vision of perfection, rather than someone else's. The best critter I ever had was also the biggest meanie. He was the best because he rarely tried to soften the blow, and he was often right. It took a while to realize he wasn't always right.
I really don't understand the over-sensitive, stick-your-head-in-the-sand mentality. If you ask for someone's opinion, by golly listen to that person. Just know there will probably always be more negative comments than positive just because that's how critiques are. However, you do need to know which people are helpful for you. Just because someone is above you on the ladder doesn't mean they have the best advice to perfect your vision.
Chip has a couple of items which go against most of the conventional advice you'll find on the Internet. For instance, he says it's a good idea to get fresh eyes on an early draft, whereas most folks advise writers to polish their manuscripts before handing them over for critique, something which never made much sense to me. I mean, you spend months on your first draft, and at least that much more on subsequent edits and weeks hunting down every typo. You hand it to a trusted meanie, who sees a huge problem with a subplot and advises you to remove it entirely. Of course that means cleaning up all the loose ends left by cutting the scenes in question. What's worse is that you see the meanie is right. Now, you can do a few things with this information:
- You make the necessary changes, which means tacking on another couple of months to your projected submission goal.
- You convince yourself the meanie doesn't know what he's talking about, by any means necessary. The sub-par sub-plot stays.
- You cry and cry, knowing he's right but being unable to face all that extra work when you thought you were done. You quit writing FOREVER!!!
That last one was just for fun, but it's possible. Another thing--what if your crit partner isn't a meanie, but an ol' softie? An ol' softie will know how hard you worked to get the manuscript just right and hold back on his critique of that terrible sub-plot, and then you're screwed and don't know it. The time I find myself most needing a critique is when the first draft is done and I've worked on it so long I can't see it anymore. Where are my plot holes? What motivation is missing? Is this twist as good as I think it is, or am I fooling myself? Those are questions which need to be answered LONG before the finishing touches go on.
So...when can I send you this rough draft?