Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Back to the Drawing Board

Tonight I went to my first critique group. That's where you sit down with a bunch of writers and read each others' work and then discuss it. It was strange, interesting, and terrifying. Let's put this in perspective.

All right, Moms. Everybody get your new baby. That's right. Gather up that little child you've been working with day after day, and let's all go to play group. Okay, everybody. Take a seat, and we're all going to play nice. First, let's make sure we all understand the rules. Number one, we take turns. That's good. 

One child at a time will be examined and then everyone will spend some quiet time really looking at the child and making notes in private about the child's good and bad points. Specifically, the bad points are what's going to help the mother improve her child, so those should be noted most carefully. 

Second, then, you should sit there and take notes while everyone takes turns telling you what's wrong with your child. This is the important part: don't take it personally. Got that? This can be fun. Repeat after me: THIS CAN BE FUN. Well, at least it can be helpful. That I do believe, since I got some really great comments. I didn't like them all, but I did get some really helpful comments. (Oops—I used the word comments twice in the same paragraph. I'll need to edit that!)

Now that I've handled the subject with my usual sense of the absurd, I'll admit that I'm absolutely delighted with the evening and the group. I do wish there had been more than one person there with a passing knowledge of fantasy lit, but I don't know where a fantasy critique group is located this side of Denver. This group did have an incredible number of ideas for tightening up the text and avoiding repetitive or unnecessary language, though, among other things—many other things.

There were some disappointments, as when people had little to say other than, "I don't like fantasy." I understand that to be an honest comment, though, and I would have had to say the same if faced with horror. There was one story with language that made me uncomfortable, and that was hard to overlook. I wasn't as honest as the woman who admitted she didn't like fantasy, so I respected her for that.

Probably my biggest surprise was having two different writers tell me that my writing reminded them of Madeleine L'Engle. I'm not sure if they expected me to be complimented, but I was. I'm pretty sure the lady who said my writing style had shades of Dickens didn't mean it as a good thing, but I'm weird. I really like Dickens. Maybe I read too much.

Tomorrow I'm going to spend the whole day writing, while trying to incorporate the comments they made. Then in a day or two, I'll go back over the chapters they marked up, and try to edit them with their comments in mind. At least that's the plan now. 

And yes, I'm taking my baby back to the same play group next Tuesday night. They all meant well, and I don't have to believe anything I hear. I probably will, but I don't have to...


Ri said...

Maybe these meetings can help prepare you for your real editor when you're ready to publish and perhaps thicken up your skin . . . I think you're a great story teller and you write very well, so don't forget that their critiques are subjective! I'm looking forward to reading your finished product!

Kathleen said...

Thanks, RI. I always did love you. Want to come to the play group?

Susan Sandmore said...

This is very funny and so true. It is like putting your child on view for critical examination.

Definitely some people aren't going to read your genre and some people just aren't going to "get" your style. (By "your" I mean one's... not YOU). It can kind of hurt if they totally brush you off ("Sorry--I don't know how to begin critiquing THIS"), but I try to remind myself--hey, I guess I'm not writing for that particular reader.

Sharon and Marvin said...

So, what am I doing up at 3:30 in the morning? Having one of those nights that I can't sleep. Anyway, I have to agree with ri...you are a great story teller and I enjoy so much reading your blog. Hope you will publish these childhood memories for your grandchildren to someday enjoy. If your book is as good as the chapter you shared with me, I know I will enjoy reading the end product. Good luck & keep writing.

Angela said...

Sounds like you found a good group. Often face to face groups have a hard time being honest with feedback, because they're afraid of hurting feelings. Sounds like your crew is beyond that and looks at it from the perspective of no pain, no gain. :)