Thursday, November 20, 2008

Should I Apologize?

Once again I came home from the critique group Tuesday night feeling depressed over my writing. I had brought along my blog on the fires. Whether or not you read it, I'd ask you to read it now before going through the comments made by the group. Then I'd like to ask for your comments. I'm at a point now where I feel like I shouldn't be writing, if I could inadvertently be insulting firefighters when that is the furthest thing from my mind. But I'm getting ahead of myself. Here's the link to my original blog.

Now that we have that taken care of, here are the comments, separated by person, although I'll not identify who made each comment. You wouldn't know the people in the critique group, at any rate. I won't put all the comments down, but copy completely the ones I feel sum up their opinions.

#1:  I had trouble knowing what your thrust and purpose was. The way one should pray? It seemed there was a bit of anger here and it never became clear to me what caused it or what you were trying to accomplish by expressing it. So the questions not answered for me are "what?" and "Why?" It sounds as if you have a beef with mothers who don't pray as you do? Who use "Thy will be done?" 

#2:  The way this piece began, I thought you might circle back to the fires again. It wasn't clear if you were making a commentary on the decision of the fire department, decision about not containing anything yet, etc. I think many mothers can connect with the selfish prayer part. It was jarring. The connection could be written to make it more clear.

#3:  I think that spending time tooting your own horn dilutes the impact of your message.

#4:  Awkward. Feels too long. Mixed messages. Are you trying to say selfishness is good or bad? Are you guilty or okay with being selfish? Not sure what you are trying to say.

#5:  This is an emotional piece, but I'm not being drawn into it. The ending needs to be stronger. Define the purpose better. Are you criticizing the firefighters, or those who want to be them? Honoring them or mothers? What are you doing? Unclear.

#6:  It's both personal and impersonal. I can't quite get the box into Hyde Park. So I recommend narrowing the viewport, more thoroughly correlating or juxtaposing firefighters and soldiers and assume a stance (even implicit) that someone's ox is being gored. 

#7:  Lacks focus and purpose. Cliched.

#8:  Seems patronizing. Why don't you want them to be in harm's way? I'm not 100% sure how these two things connect—the fires and your sons—I was definitely left wanting clarity. It felt choppy and disconnected. It think it sounds a little callous given the immensity of the destruction in California. Maybe show some empathy... [this one goes on for a long time...]

#9:  Abrupt. Lacks transition between its parts. Good emotional content.

#10:  The problem with this piece is that it puts firefighters in a very negative light. I was in NY for 9/11. Here, the firefighter is not the hero anymore.

#11:  I liked it.

#12:  Very nice.

So, as you can see, ten out of twelve people didn't get it at all. Two others left their papers blank. I've spent a day and a half in a funk. Was it really that bad? Didn't anybody understand that I think the firefighters handle an almost impossible job that is so terrifying I couldn't imagine keeping my sanity if one of my sons was regularly going out trying to do it? That I admire the mothers with the courage to do so to the point that I regularly support them in my prayer life? 

Maybe I'm just not good enough to be a writer. It makes me sad, but if ten out of fourteen writers don't get a simple piece like this, two only like it enough to write down a couple of words, and the other two just leave the pages blank, what am I to think? 


schmath said...

It seems like the people in your writing group like to be critical and have poor reading comprehension. It was very obvious to me that you respect firefighters and mothers who say "thy will be done." I don't know how people could possibly get the opposite idea. And I didn't see you "toot your own horn" either. In fact, it was the opposite--admitting you are selfish. I thought it showed a lot of truth about how mothers feel and pray.

You should quit that writing group. Those people are mean and don't have enough real advice to counteract their negative effect on your writing. Rather than inspiring you to become a better writer, they are uninspiring you.

Ruth said...

I agree with Schmath.

sherrie said...

Wow, Schmath covered every point perfectly. It sounds like many of the people in the group enjoy being there just to find fault in others, more like semi-professional criticizers than writers.

I understood what you were saying -- that you highly respect and are grateful to those who serve and whose mothers support them even though they worry, and you are grateful that you were blessed to not be required to go through it with your sons. You were able to express actual feelings you have experienced full circle. We all have our fears as mothers that we would rather our children choose to avoid.

Maybe the "criticize group" didn't understand it because came deep from within your heart instead of your imagination. Is this what could be considered casting pearls before swine? I wouldn't base your ability to write on the opinions of people who failed to understand your simple prayer of gratitude.

schmath said...

I've been thinking about it, and I think maybe your writing group doesn't know how to offer constructive criticism. I thought it was common knowledge to start by pointing out the strengths of the piece before offering suggestions. But maybe I only know that because I am a teacher. I also thought it was common knowledge when offering suggestions to use words like, "you might try..." rather than words that could offend. You'd think writers would have a better command of language. Maybe they've all been bashed by each other so many times that they are bitterly trying to get back by bashing you.

I think it is strange that they commented mostly on aspects of your writing that would be easy to change, mostly organization. (Although the organization made sense to me. That's why they should offer it as a suggestion only.) But they failed to point out what great voice you have--that you can speak from your heart and show emotion in a way that people can connect to and a way that isn't cheesy. In my opinion, voice is the hardest aspect of writing to develop.

I think it is a sign of confidence to be able to give constructive criticism. I had to play bass in a master class for some professional bass players while I was in college. Even though I sounded like a beehive getting run over by a lawnmower, I never felt belittled by the advice they gave me. They were confident enough that they didn't need to make me feel bad about myself. Perhaps your writing group is feeling a little insecure. They've probably been bullied since childhood.

Kathleen said...

Having heard you play bass, it's impossible to relate to the beehive under a lawnmower comparison. I still love my video of you playing Beaumont Rag.

Your comments have meant the world to me, Schmath, a true gift. I rarely get any comments on my blogs, and sometimes it feels like my words are just dropping into a well. To counteract that, I go to the group, and feel like maybe that's where they belong.

There must be some middle ground where I can find solid critique and support. I think I'll take some time to start a new project, shut out all the negative voices, and pray for a better group to find me.