Tuesday, June 14, 2011

The Worth of Critiques

Writers, when you get a critique document or are notified of a critique post, or have someone say "hey, I read your novel..." I can be almost certain of one reaction: your heart quickens, your stomach knots, and you think why-oh-why did I ever want to be a writer.

After this first gut-reaction, however, how do you really respond? Do you think: "GET ME OUTTA HERE!"
Or is it: "I can really learn something here. This person put time into reading my book, and now they're putting time and effort into giving me their opinion on it. This is my chance to make it better."

Critiques hurt. I mean real critiques. The ones that WILL help you make your book better. Not the pat-on-the-back that's easy to find, especially in non-writerly circles, but also in the circles of other caring writers...what's harder to find is the brutally honest OUCH critique that, after depressing you for a week, pushes you on to greater things.

Think about it this way. I'm walking along, expecting nothing. Then a person walks up to me with a brightly-wrapped gift box and hands it to me. I take it a little bewilderedly, start my "thank you" but only get through "thank--" before I realize the extreme weight of the box they've just handed me, and drop it on my toe. OUCH. I forget about thanking them, cry instead, and then rip the wrapping paper off a bit revengefully.

It's not a box. It's a gold brick.

Maybe that's a dorky metaphor, but I think it matches.

Sometimes the person to hand it to you is a friend. Usually then, the brick is smaller, wrapped more carefully, and they bend over you, giving you an ice-pack for your toe. Still other times, it's a cloak-draped stranger who shoves it at you wrapped in dirty newspaper, the size of three cement blocks stacked on top of each other. This time you don't only drop it on your toe. You actually break your toe.

I know you're starting to cringe at the number of times I have metaphorically dropped gold bricks on our toes, so I'll stop there.

Let me say again: real critiques hurt. They will always hurt. I know this, because today I got a critique that hurt, and I thought I had pretty thick skin, after sharing my work online for 3 years. But nope. He called my characters stereotypes, my research lousy, and probably doubled my wordcount in in-text comments.

Yowch. *nurses toe*

Are some people unnecessarily mean? Perhaps. But sometimes they're just honest about what they think. These are the dirty-newspaper-dark-cloak people. Forget the broken toe--chase after them with all you've got. Some things can be discarded (some things can always be discarded)--but I'm pretty sure there's gold peeping out from that newspaper.

When I get over nursing my toe, I'll unwrap it.

~Nairam

Images found through google images search. No copyright infringement intended.

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