Besides being terribly impatient, I am not a warm and fuzzy person. I’m not a grump, but I don’t require a lot of accolades or affection to complete me. Most of the time, I brush off compliments because I just can’t figure out how to say “thanks” and move on. There's a lull that settles in and my head stirs, then I start thinking. Is this the moment when I’m suppose to say something back like, “I like your hair too?” Wouldn’t that come off as artificial? So, I just mutter a thank you and remind myself to compliment the person as soon as I can. It’s like one of those dating rules where you’re not supposed to call her for a couple days before asking for a date. Mine is for compliments. Get a compliment, wait ten minutes, give a compliment. It’s like a recycling program, right? Saving the planet one compliment at a time.
Being nice and complimentary takes a lot of work and I’m a no nonsense, let’s get down to the meat of things girl. Why waste time with fluff? Let’s just get ’er done? My husband benefits and suffers because of my ways. If he forgets an anniversary, he’s in good company because chances are I’ve forgotten too. Valentine’s Day and flowers? No way. I love flowers, but they belong in the ground and not on my credit card bill.
With writing, and especially in a writing critique group, being upfront and not so fluffy isn’t a good thing. I have found this out many times. There are rules—rules people created long before I started clicking and clacking the keys on my laptop.
First of all, you need to give lots and lots of positive feedback. Writers love to hear how wonderful they are, because they've worked so hard. So what if the wonderful writer wasn't so wonderful? I have learned that you have to find something. Maybe the writer knows his way around a semi-colon. Tell him. After all, that is important in the grand scheme of things. Semi-colons are important, knowing how to use a semi-colon is important. If you are critiquing through email or online, you must, must, must add in smiley faces or ‘LOL’ so they know you thought it was cute, funny, or whatever. Even if it was only moderately funny, I think the rule says you must LOL them.
There is another rule that says you aren’t supposed to defend your 'script as the critique is happening. You are supposed to just sit and listen and then say stuff at the end. That’s fine, but there is a sort of song and dance that comes with that. Something like, “Thanks for your comments and while I agree that my character’s motivation isn’t clear . . . blah blah blah.” That’s a lot of work for an impatient girl like me, but we must follow the rules.
What really sucks about this rule is that in the middle of my critiquer trying to placate me, he offers a really great nugget of wisdom. I want to talk about this nugget. I want to hold the nugget and explore its possibilities, but I can’t. Must wait. Then when he’s finished talking about motivation or symbolism or something that means nothing to me, I forget the nugget at the end and simply mutter my thanks.
You may be reading this and thinking how incredibly insensitive I am, which you’re probably right. I don’t mean to be, but writing is a serious gig. If I want to make it, I need to get tough. I can’t get tough listening to a bunch of artificial compliments because the reviewer thinks I’m too sensitive and need love. Thanks, but I want to know what’s wrong with it. Rub my nose in my failures so that I can make it better.
Wow, harsh. Yes. And that’s why you don’t want to be my critique partner. I may forget an LOL or a smiley face from time to time, but I mean well. I will go line by line finding problems. I will spend hours, away from my own writing, doing it and when I’m done, I will tell you what I liked about it. Will your stuff be littered with different colors and scratch marks? Probably. Am I always right? Absolutely not. But I will do everything in my power to make sure that I offer you something. Unless you are golden and then I will just say you kick ass and beg you to read mine and make me kick ass too.
I didn’t start out this way. I didn’t like the marks either. I wanted the LOLs and the smiley faces. I wanted to know that the lamp I described was so real they could almost touch it. But then I realized that the only time I get better is when I fail, when I blow it.
I have a tough critique partner who has made me rewrite whole chapters before. Do I feel defensive in that moment? Yup, but give me ten minutes (magical number) and I will get back to work. The rewrite part is painful. Not because of hurt feelings, I don’t think, but because we need to steer our brains in a different direction. And for a perfectionist person like me, it means I’ll put a lot of pressure on myself to not only get an LOL, but an ROLF, or maybe a OMG.
There is a great poem I found in Anne Lamott’s Bird By Bird. So if you are one of those sensitive writer folks who get caught up in my critiquing net or anyone else, I want you to remember this poem by Bill Holm.
“August in Waterton”
Above me, wind does its best
to blow leaves off
the aspen tree a month too soon.
No use wind. All you succeed
in doing is making music, the noise
of failure growing beautiful.
My friends and I at Ready, Aim, Hook Me are getting ready to send out our feedback on the first round of submissions we received. Do you think writers are overly sensitive when it comes to the critique? Or are they hungry for any feedback good, bad, and the super bad? Should we be worried? Watch our backs? LOL (see, how important those three letters are. Have you LOL'd today?)