The other side of the critique

EPSON scanner imageJoe’s Post #39 — As some of you know, way, way back, before cell phones, before computer spell-checkers, before I could even type, I wrote my first book at the wise age of 9. Invasion of the Mole People.  Blue construction paper cover.  Twenty handwritten pages.  Jam smears on a few pages.  Eleven illustrations.   All bad.  My parents loved it.  My teachers loved it.  My friends loved it.

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I thought this would be what it would be like to be a writer. Everyone reading my work would love it. They would praise how clever I was and give me candy.

Sadly, years and years and years later, when I took my first real novel to my first real critique group, I thought it would be the same. With even more candy.

It was not.

Back then (and, truth be told, for years to come,) I thought everything I wrote was gold. I thought every word I put on paper was a gem, to be admired and preserved for future generations.

Turns out, I was wrong.

My first lesson was that I write pretty well. I still do. I can create interesting characters. I can make people laugh. I can even make them cry. I can write a novel in 5 months (hell, I did one, poorly, in a week.) But what I still need to learn is how to tell a great story and by that I mean write a great NOVEL.

You’d think the two were the same, right? Good writer equals good novelist? Nope. Turns out you can have one without other.

It’s a complex task putting together a great novel. There’s a flow and balance you have to learn, there are arcs of character and theme, there’s magic, that undefinable quality that some books have. You have to do so much right to build an amazing story.

The second lesson I learned is that I will miss stuff. Simple things like calling the dog Sambuka on page 12 and Buttsniffer on pg 45. Or misspelling hangar for the entire novel. Or thinking I’ve told the readers something when I deleted it or lost it due to cutting and pasting (things I still do to this day!)

The other lesson I learned early on is that I have to change my expectations on what a group can do for me. It’s not about telling me how amazing I am, though please don’t let that stop anyone, but rather about what works and what doesn’t. What did I get right and what did I get wrong?

But the critquers, as good as they may be, won’t get everything right, either. Some love thrillers, some romance, some literary memoirs. Like me, when I critique, I bring what I LIKE in a novel. So it becomes a balance of listening to what people have to say and running that through your own mind. Does this make sense for my novel? Does it make it better? It may not be a romance but can I add something more romantic? It may not be a thriller but can I have thrilling moments? It may not be a literay novel but for the love of god, can I at least have one insight into the human condition?

In other words, I learned to go in with an open mind. It is not my baby that people are critiquing, it is a shoe. I made the shoe, I may even like the shoe but it’s a shoe so I will do whatever I need to do to make the shoe the best shoe I can do.

candySo, this weekend we’ll begin the critiquing of our novels. I, for one, look forward to hearing what people thought and how I could possibly make it even more awesome.

Though I still hope there’s still candy.

6 thoughts on “The other side of the critique

  1. Good luck to everyone there – I know what a process that is, and I will be thinking and hoping for you all! Candy is a requirement. So is wine, (and whine), and lots of good, positive stuff AFTER the crits. Remember to give and receive lots of hugs. And laugh. Find things to laugh at. Have a ball, guys!

  2. “I made the shoe, I may even like the shoe but it’s a shoe so I will do whatever I need to do to make the shoe the best shoe I can do.”
    Is that Doctor Shuess hiding behind my computer screen?

    Good luck to you all – it’s been interesting following the progress to this point. Being non-writer, I shared some of your early delusions of what writing is about. Tell a good story. Have some exciting bits. Plant a few clues and a couple red herrings. Pull off a finale that does not include “and then I woke up” and voila…
    The discussions about character development, plot lines and pace, editing and revisions, points of view and frames of reference have exposed the underbelly of the art. Kind of like a golf swing. It’s as easy as falling down until you stop and think about it. I think for me, the trick would lie in the ability to drill to minutiae during re-writes, while still maintaining the story as a whole.

    I can offer no advice, only my best wishes for each of you.

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