Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Be gracious about getting critiqued

Since I talked about my CP hunt on Monday (which is going well, BTW), I figured I might as well keep with the theme.

So let me tell you a bit about creative writing workshops in college. The basic setup goes something like this: 1) you write a short story, 2) you share copies with everyone in your class, 3) you undergo a group critique session, and then, 4) you revise the story for your professor. We're going to focus on Step 3.

During that group critique session, your classmates surround you from every angle and they're cruel. Because they don't know you you or care about your feelings, so they're 100% willing to say that your characters are flat and that your plot is cliché--in those words too. And you're not allowed to say a word in your defense.

For good reason.

Because any writer's first instinct is to scream, "No. That's not true. I wrote it that way for a reason. You're just being picky. You just don't understand." And, of course, you're wrong. You're terribly, terribly wrong. Because they do understand.

I know it feels like your CPs don't know how much effort you put into your story, and that it's unfair how easily they can rip apart that effort. But there's nothing more beneficial to you than a critique partner.

Because they aren't crazy and they aren't attacking you. They're trying to make things better.

If a CP thinks there's a problem with your writing, there probably is. These are people that know about writing and stories, and you shouldn't disregard their opinion so quickly. Maybe you don't like or even agree with their critique, but you should at least think about the reasons behind what they've said. Because there is value there.

That being said, I've found that a good critique partner often tells you the things that you already know deep down in your secret heart. They nitpick at the messy little details you tried to slip under the rug. The parts where you tried to be lazy. They tell you the things that you don't want to tell yourself. The big, nasty things, like how you really should to toss out 10,000 words or re-write the entire second half of the story in a different POV. And these, really, are the kind of things that all writers need to hear.

So have you guys had any major experiences with critique partners? Are you good at taking rough criticism, or do you struggle with finding the value in it? What qualities do you think make up a particularly good critique? Tell me in the comments.