Sunday, March 1, 2009

The Art and Heart of Critiquing

Critiquing can be a touchy thing. Rejection letters, no matter how thoughtful, are always rejections. And critiques, no matter how delicate, often involve little stabs at the heart--over and over again.

Our last meeting sparked a flurry of emails about our responsibilities to our fellow Slushies and whether or not there are things we should not comment on, like the publishability of our work, which in turn sparked debate over what we’re all in the group for anyway. All in all, good conversation.

Here are excerpts from my emails. Hopefully other Slushies will share their thoughts as well.

I think that we are all in this group for a variety of reasons, some of them overlapping and some not. At different stages each of us may be really on a roll, working on a big project we intend for publication, or in between projects, or in a slump, or targeting specific skills to work on, or simply playing with words.

As far as I'm concerned all of those reasons and more are perfectly valid, and we should support each other in what we're trying to do. However, it may not always be clear what each of us is coming for, so the more specific we can be about the questions we ask our fellow Slushies, the better our feedback will be.

The way I grow most as a writer is through all those comments that make my heart sink when I first hear them, the ones that I want to sweep under the rug and dismiss because obviously my genius has been tragically misunderstood. But if I sit with them for a while and wait for the heart-sinking to stop and take a good honest look, that's when the real growth happens. That's when I'm a real writer. That's when I decide the truth for my story and me. Often as not, I do end up dismissing comments, but only after a good honest look at them.

I may regret saying this sometime down the line, but I'm going to say it anyway. If a Slushie were to say to me that she thinks I could be writing something better than this, or that I should put my energies into something else, or that I should take my writing in such-and-such direction....well, though I might whimper a little inside, I would welcome that feedback. We are each in a position to see each other's work from a unique perspective. I look to the Slushies to help me be a better writer, and I hope that includes choice of topics. If a Slushie said to me, "Lisa, I would love to see you write a more realistic story about a kid living in the Netherlands," I would think about that very seriously. Of course I may always say that I'm writing what I'm passionate about and I don't want to write realism. But at least you've spoken and I've heard you and we are thinking about the whole process of writing and not just the words that make it to the page.

To me, critiquing involves everything from grammar to story, style to character, revision to query, and hopefully one day to contracts and book signings. I want the Slushies with me every step of the way.

Stay tuned for more on this topic. Next installment: But would you publish it?

1 comment:

Sarah said...

So glad you posted this, Lisa! I can't say how grateful I've been for the Slushies' feedback. And you're right, it's been the feedback that initially disappointed me that's done the most good.