Until today, I thought I was my own worst critic. OK, so I’m never going to be any good at punctuation and grammar but I DO put a lot of passion and time into my stories. True the first draft is usually a spaced out version of my brain, “riding the inspiration wave” so to speak but the next five to twenty revisions really are the result of a lot of hard work. I sweat over each sentence. I read and re-read everything out loud 100 times. I curse myself each time I find boring repetition and mentally slap myself with a ruler for every passive phrase.
In other words, I CARE! I want it to be good and I try really, really hard. I know I am no Stephen King or Dean Koontz but I labor over each story with the worst self critism.
So- naturally I thrive on critiques. I’m already a member of a wonderful critique group and I love the challenges my colleagues present when reading my work. I anticipate each monthly meeting with a masochistic lust. I want them to tell me where it fell short and my favorite critiques are usually the ones with the most red ink!
Yet in all the occasions where I have asked for feedback, I can honestly say, I have never received harsher judgment than what I give myself. Until today…
I saw an ad on a paid critique service that was affordable and had some good credentials. I thought, “Why not.” I sent in one of my favorite (and most revised) stories “After the Rain” to be reviewed. I tingled with anticipation of the results. I fantasized about receiving advice leading to greatness, marred in mock ups and change suggestions, almost as much as I dreamed of the piece coming back with a note saying, “Don’t change a thing. It’s perfect.” (Hey, we all have our fantasies right?)
What I didn’t expect was a literary toilet flush of the creative part of my work. The critic hated it! Not the writing itself. He hated the fiction part of it. The suspense, the mystery. My critique was riddled with lines like, “Don’t give us unneeded details that hint to what happened, just tell us what it was.” or “Your ending is flat, you don’t tell us what really happens to the sheriff.”
Duh, that is the point! I don’t want to tell the reader (spoiler alert) that the sheriff dies exactly like everyone/ everything else in the story… I want them to come to that conclusion though fiction induced hypnosis. Now don’t get me wrong, I know it still needs work and I know I need advice to make it better. But paying to have someone tell you, “I don’t get it.”
The sad thing is, I admire anyone who has ever had something published so much that, for the first hour or so, I believed the critic. I really thought I needed to go back and revise all the suspense out of all my stories and just state the facts. Don’t give unnecessary details. Don’t leave the story hanging. Don’t allow the reader to think for themselves damn it!
So in a fit of self-pity, I Googled the guy who did my critique. Guess what I found? A non-fiction writer for a travel magazine.
Now it all makes sense. No wonder he thought it fell flat or couldn’t understand why I kept referring to the rain. No wonder he didn’t want to have to guess what may have happened!
I guess I am writing this blog to let other readers know two important things (and yes to blow off a little steam)-
1. You have to love what you write even when others don’t. If you try to make everyone else like it, eventually it quits being yours. What fun it that?
2. Constructive criticism is always going to be… well constructive. But don’t let others define you. Remember (as I eventually did) that you started writing fiction and not dictation because YOU had something to tell the world.
On the subject of editing Stephen King once wrote, “Kill your darlings” but he never said to kill your heart! Keep writing folks and feel free to critique this post (you know I’ll love it).