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Critiquing: The Necessary Evil

Progress has stalled on WIP-B for a while now. It's not that I waste my days painting my nails and watching Korean dramas (well, not all of my days) but my heart just hasn't been in it. Yes, yes, flimsy excuses—writing is work, after all. Sometimes you just have to haul yourself to the office and hack at it, no matter how painful. But in this case, I think there was a reason my enthusiasm lagged: somewhere along the line, I lost the point. I've been hacking at the same book for about five months now, and with all of the associated research and side projects and whatnot, I forgot what story I had originally set out to tell.

To jump-start my stalled brain, I hopped back on the Internet to find some critiquing partners for feedback on the early draft. I found a few lovely friends from Ladies Who Critique. Through them and Sweetie, I already have two substantial critiques of chapter one.

Now, the whole idea of the exercise was to have people challenge me to isolate and refine the story and my characters. And boy, they didn't disappoint. To save myself a couple thousand words, I'll use pictures to illustrate my general experience with critiquing. This is what my ego looks like pre-critique:

Vase with Roses

And this is what happens to it after:

Broken Vase with Roses

And if I happen to share a bed with one of those critiquers, you should also visualize somebody stomping on that poor rose and crushing it into the ground with the shattered shards of my confidence. Sweetie tells me he stomps extra hard out of love.

Oddly, a new critique partner from LWC said something similar, though we're a few steps (and half a continent) away from snuggling just yet. After marking up my draft as heavy-handed, bogged-down naval gazing, she wrote: "I only bothered being brutal because you have such good potential." So...I suppose it's a compliment? :p

I'm being flippant, but I do see the point. Both of them want me to produce the best material I possibly can. If they didn't believe I could do better, they would just say, "Oh, it's wonderful! You should be proud of yourself." I remember a plot from the old Baby-sitters Club series I read in middle school in which Claudia, the designated creative type, takes an art class. She's offended that the teacher doesn't think she's brilliant for dashing off perfectly accurate still lifes in five minutes, while he praises the clumsy Mallory for her horrible drawings. Eventually she gets angry and says, "Fuck you, teach. I'm gonna show you the best damned landscape you've ever seen," and she works her tail off to draw this ice skating rink. Then he finally gives her a stamp of approval with a little speech about how she can't half-ass her way through life on talent alone and he wanted to push her to her full potential. And yes, I'm pretty sure that's exactly how the dialogue went.

It sucks that I'll have to raze and rewrite the bulk of my first chapter, after already sinking weeks into it already. But I'm confident that once I'm done, it will be vastly improved, and the readers of version two will not be as inclined to wring my hero's neck. This is what critiquing is for: pointing out problems and weaknesses for improvement in revisions.

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