Tuesday, September 30, 2014

How Thick Is Your Skin?

Jennifer is discovering what it takes to critique, and be critiqued...

Being part of a critique group is not for the faint of heart. Or, to put it in a positive light, being part of a critique group helps you develop very thick skin.

My experiences with critique partners have been in a one-on-one setting, and usually separated by distance, interacting mostly via computer. When one person hates your writing, you can blush, cry and rage in private, then put on a brave face, make their suggested changes (or not), and respond to their issues. Even if you’re meeting with them in person, it’s only one person that you’re dealing with, so it’s manageable.

But a critique group often makes me feel as if I’m getting up in front of a firing squad. Don’t get me wrong, the ladies are very kind. They are encouraging. They even start with everything they like about my writing. But at some point, they have to get to the negatives. Honestly, there’s no point in being part of a critique group if they’re not going to point out the negatives (even if my ego would prefer that to be the case).

And they’re usually right. I may not agree with everything they say, but I can usually see the wisdom in a lot of it.

But I had two recent experiences with them that made me shake my head and caused me to give myself a pep talk. The first was our last critique group meeting. Usually, at least two of the three other women agree in their assessments of my writing (and everyone else’s, for that matter). I go with my gut, but I listen extra carefully when there’s a majority about anything. This time, though, no one was in agreement on anything. What one liked, the others didn’t and vice versa. At the end of each person’s critique of my WIP, they looked at each other and then at me and said, “This time, you need to go with your gut.”

Or as I like to say, stand at the top of the stairs, throw all the pages down them, and do what the face-up pages say. It was hard, because I had to set aside my ego and decide which suggestions to follow, making sure not to only follow the good comments (in theory, that would be one way of absorbing the changes, but it wouldn’t make for a very good story). I also had to trust myself, never an easy thing for me. But I used discipline and made the changes I thought made sense, took a deep breath, and ignored everything else. Hopefully, my decisions were wise.

The second experience was also with one of these critique partners in the group. She’s in the process of rereleasing one of her older books and has a new cover design. She sent it to us to look at and said there was something that bothered her but she wanted to see if we noticed it. Well, I looked at the cover and I saw something that bothered me right away. Except, since she didn’t specify what bothered her, I wasn’t sure if I was pointing out something she hadn’t noticed, or really liked or if I was creating more problems than I was solving. My brain started spinning through all different scenarios and consequences until finally I yelled at myself.

There comes a time where you have to just say what you feel. If someone is asking you, they have to understand that they might not like what you’re going to tell them. And they’re going to have to deal with it. It’s how we develop that thick skin.

So I pointed out my issue, and it coincided with hers.


Some skin thickening, not much skin piercing, and hopefully, some better writing along the way!

8 comments:

  1. So much is subjective, Jen. And so much is craft. The fine line between them is good storytelling, IMO.
    I'm happy with the honest feedback, too.

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    1. It's all subjective, Ana, but that's what makes it interesting.

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  2. I think the advice about going with your gut is absolutely right. You can't please all the people all the time, but the one person you must please is yourself, and you have to do what feels right to you. That's not to say you don't listen to and heed advice, and also criticism, but in the end it's your story, not theirs.

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    1. You're right, Paula. The key is to get rid of the stubbornness (something I always need to work on!).

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  3. I've never been part of a critique group, but I've learned that sometimes you have to do what you think is best and ignore what others suggest if it's not right for your story. You can't please everyone, which your story about everyone not agreeing about your book is proof of that. I wish you the best of luck with your writing! :)

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    1. Thanks, Chrys. I love my critique partners, though and they're very helpful, even when they don't agree.

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  4. Critiquing can be tricky, for the critiquer and the critiquee.

    In my RWA group, the reader (the person who has brought the mss for critique) isn't allowed to comment on any of the critiquers' comments unless asked a direct question. This helps to avoid long, drawn out sessions of arguing and explaining. It takes a lot of discipline to keep from jumping in.

    And, I agree with the other ladies. Everything is subjective and no one thing works for everyone. An author needs to trust her inner voice and do what's best for the story.

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    1. We have a similar rule. It's really tough!

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