Scary Stuff

I’ve been writing for a very long time. I remember sixth grade and deciding that I really loved creating stories and maybe that was what I wanted to do with my life. It took a little longer to get serious about it. Adulting got in the way as it often does. So, for a few decades, my writing was seen by teachers and friends. Some teachers will simply give you a grade, some will give you a critique. But for the most part, I heard a lot of, “Oh, that’s good! You’re good at this!”

Don’t get me wrong… that’s always wonderful to hear. It just doesn’t give much insight. I’ve talked before about artists grilling the people who consume the art. We need feedback. We need to know what is good, yes, but we also need to know why it’s good. Or why it’s not.

A couple of weeks ago, I found a Facebook writing group that didn’t make me want to invent new technology. As far as I know, setting people on fire is still illegal, even if you manage to do it over the Internet. This group is fun. It’s inclusive and encouraging, and best of all – the admins are wonderful. They have a sense of humour and they know what they’re doing. I didn’t know that was allowed online. Everyone I have met is nice enough that I decided, for the first time, to take the plunge.

[[Drum-roll, please. Yes, it’s that big of a deal.]]

I put some of my work up for Actual Critiques. Two chapters and a fairly brutal short story. I posted them and waited, anxiously, for near-strangers to tell me I should find a different calling. All the support and compliments of loved ones faded into the background while the inner demons danced and laughed at my foolishness.

The first comments came back. I was seriously afraid to open the document. What if the notes were mean? Or worse yet… kind? I’ve offered that type of feedback when I couldn’t bear to hurt someone’s feelings. A sort of, “That’s nice, dear.” I know what it looks like. I don’t want it.

The notes weren’t kind. They weren’t mean. They were two amazing things at once: Encouraging and helpful. I saw what the reader loved (a lot of it – yay!) and what she wanted to see more of. She also had a couple of very good grammatical suggestions. All very good stuff.

The other critiques were much the same. At every turn, there was appreciation for the work. Again, always a good thing that no one would scoff at. But there was also that secret spice. Why did people like the words and scenes and characters? What spoke to them? What drew out emotion? ” I particularly found the chase scene easy to digest. I scrambled through the words at the same speed as she ran.” Ohmygooses, that made me giddy. It tells me that I’m on the right path and pulling my readers along on the ride with me. I’m not pointing to the sights as we speed pass. I’m letting them explore and get to know the landscape. This is gold!

I don’t expect every critique to go the same way. The novel has a long way to go and I know for a fact there are weak chapters that need help. But I’m no longer so nervous about sending my creative children for review. Even if someone is mean, or tiny gods forbid… kind… I won’t go up in flames. I’ll take it all under consideration and adjust. Or not.

There’s some stupid saying about needing to believe in yourself before others will. I hate it so much, I won’t even look it up to get it right. I can recognize the wisdom in it and still hate it. But have enough belief in yourself to at least try. Put your work out there, peeps. Wonderful things will happen.

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