I’m back, because this is really a writing blog and that last post wasn’t about writing. 🙂 Last night was critique. It took me about 40 minutes to go 5 miles. Wow, what an improvement. Have I mentioned how much I dislike Honolulu traffic?
In truth, I am torn over this critique group. It’s not just romance writers, but women writers in general. We take 5 pages max each week. I find that limiting, but I like the people and I like their company. I don’t often take anything, mostly because I don’t believe in sharing first draft work until the story is complete. But I did last week, and I did last night though we never got around to discussing mine because we ran out of time. I did get my copies back with comments, though, and this is where I get frustrated. No two people key in on the same thing, so that’s always good (tie goes to the writer, as Stephen King says), but it’s the comments on word choice that drive me buggy. I feel as if people are trying to rewrite things to sound the way they’d say it. I don’t just feel this way with my own work, btw, but with some of the comments that get made on other people’s work too. Someone actually added adjectives to my sentences. LOL!
I ask myself if I’m being fair, or if I’m being a primadonna when I get irritated at this stuff. I talked to my husband about it and he thinks I accept criticism pretty well, at least when it comes from him. He is hard on me, too, when I ask for his opinion on a story. He actually saved me from a dumb plot move in my published novella. It was being serialized, so I usually wrote the next episode right before it was due. Naturally, that sometimes got me in trouble, so when I was on deadline and writing this particular scene, I tossed what I thought was a great cliffhanger in there. It was going to be difficult to write my way out of the next time, but I guessed I’d figure that out when I got there. My husband read it and told me it was dumb and that I’d missed the obvious cliffhanger. He was so right, and I changed it immediately. I am still grateful that he caught that and saw the best and most obvious fix when I was in a creative stupor.
Recently, in a short story that I wrote for the Aloha Chapter’s anthology Strong Currents 2, my husband flat out said he didn’t like it. I was crushed, naturally. But, I listened to his suggestions, and I made changes, and he liked it. He didn’t like the hero because he didn’t understand his motivation. When I clarified that, and a couple of other things, he understood where I was going and thought it was good. Oh, I wasn’t happy that he didn’t like it at first, and I whined and wheedled and argued. I know one should never argue about her work, but this is my husband and I feel like I can break the rules. Ha! And by pressing him, I was able to understand precisely what he felt was missing. I had to repeat it back to him, clarify, and absorb. I don’t suppose you can do that with many people because it does sound like you’re defending your work and refusing to change anything, but it really helped me in this case. And, I suppose when I look at it objectively, it’s because he was keying in on STORY issues, not nitpicky word choice/formatting junk. I want story issues, not the fact you don’t like the word orgasm. 🙂
And I don’t usually see much in the way of story issues being discussed in this group. It does happen, though, and we do talk about scene goals and all that. Inevitably, people get confused on underlining. Yep, underlining. There are still people in this group who think you are supposed to italicize stuff. And when they see underlining, they don’t know why it’s there. And then we spend several minutes discussing manuscript format, which is a waste of time.
I think critique groups can waste too much time on nitpicky junk and not spend enough on the idea of getting the story written. I see people who bring back the same scene time after time. They incorporate the changes that were suggested, bring it back, and get more changes. It’s a vicious cycle. On the other hand, getting out with a group of writers is good. Reading each other’s work is good, at least for me. I learn from reading other’s work, and I don’t ever get nitpicky about word choice, unless it’s jarring. For instance, someone writing a fantasy novel used the word ‘screwed’ as in ‘guess we’re screwed’ and it seemed too modern to me. I wasn’t the only one who commented on that.
So how do you get the good stuff out of critique and avoid burnout? I don’t know, really. I think it’s possible to strip all the life from a story if you listen to every suggestion. And I feel like the focus sometimes IS on stripping the life. Not intentionally, but as Jane Porter told us at the May Aloha Chapter meeting, readers don’t care about the stuff that gets our knickers in a twist. Someone was commenting on a sentence she’d read in a book and how it turned her off, and Jane said so what. It says what it needs to say, the book is popular, and the reader doesn’t care. Before I started writing, I could care less about head-hopping and all that stuff. I didn’t notice it. Now, I am a strict POV writer because it works for me. But I still read head-hopping books. I had trouble at first, years ago, but I don’t have trouble anymore. I am often able to push the writer aside and read as a reader. It took me a long time to get there, however. 🙂
Anyhoo, I am bitching to bitch, I guess. I’m not ranting about my group in particular so much as I am ranting about critique in general. I think I critique like a reader, not a writer, and I think it took me a long time to get there. I think it’s best for the writer to get a reader critique, not a writer critique, if that makes sense. Don’t rewrite my work or tell me about wandering body parts (unless it borders on the ridiculous or pervasive). Don’t nitpick underlines and em dashes and word choices. Tell me if you could see the picture. Tell me if you believe the characters. Tell me if they sound like they ought to sound. Tell me if you were blindsided by something, if you were jarred as a reader because something wasn’t quite right somewhere. Yes, tell me if I’ve got too many adverbs or have someone sigh or giggle dialogue, or if the body part does something ridiculous (I apparently had twirling eyes once, thanks to a misplaced modifier–not good, though it gave my critique partner in my other group a good laugh). Tell me writer stuff when it really bugs you. But tell me reader stuff too. Would you keep reading? Do you like these people? Are you interested in what happens to them?
I am spending way too much time writing this post. In truth, I have a headache, thanks to too much red wine last night before bed. I can’t concentrate on writing when I have a headache. I should have stopped on the second glass, but I had a third. I know better. Now I’m paying. And, I have no idea what we’re having for dinner, I need to go shopping and I don’t want to, and I just realized my university is crazy. They keep calling to say I owe them $15. I go to my account to pay and there’s no outstanding charge. In the meantime, I think they’re holding up my thesis proposal. My mentor signed off on it, and all they have to do is find two readers. They’ve had since May 1st to do this.
I wrote 4 pages yesterday, not 5, but I was pleased I did it. I did it on the Neo, which was necessary to keep me from checking email and reading blogs. Two weeks ago, I rarely read a blog. Now, I’ve discovered all these fun blogs that I never knew existed.
Headache or not, I’m getting away from this computer and grabbing the Neo. Maybe something good will happen after all.