The Destructive Power Of A Harsh Critique

But first, the story that leads to the critique…

Since my daughter was a baby, I either read a picture book to her at bedtime or told her a story from my childhood. (These days, she prefers to do the reading herself.) Back when she was four, she asked for an animal story. I recalled a mouse our cat had cornered by the front door when I was ten.

Here is the extremely condensed version. (Please read the opening dramatically.)

Inches from pouncing on a helpless, half-frozen mouse, the wind howled, and the bell, dangling from our cat’s leather collar, rang. Inside our house, my mother heard the faint jingle and opened the front door. With agile speed, she snatched the quivering mouse from our cat, trapping it in her cupped hands. Then, my mother brought in a terrarium from the garage, (Doesn’t everyone keep a glass terrarium in their garage for those “just-in-case” moments?)fashioned a suitable home, and placed the terrarium in the kitchen. A minute later, the cat went bonkers, and my Mom released the mouse to the great outdoors. The End.

“What happened next?” my daughter asked.

I shrugged. “Who knows? My mother opened the door, and the little fellow dashed under a bush. We never saw him again.”

I turned off the light and wished her a good night’s sleep. I wasn’t three feet down the hall when she let out the boom…the question that kept me glued to my computer for the next few years.

“You’re a writer. MAKE SOMETHING UP!”

She can be very persuasive.

As the outline for the story grew to sizable proportions, I decided to enroll in a middle grade writing course (Up to this point, picture books had been my main focus.)

My instructor passed a piece of “writerly” wisdom to me. “It’s obvious how much you care for your main character. Now get back to your computer and let life happen to him. Chase him to the edge of a cliff, throw rocks, give him bad food…just don’t kill him.”

“The writer is both a sadist and a masochist.

We create people we love,

and then we torture them.”

Janet Fitch

My daughter came up to me as I reworked a scene. “WHY are you crying?” She looked at me stunned.

“Mommy is crying because she is challenging the existence of her beloved main character,” I choked out.

“What?” she rightfully questioned for a child of her age.

“You see, sweetheart, Mommy found a way to reach her main character’s heart and hurt him where it really matters.”

“Stop it! she pleaded. “You LOVE him!”

“I’m doing it to improve the story and make it publishable,” I said.

“The don’t do it. Pleeeeeeeeease. Keep the story as it is just for me.”

Well, I kept hurling those rocks, and when I finished the novel, I realized the distance I had grown as a writer.

By the time the course ended, my instructor wrote she was captivated by the tale as well as the development of my characters and encouraged me to get it published. Wanting a second opinion, I researched various copy editors to find a good match to critique my manuscript. Her price seemed high, but I deemed it a good investment.

A month later, I received my manuscript along with the promised forty page critique. The first pages rang of high praise and the rest…. My spirits were crushed, dashed, destroyed, annihilated, terminated, and obliterated. Should I go on, or are you grounded in the picture? (This experience, I am certain, seats me in the same boat with countless other writers.)

I turned my back on my story. (Shame on me.)Today, two years of dust blanket the returned manuscript pages and critique.

Yesterday, while out running errands, my daughter asked me to remind her about the novel.

During the retelling of the adventure, I found myself missing the whole crew of characters I had so carefully created. I missed the swashbuckling adventures and the mishaps. I choked on tears as I told of the near-death moments, and the triumph of survival. It was there, in the car, that I realized the critique I received was one person’s opinion. So, for the first time in two years, I’m going to blow the dust off my story, literally, read it with (extremely) fresh eyes, change what needs changing, and prepare to send my manuscript out into the world.

As I prepare to submerge myself back into my most cherished story, I wish you all happy writing.

Feel like sharing a critique memory of your own? I’d love to hear it. Scroll to the top of this post and click Comment.

2 thoughts on “The Destructive Power Of A Harsh Critique

  1. I think most writers can relate to this. After my first critique years ago, I put the letter away and couldn’t relook at it for weeks. But then I started peeking, and with each passing day, I realized the critique was spot on. I started making changes, and I eventually got my book published.

    Nowadays, it’s easier for me to hear (or read) critiques–in fact, I welcome them. But that doesn’t mean the sting is completely gone or that I won’t get defensive. Because I will. But then I pull up my big-kid pants and get to work. Luckily, the intervals between the feedback and our desire to make changes shrinks over time.

    Thanks for visiting my site. Much appreciated!

    Like

  2. I wish I had only waited weeks before returning to this manuscript instead of…gulp….years! However, with the passing of those years, I’ve continued daily with my quest to improve my writing and am probably in a place where I can revisit those forty critique pages with an open mind. Hopefully I’ll agree with the suggestions and find I have the knowledge to make the necessary changes.

    Now, to find my big girl undies and get to work.
    Thanks for visiting my site, too!

    Like

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