Baby in the Blender: How I Learned to Love Critique
We all write for different reasons, but sometimes I think that deep down, I think part of the motivation for writing at all is that we want to be loved. Just a bit. Maybe that’s why we take it so hard when people point out the flaws in our writing. It feels like rejection, and it hurts.
Let me paint you a picture.
You’re a writer. You just know you are. And you’re excited to do more of it. You’re so excited that you find a group--maybe it’s an online group--and you join because you want the company of fellow writers. So far so good. They have a peer review system. It’s a system where you can post some of your writing and the other writers will comment on it for you. You think to yourself, "That sounds a bit frightening, but really, I’m a writer, so how bad can it be?" You build up your courage and finally you are prepared to post some of your work.
This is no ordinary writing. This is your writing. This writing is also imbued with certain personal qualities unique to you. It is tied inexorably with your self-worth, your ego. It contains the seeds of your dream of being a published writer, or poet or technical writer. With great trepidation, you load your baby--for that is how you now feel about it--into the group’s peer review system. And you hold your breath.
You with me so far?
Here’s where it gets a little messy. If you are squeamish I recommend looking away here, because it is at this point that those bastards rip and tear and shear and maul and stomp your baby into the blood-stained earth, before digging it up and tossing what’s left into the blender. At least this is how it feels.
Remember, this is no ordinary piece of writing. This one is special. It’s become more than a story, a poem, an article, a blog post. It’s part of you. It contains a chunk of your soul. It is a symbol of what you aspire to be: a writer, an author, a poet.
With every word your eyes narrow. Your eyes scan down the page little by little, stopping at all the little call-outs, the carefully worded suggestions. Every one of them sets off a tiny incendiary device in your veins. You feel yourself getting warmer. Let’s be real here. It’s anger. How dare they not love my story? How dare they rip into my article? Who are they to not recognize my talent and the sheer brilliance of my prose?
Here’s the thing. We’ve all been there. Like I said above, I truly believe that deep down, on some level, all of us are looking for validation. We want people to say, “That was the best thing I’ve ever read.” And maybe it really is. But the expectation that someone will look at the literary equivalent of the crap we just took on the living room carpet and see it for a flawless diamond is laughable. And make no mistake, most unedited writing is the equivalent of an unwanted living room turd.
“Surely you don’t mean that?" I hear you ask. Don’t I? Writing is, they say, a craft. Craft can be defined as “an activity involving skill in making things by hand.” There will be some people somewhere for whom writing is natural. They can just do it. Maybe they don’t even know how or why it works. For them, it just does. Those people are freaks. For the rest of mankind, writing is a craft, which means that it is something that needs to be worked at. And even those freaks benefit from working at it. It involves the development of skills. And how do you develop skills? Well that, dear reader, is done through practice, and lots of it.
I will let you in on a little secret though, but you’ll need to lean in close. There is a shortcut. That short cut is peer review. To practice writing every day and to have the flaws and repeated errors and areas for improvement called out, and to help others by doing the same is an awesome combination and what I recommend for improving writing skills fast. When combined with lots of reading as well, it is a shortcut to great, confident writing.
I’ll tell you what doesn’t work. Thinking you know it all already. Oh, you may think from the tone of this that I believe I have it all figured out. It’s all very well to be preachy in an article. Well, the truth is, I don’t have it all figured out. I learn something new every time I write and every time someone takes the time to critique my work--every time they give me the gift of a critique.
This is not always easy to do. It takes a certain mindset. Sometimes it hurts. Especially when deep down you realize they’re probably right.
If you can find your way past the ego and the pain and learn to love the heat, well that is where the benefits lie. I know you can do it. Just empty your cup. Spill out a little of the tea to make room for some more, and open yourself to the idea that every call-out and comment is a gift.
Image courtesy of Pixabay.
The next time you go along to that writing group and you work up the courage to put your baby into the blender (ahem… the peer review system), just remember: it’s not a baby, it’s just words strung together. And you can learn to do that better, because writing is a craft, and crafts require perseverance and practice.
If you can do that, you will be on the fast track to achieving those writing goals and dreams. Hopefully we will meet up along the way.