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Thursday, July 10, 2008

Writing Tip: Critiques: A Role Reversal of Sorts

Yesterday, I set foot for the first time on the well-heeled grounds of an exclusive country club. And it wasn't because I'm a member, thinking about being a member, or knew any members.  My eldest daughter had her first summer swim meet there.  She got 2nd place in the freestyle.  Wahoo!  

But, I digress.  The country club experience was something else, from the long drive past the manicured golf course, the visual impact of the club house mansion (for lack of a better word), the walk past the indoor and outdoor tennis courts, the Olympic size swimming pool, and the staff, who were more put together than I've ever been since I left the business world and stayed home with the children.  I bet you're now wondering how polished the members were.  

Have you ever watched "What Not to Wear?"  I looked like a major Before, compared to the elegant women who graced the pool area.  I'm not one to compare myself to others, or wish for things I can't have.  In fact, I'm pretty comfortable with myself.   But for a moment okay, two...I remembered what it was like in high school, a bit insecure and wanting to fit in.  

I never knew bathing suits, beach coverups, beach bags could be so, well, so coordinated with children's swimming attire--I'm talking about matching colors/shades and incredible patterns with a richness found in luxury magazines.   I never knew women's hair, in sweltering heat, could look so fresh and fluffy.  I never knew elegant dresses were acceptable bathing suit coverup wear.  

Of course when I got home, I had to schedule a haircut.  It had been a few months since my last haircut, and it was time to fix the situation.  I also had to go and look at clothes yesterday morning.  I despise clothes shopping, but just had to take a look.  You know, just for a peek into a wardrobe beyond my casual mommy attire.  

This whole experience made me think about the critique process, especially since right now, my critique members have my latest submission to read through.  I've mentioned this before, but my critique group is Awesome, with a capital A.  They have fantastic insight and a great sense on how to strengthen my work.  

Writing the manuscript is somewhat like taken a ride down a long road, taking in all the sights and showing what it's all about.  There are all sorts of highs and lows when writing, and the final thrill is getting to your destination, in this case, the finished manuscript, the Before.

Then you get to the nerve-wrecking part...the critique process...where, if you're like me, wonder whether your underwear is showing and if people are rolling their eyes, or worse, laughing.  

The critique process is when I feel the most vulnerable, but, it is also one essential piece to my writing.  In my case, I have seven other people who read through my work, and as a labor of respect, they show me where things could be cut, added to, redefined, or, and this is where I do my happy dance--what works well.  Yes, there are times the feedback leads me on a downward spiral when I see how much more work I need to do, but for the most part, I find renewed enthusiasm for my project, as I decipher my critiques and figure out how to utilize them, and work through the Makeover.

Ultimately it is your choice how to incorporate the critiques into your writing.  Sometimes you may be so in love with what you've written, it's hard to change it.  Then there are the times where it will be so easy to cut everything and start over.  Or maybe a few words will enhance your section and you're good to go.  

In any case, it gives you a chance for a role reversal of sorts.  Rather than looking at your work through your own eyes (or character's viewpoint), you have the opportunity to look at this through the readers' eyes.  And if anything, isn't that what you want, to create a piece of work that the reader will enjoy?  

Now go work on your revisions.


Christine M said...

That's the best advertisement for a critique group I've ever seen. And you're right - our group is Awesome.
Oh - and congrats to oldest daughter!

beckylevine said...

I've been thinking about (and being grateful for) critique groups a lot lately, and you are right about everything. I wouldn't have written a third of what I've put on paper without my group. And the best part is, they never do make me feel like my underwear is showing--or if it is, maybe it's just not quite the perfect color!

m. thompson said...

What I find frustrating is when I think I wrote the perfect scene, and my group all mentions the same thing about it. It makes me wonder whether I have what it takes when everyone clearly finds something that doesn't ring true to it.

I guess I just need to keep plugging at it.

Barrie said...

I have kids in swim as well. And I recently had a similar experience!

Vivian said...

Hope your kids do well this swim season!

M. Thompson,
I do find it hard when I love what I wrote and my critique members have something to say about it. I end up taking a few days away from it, so I can reread it anew. Sometimes I still don't see it, other times it hits me smack dab in the face.

What I end up doing when I still love what I've written, is to write another version of the scene and incorporating the critique suggestions. A simple reading of both versions should help you figure out which works better.

Keep your chin up. Good luck!

I agree. Thank goodness for the kindness and diplomacy of critique groups!

Thanks! Your insight is invaluable.

beth said...

What a great analogy! Thanks!

Nowheymama said...

You should submit this post somewhere. It's great.

PJ Hoover said...

I wondered whether my underwear showed, so I bought some low rise :)
But anyway, critiquing is hard - not in our group because I feel so comfortable with everyone. But in a new situation totally for me. I get so much out of the critques from out group. Even the littlest comments help take writing to the next level.
But I also need to do more of pointing out the positive when I critique. This is one thing from that workshop I went to which worked SO well!
Great post!

laurasalas said...

Great post, Vivian. I'm having fun imagining the country club scene! (Congrats to your daughter!)

M. Thompson, I LOVE it when my crit group all says the same thing about a scene/chapter/collection. It's when there's strong disagreement that I feel lost. So hard to know which advice/suggestions to take!