When I first started taking my writing to a critique group, I wanted to learn so badly that I wasn’t usually upset by criticism. I hadn’t expected how hard it would be to use the feedback, however. As an example, here’s the crappy-ass beginning of a novel I wrote in 2006:
An hour ago, he could have seen more than the silhouette of her cloaked shoulders, mass of silken braids and strung bow. Now the glowing coals of his campfire piled as haphazardly as the pillars of a forgotten, crumbling temple, and the desert around them guarded its secrets. She was a stranger, approaching uninvited after dusk.
So everyone read it, and this is basically what they said:
This was frustrating and intimidating. Three (mostly) antithetical recommendations from three people I trusted, whose skill levels were (mostly) equal to each other’s and mine. How was I supposed to choose the “right” one?
Fast forward six years…
Last night, with a different story, the critiquer to my left gently apologized for giving me a flat contradiction to what the person on my right had just said. At the time, I didn’t pay any notice, but as I was walking home, I suddenly had an epiphany. I had just experienced this:
In the past six years, I have slowly, invisibly gained an internal compass for some important things:
- My own style
- What my story is supposed to be about
- The experience I want readers to have
I’ve developed the ability to sort a critique as I hear it, instead of sitting down writing PRO and CON lists while I chew off my nails. “More wizard” would be a valid request for any of those three criteria, if it was someone else’s story, a different story of mine, or if I wanted people to feel a different way about it. (“Axe massacre” also has its merits, of course, but I felt I needed to think about it first, or possibly adapt it.)
Those jagged insecurities about how to parse critique collected in my subconscious, like flecks of sand in an oyster, and over time my brain smoothed them into tools. And while I may have realized I could do it tonight, the process has been so subtle that I can’t remember any part of it. I just know that at this point, I’ve been taking it for granted for years.
I’m like a slimy oyster filled with metaphorical pearls! How many things I don’t consciously understand could be turning into “pearls of wisdom” even as I type this?! I don’t know! Lots maybe! AWESOME! Best part: you are the same species as me! THIS IS HAPPENING TO YOU TOO! ALL THE TIME!
So, to wrap things up: