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“Like a slimy oyster filled with metaphorical pearls!”

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:

comic about critique by Puss in Boots

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:

a 2nd comic about critique by Puss in Boots

In the past six years, I have slowly, invisibly gained an internal compass for some important things:

  1. My own style
  2. What my story is supposed to be about
  3. 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:

a 3rd comic about critique by Puss in Boots


  1. shell flower wrote:

    Ha. I was wondering how you would filter all those disparate ideas into something useful. It’s YOUR story, in the end, and it sounds like you have become a pro at sticking to your own vision by now. Awesome.

    Saturday, March 24, 2012 at 11:50 | Permalink
  2. Awesome. I was going to e-mail and suggest that the boyfriend backs away and then rethinks this and that’s why he has shown up at the brother’s castle, but it was too Harlequin romance I thought I shouldn’t give you that advice.

    I’ve been meaning to tell you that that story is leaps and bounds better than the last thing I read of yours, which admitted like was like 4 or 5 years ago. (It kicks ass.)

    Sunday, April 1, 2012 at 22:12 | Permalink

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