Don’t Get Defensive

I know I talk about my writing group a lot. I love my writing group. They’re awesome.

But we did have someone join our group for one meeting. A lot of our group didn’t like her writing, although I kind of liked the frantic nature of her work and the way she jumped from idea to idea. I was looking forward to seeing what would come of it.

But her work wasn’t perfect. The reason it wasn’t perfect is because no one’s work is perfect. Everything everyone writes, and I mean everyone from a grade 3 student up to Madeleine Thien and Madeleine St. John and Stephen King and whoever else you happen to like, has flaws. Everyone writes flawed work. It’s cool. When I write things, I bring them to workshop and I get a bunch of corrections, and they’re everything from missing words and typos to logistical problems, problems with theme, and my nemesis, problems with pacing. In university we were pretty merciless in workshops, and we’re not half as tough in my group, but we’re also honest and we’re looking for ways for the author to make the work their best.

But I don’t argue with them. I’m not there to argue. I don’t think they’re stupid or mean. I listen to the things they find problematic, and they’re right. They’re the reader, and I’m communicating to the reader, so if they don’t understand something, they’re right. I make notes.

I don’t always act on the notes, though, because I’m the author and I do get the final say. It’s not a story by committee. I also don’t take their advice on what to do all the time. They do come up with excellent solutions to problems, but sometimes they don’t fully know the intent of the piece, or the themes, or the secrets that are upcoming. The can tell me what they think should happen, but again, it’s my story, and I’m the one responsible for it. So, I take advice from them. A lot. But not all.

I heard a story once from one of my professors that they were workshopping a piece and the woman stood up and said that she wasn’t going to change a single word because her work was the word of God. Well, that’s all right, I guess, but why would you want to workshop it? Is it to get everyone to tell you how smart you are? How good of a writer you are? Do you want everyone to suddenly realize that you’re perfect and that everyone should bow down to you? It doesn’t work like that. We have some fantastic writers in our group, and I will say that everyone in our group is really smart, but everyone’s writing can improve. If you think your piece is perfect, don’t get it critiqued.

Every piece of art is critiqued. When I read a book by a famous well-regarded author, I have things that I think could have been done better. I see a movie and we have discussions about what we liked and didn’t like. It’s the nature of it. Even The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, a well read and highly loved book, had a terrible third act! The entire last third of the book is a really boring court scene. It doesn’t fit the book at all. But, that’s just my opinion. I don’t think Mark Twain cares.

So, in conclusion, the woman who came to our writers group wasn’t ready to hear any criticisms about her piece. She argued and made fun of the criticisms, and in the end just wasn’t right for the group. It’s sad because while I think she probably could’ve gotten a lot out of the group, she wasn’t ready.

If someone has a critique of your piece, listen to them. There’s a chance they’re wrong, because every reader skips a few words here and there and sometimes confuse themselves, but for the most part they’re right. Don’t argue with them. Listen.

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