Crushing Critique

27 03 2013

“Be careful what you wish for, you just might get it,” Clint Eastwood’s character says in Heartbreak Ridge.

A few weeks ago, I was flattered and honored when a writer (and editor) whose work I deeply admire and respect offered to read five pages after I commented on her blog that getting worthwhile critiques seemed impossible.

I really wanted to send her the first five pages of my work in progress. After I spend five days scrubbing the vomit into a semblance of writing I would be willing to claim, I still didn’t feel it was ready for an editor’s eyes.

Instead, I sent her a short story (previously published here) that I submitted to the literary journal at SNHU. Of course, it had been rejected, but the reviews and comments were so contradictory that I had no idea what was really wrong with it.

Aside from giving me her brutal and honest critique (for which I’m grateful), Kristen also used my story for the basis of one of her blogs. Read what she had to say here.

My reaction was comical. I was afraid to read her comments. Then I saw the blog and became defensive.

“I had to write the story in less than 1200 words. I didn’t have time to set the stage.”

We’re great at justification, aren’t we?

The truth: my writing lacks depth. Even though I feel like I have a handle on basic story structure, I’m not able to convey that same sense through my story.

The worst thing was the redundancy. I literally cringed each time she pointed out “you already said that.” I do the same thing on student papers. How did I miss this flaw in my own writing?

Seriously. This story had been written, critiqued, re-written, graded, revised and re-worked, but I still missed the redundant use of words. What do I mean? For example, “ineffectual thrashing” is a phrase I used. Her comment: “Most thrashing is ineffectual.” Duh. What was I doing? Think of the extra words I could have used to set up my basic situation if I hadn’t been wasting them repeating what I already said.

I didn’t agree with all of her commentary because some of the repetition was for effect (but it must not have been very effective, so what did I do wrong?)

I’m glad to know some weak areas to focus on (in the rewriting stages), and I happily ordered one of the books on story structure Kristen recommended. Do I wish she would have liked my writing? Sure. Would having her compliment me have truly been helpful? Not in the least.

Thanks, Kristen, for taking time to give me the constructive feedback I’ll need if I’m ever going to improve my writing to a publishable level.

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3 responses

27 03 2013
Julia Weston

I applaud you for 1) your willingness to have your work critiqued, 2) the courage to have your work critiqued by such an accomplished and prominent writer/editor, and 3) writing about the experience here. I see you tagged your post under “thin skin.” For the reasons I outlined above, I disagree 🙂 The best part? You’ve decided to learn from your experience. I thought this was a great post. Keep at it, and good luck!

27 03 2013
sharonhughson

Julia-
Thanks for the kind words, but I wasn’t completely heroic throughout this experience. I cried and questioned my dreams, but I’ve decided that quitting is not an option. I can learn about craft. I have passion for words, which is something that can’t be learned.
Thanks for following my blog.
Sharon

27 03 2013
Julia Weston

I’ve been there. Tears and all. That’s the thing about writing. If we’re writers at heart, we can’t help but keep coming back to it.

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