Sunday, May 23, 2010

Criticism

The first time someone critiqued something I had written, I cried.

It was a sophomore level creative writing class at my university, and I brought a story that I was nervous to share because it was fictionalized version of something that had really happened to me. We got into critique groups of four people, and I began to read my story to the group, my nerves bubbling into my shaky voice and even shakier hands.

When I finished, they proceeded to tear my story apart. "Not believable," the girl to my right said. "What was the point, again? It seemed like there needed to be more," the grungy guy across from me commented. The last girl left pointed out most of my glaring grammatical errors that a 5th grader at any elementary school could have caught.

I sat there, feeling like they had all taken bats to me and beat me senseless, and then began to defend my story. Of course Grunge Guy didn't like it-- he wrote action/murder stories and this was a romance. Not believable?! It happened to me (I wished later that I hadn't divulged that personal tidbit of information, because then they just felt sorry for me). I had no argument for my grammar, except that Word hadn't underlined the problem areas in green squiggly lines. Pride held my tears in check until I got home a few hours later and finally let it all out. They hated me. They hated my writing. I was the worst writer ever. Why try?

I eventually managed to crawl out of the self-pity mire (with the help of a half-gallon of chocolate ice cream and some really cool roommates) and began my rewrite.

Today I was reading The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch and he said something that made me recall this experience. He was on a football team when he was young and the coach was really hard on the team, him in particular. After one practice, the coach was especially critical of Pausch and how he was playing:
"'Coach Graham rode you pretty hard, didn't he?" the assistant coach said."
" I could barely muster a 'yeah.' "
" 'That's a good thing," the assistant told me. "When you're screwing up and nobody says anything to you anymore, that means they've given up on you.'"


I love that no one has given up on me.

Since my first experience with being critiqued, I've learned a few lessons.
1. Don't take things personal. They are critiquing that particular piece of writing, not me as a person.
2. Don't defend my work. Just listen. I may not agree, but that's okay.
3. Keep an open mind. Be willing to listen and change the story.
4. Have confidence in my work. Don't assume that just because it is being critiqued, it's horrible.
5. Remember that my critique partners are there to support and help, and they have my best interest in mind.

Now, I anticipate my critique sessions because they have made me a better writer. (Though, a nice, healthy scoop of chocolate ice cream can still help get me through those rewrites that inevitably follow a productive critique session.)

7 comments:

  1. I have had some of the same feelings, Kaylee. Thanks for the suggestions on how to handle honest criticism. Ann K

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  2. I know exactly how you feel Kaylee, and I love your words of encouragement. I was fortunate enough to have a sister who acted as my first critique and because she knew my vulnerability she went easy on me. Over time I began asking for more indepth help and she carefully gauged how much I could handle. Now I'm harder on myself than anyone, and take critique pretty well. I feel fortunate to have such a writing buddy, and to be related to her as well. We all need someone trusted like that to help encourage us along.

    Someone like you, perhaps?!!! Thanks so much!

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  3. Hm, that first critique group sounds a little harsh. I've been participating in flash fiction Fridays and recently a blogfest where you invite people to come and critique a piece you leave on your blog. It has been fantastic for me. I've received a lot of positive feedback and a lot of constructive criticism. I find that I take the criticism pretty well, maybe because it's buffered by compliments, or maybe because I can see where the ideas can make my work better. In any case, you're right, opening yourself to criticism is scary.

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  4. Thank you everyone for your comments. I'm glad to see that other people have strong feelings about critique sessions. (and how scary they can be!--but worth it!)

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  5. Kaylee--

    Great insights. As a critiquer, I try to remember to say how much I like a piece even while I'm doling out the advice--but sometimes I forget. And when I receive a critique (especially a really nit-picky one), I just tell myself they had to search hard to find something wrong to point out. Self-delusion works for me!

    Wendy Jones

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  6. Great article. I realize that if I want to improve how others view my work, then I need to get feedback from others viewing my work (I know, I'm captain obvious). My wife pointed out this article to me probably because I don't take criticism from her very well. Keep posting great stuff. :)

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  7. Thanks Michael. After a while you will look forward to hearing back from your critique partners, but there is a learning curve on how to take criticism.

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