Approximately two weeks ago, I, along with my classmates, turned in the first 25,000 words of our novels. Thursday, we received grades and critiques. Convinced I had written an almost perfect blend of action, romance, and comedy, I excitedly began to read my professor’s comments. I did find it odd that her comments consisted of two typed pages stapled together — how could it take someone two pages to say, “This is the greatest thing I’ve ever read!”
One of the first comments that jumped out at me read, “You might consider deleting chapter two.”
Reading criticism of your work is hard, hard, hard. I don’t think anybody likes hearing that something they created isn’t perfect (or in some cases, even good). If you Google writing how to handle criticism you get 141 million hits, one of which is this article I wrote a couple of months ago on this very blog. In my post, I suggested take a breath, not taking it personal, and asking for clarifications. Did I do any of those things? No. Instead my face turned red, I got mad, I got my feelings hurt, and I met up with some of my classmates and drank a bunch of beer.
None of that helped anything, of course, but it made me feel a little better.
One of the suggestions I wrote in my last article about criticism was to consider the source. In this case, the source was my professor, who has not only published more than 40 novels, but has literally written the book (or at least one book) on writing fiction. And, along with the source, you have to consider the motive — again, in this case, it’s our writing professor who wants us to become successful writers. I’d say this is a case of a qualified source with good intentions offering sound advice.
I took a couple of days (and a couple of beers) to read and process all of my professor’s feedback. Mentally, I’ve sorted them into three categories:
01. Grammar/Spelling Issues: I have no defense or excuse for these — just a case of not proofreading things well enough.
02. Things I didn’t do, on accident: Examples of this would be a scene in which I glossed over a character’s emotional reaction to something he had just seen. In my head I knew the character was upset, and I may have mentioned it in a single sentence, but this is the type of thing that needs to be expanded. So I guess I would categorize these errors as things I left out or omitted accidentally.
03. Things I didn’t do, on purpose: Different than above, these would be choices I made intentionally that, apparently, were not good ones. For example, in chapter one our protagonist Skip learns that he is being hunted, and in chapter three he meets the hunter, so in chapter two I have him pacing and hiding in an attempt to build anticipation for the first meeting between the two characters. I did this intentionally, but the feedback I got was that it brings the story to a crawl and kills the pace. These are a bit harder to deal with. At least the ones that were accidents, I can see what I did and correct it. With the intentional decisions, not only do you have to fix the problem, but you have to admit that you made some bad choices.
I’m not going to lie. Every time I read something negative about my writing, in my mind I flip my desk over and send papers flying everywhere. I’m a thin-skinned person, something that doesn’t necessarily go well with receiving negative feedback. But I’m also a smart person, and know enough to know when someone’s trying to help me.
And so, after the sting of the feedback has worn off and after the affects of the hangover have subsided, it’s time to revisit the adventures of Skip and start fixing things.