Have you ever finished a project—like painting a room—and been so full of pride with what you accomplished that you showed it off? Then, after you say "What do you think?" the person tells you all the mistakes? The line along the ceiling is crooked; you didn't scrape the paint off the window; you should have done another coat there because the former color bleeds through. There went your pride in your work. Like a balloon losing air, your pride (and confidence) went pfft. Well, you did ask what they thought.
The same thing happens when you ask someone to critique your writing or you submit your work in a contest. Now, I'm not talking a first draft. It's the best work you've done. And the critiquer (or judge) tells you all your mistakes. Well, you asked.
After nearly twenty years of writing and being critiqued, it's never easy. Last week, I got a double whammy. First, my in-person critiquer told me the first chapter of my new work-in-progress is crap. To be honest, she put it more politely. She told me what she always says—cut all this (highlighted), too much backstory or too much explaining. Then, my on-line critiquer told me to ramp up the emotion in my YA novel. Ramp it up? I thought it was. Oh, and, cut this (highlighted) too much explaining. Gee, ya think I have a problem being too wordy? The upshot is by the end of the week I felt a little bruised and battered. No, make that a lot bruised and battered. Was I being too sensitive? Probably. More like my ego was stomped on. By friends, no less. And my confidence went south.
Now, I know better. Theoretically, I know they want me to succeed. Experienced writers repeatedly tell newbies (I've done it myself) if you want to be published develop a thick skin. If you can't take well-meaning criticism from a friend (critiquer) who has your best interests at heart, who wants your story to be better, how are you going to take editorial comments or reviews? Still, it hurts. When told my work needs more work, I get all defensive and start explaining why those parts are necessary. At least, that's what I did at the in-person critique. When the online critique came two days later, I didn't answer right away. I took the time to think about what she wrote before thanking her and saying I would work on it. Of course, the last was what I should have done in person, too.
When I was a member of a writing chapter in Chicago, they held critique night once a month. One of the rules for the critiquee was to listen, take notes, and not talk unless asked a question. Good rule. Don't talk. Listen. The people who took time to read the work and offer advice did so to help make the writing better, stronger. So, it is with each critique. Usually. There are a couple of caveats to be aware of. If you really feel a person is being critical just to be mean, ignore them and drop them as a critique partner. It's worth bearing in mind that everyone writes their stories differently. You have to be true to your voice. Sometimes a critiquer wants your story to sound the way s/he would write it. You have to sort out all the comments and decide what works and what doesn't. The same holds true for comments from judges in writing contests. Take what works.
While the above sounds like advice to anyone who lets another read their WIP, writing this post has also been a reminder to me. Listen, take notes, and keep my mouth shut. Next time, I promise. Now that several days have passed, I'll get back to those WIPs and see what happens when I delete the unnecessary parts (or cut and save for later in the story) and ramp up the emotions of the teens in the YA. I'll see if the stories read better. In the end, though, I have to keep another caveat in mind. It is my story.