CRITIQUES (THEY SUCK)

I (will) write a lot in this blog how important it is to get to know yourself, and who you are before fiction is a real thing, and not just something you make up. Last year I took a writing class online, for twenty weeks given by the Writer’s Workshop in NYC. My friend Wayne (I bring Wayne’s name up a lot, because he’s the guy who keeps telling me to write even when I don’t want to. I think everyone needs a friend like him, and no one has believed in my abilities more as a writer than him.) and I had heard of the place way back when we were in college, but neither of us had the time or money to travel to NYC to study there. I was grateful that they had an online course, and I recommend it everyone … I plan to take the second section of courses after I take my screenwriting class (I need a break from short stories for a while). I must say in my first podcast I was a little hard on the teacher, but I’ve tried to remain true to the mantra that all truth is true in the moment, and there were times in that class where I hated her. In the end I didn’t, and I will write a blog about the class and the evolution of me as a writer in that ten weeks, because it is pretty cool.

The one good thing about the class, however, was that you didn’t know anyone in your class (not even virtually), but that was also the bad thing. I get it, people who don’t know tend to be a bit more honest about your work, but they also tend not to spend the same amount really looking at your work as someone you know would … so it’s a catch 22, I guess. Having people who you don’t know critiquing your work is a good thing since they don’t know you well enough to hurt your feelings, but they also don’t know you well enough to take the time and do a real reading. I have to admit that in the beginning of the class I read all ten stories every week, but as the weeks went by, I realized that I would get maybe two critiques a week, which led me to believe that no one was reading my stuff … which kind of pissed me off. In the second quarter of the class I had a week where I had ten stories to read and all of them sucked! I tried my best to be generous in my critiques of the work, but it was very hard to be thoughtful about stories that simply didn’t make any sense, or had continuity issues, or worse, took a page to painfully say absolutely nothing. I wrote a couple of hard hitting, and dare I say, biting critiques, and I got soooo much shit for them. I was called harsh, and some implied that I was being mean. (Actually the one girl who said I was mean ended up being on my list of never to critique again … since she was a total jerk to say it, and her story didn’t make any sense at all, and I was so NICE in my assessment of it it’s scary.) I dare say that these were the most honest critiques of the year. They made me none too popular, and I love to be popular so it kind of sucked for me. My conference Pal, Renee wrote in her blog a couple days ago about not going out of your way to tell a writer how YOU would write a story, and to exercise a little decency when critiquing someone’s piece … and I totally agree with her about that, but as in life, saying it is way easier than doing it.

In the conference, the best thing I went to was the workshop on how to workshop (which I mentioned earlier), and it was there when I got to thinking about how important it is to be honest to other writers about their material, but to be constructive about it. In the conference there were stories that simply went over my head, and others that just didn’t make any sense to me, and still others that I wish I had the skills to write, because I figured if I had the skills that these writers had, with my flare for being brilliant, there would be no stopping me. There was one story that I simply told the author I didn’t understand it well enough to critique it. I often wonder if he thought I was stupid or actually gave it some thought that someone who was pretty educated couldn’t get through his material? I think this is when you start to rewrite the piece in your image, and that’s a dangerous thing to do. First off, what you want to do when you critique someone’s work is try to bring out the best in him or her … not you (we all know you’re a better writer than the person you’re critiquing). And you know something; sometimes the best in them isn’t all that great! And that’s okay too.

Anyway, I guess the point I’m trying to make is this … be honest with other people’s work because it will make you more honest with yours. Be generous about what you think is good, and not because it will make them feel warm and fuzzy about themselves, but also because it will allow yourself to copy them and write better yourself. And be honest (in your quiet voice) about how you would a written the story, because that will aid you when YOU write something. I’m so virtuous and shit talking about all this honesty stuff, but it’s so important. You cannot write if you’re not aware. After all isn’t that what writing is, recording the events that go on either in your mind or around you?

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