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25 Critique

I made a list of 100 things I should do that scare me. In 2020, I plan to complete all 100.


I’m part of both an in-person and online critique group. The in-person one now meets virtually, so I guess it’s technically now an “online” group, but you get the point—with one, we send each other work and write comments; with the other, we read each other’s work and comment live.


Live commenting is awesome. You get immediate feedback on people’s initial impressions. And I love this group—they’re really good about being honest and objective, and they can give solid reasons why they like or don’t like parts of a story. Opinions on fiction are always subjective, but there are some things that are more universal (some writing techniques really do work better than others), and I always feel like I learn a lot in critique group both from the comments on my own work and comments on others’.


It’s a little nerve-wracking, though. My skin has thickened a lot over the months and years. Our group never speaks cruelly, and they never leave me feeling torn down personally, but they don’t sugar-coat the problems they see in the story either.


It’s hard to say which is scarier: bringing a good chapter or a bad chapter. With a bad chapter, you know the comments are going to be hard to hear, but you’re ready to learn. With a good one, there’s a better chance of an ego boost, but you’re taking a risk, because just because you think it’s good doesn’t mean others will, and you can be in for an unpleasant awakening. There’s less risk involved with a chapter you already know is bad, and there’s also less to be gained by bringing in a chapter that’s already good, because you don’t learn as much.


My usual tactic is to take a chapter I know isn’t great, play with it and polish the daylights out of it until I can’t get it to be any better on my own, then bring it in to get help taking it the rest of the way. The reason for this is that even though I know critique group is for getting help and improvement, it’s still hard to show anyone my poor work, especially when others bring in good work. It might be a slight waste of time, though—I end up undoing most of the time I spent polishing the chapter if the content ends up needing to be restructured.


Last time I went for a critique, I didn’t have time to polish the snot out of my worst chapter. So I read it as it was, which is probably what I should have been doing all along (but I never have, because it’s scary).


The plus side was that I learned a lot, it didn’t hurt, and they gave me (relatively) easy ways to fix the scene. The downside is that I’m pretty sure my group is going to be permanently convinced I’m a terrible writer if I keep bringing in my worst work . . . But I guess that doesn’t matter. They can think that all they want, as long as they keep helping me get better.


Originally called it level 4, but that seems high (maybe it would have been that high a year ago). I’ll downgrade it to level 3.


Also: I'm a quarter of the way through this challenge! I'm unfortunately behind, as I should have been a quarter of the way through a month ago, but it's a little more difficult to "face my fears" from inside quarantine—or anyway, it's difficult to check items off of my list. I face my fear of loneliness, anger, and anxiety every day, but I can't just keep posting that . . .

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