Posted September 10, 2011
This is the expanded version posted 9/6/2011 on Southern Magazine Writers Suite T blog
SWINGING IN ON A VINE
Have you ever strolled into the writing jungle for a critique and disagreed with comments or some of the advice? If so, did you revise the manuscript or hold to your original wording?
I remember for the longest I didn't want to enter contests or have someone critique my work for fear of what might be said. Traveling across country once to attend a writing conference, I was exhausted. Midnight approached. Fourteen toughened writers sat around a table as an author critiqued their work. I was fifteenth. A writer newbie. As the night dragged on, I kept thinking, why did I send my manuscript in? These people are such prolific bards. My manuscript is horrid. How can I slip my story out of the pile and roach-squeeze beneath the door crack? If only I could toss coffee on my words so they would be illegible.
What made matters worse, one manuscript was a thriller. We had to listen to words describing a man threatening to torture the protagonist's dog. In detail. How in the world could I escape that room without looking like a total writer wimp failure?
At last, my manuscript was pulled from the pile. I would now be exposed. Everyone would hurl, Charlatan. I wasn't really a writer. Why was I even there?
Like Elijah, I called down fire hoping my manuscript would disintegrate. Nothing happened. Not even a spark.
The well-published author who had critiqued our work read a couple of paragraphs from a masterpiece I'd titled - "My Bugs Bunny Bad Hair Trip." She stopped. I held bated breath. Then she waved her arm and belted out, "Who cares!"
Why don't you tell me what you really think!
After she'd drawn a bead through the sights of her double barrel elephant gun I could take no more incoming. Trying to dodge another blast, with sweaty hands I squeaked out, "Could we please move on to the next manuscript?"
Zipping up her safari vest and Velcro-ing down pockets that held more ammo, she seemed thrilled with my proposition. I wondered how I would tempt crimson hues to fade from heated capillaries as I hid in the bush like a cowardly lion for the next thirty minutes until bedtime and sweet dreams.
After a nightmare like that, did I ever go back to another conference for a critique?
And received even more criticism.
But the next time, I'd changed my mental attitude and my cowardly lion carcass had become as tough as elephant hide.
Also, it took me awhile to realize that a critique was subjective.
Some may not like what I write-others may love what I pen. The trick was to discern which suggestions were to be written in stone. Only I, as author, knew what audience I was trying to reach. Of course, there were basics that needed to be adhered to like plot, story arc, beginning a story with a hook and also ending a chapter with a hook to keep the reader engrossed and turning pages.
And I could break some of those when I knew them.
What really cleared smoke from my eyes was when I sent three manuscripts to a contest. Each manuscript was critiqued by two judges. For two of the manuscripts, the judges made similar comments. No brainer.
On the third manuscript, the judges were polar opposites on the critique and scores. After carefully reading through comments from both, it was obvious one judge wasn't as experienced at critiquing. So, some suggestions I kept, others I tossed.
Sometimes, I had to use intuition, especially if a judge didn't have my synopsis and had no way of knowing where my story was headed. On one occasion, a judge told me I had to change a certain line. Did I want to change the line and have a better chance at winning the contest…or did I stick with my inherent beliefs? No brainer.
I adhered to my beliefs.
The article won first place. Later, I expanded the story leaving in the same line and the story won first place in a different venue.
What I've learned in summation:
(1) Grow skin thick as an elephant's hide
(2) Enter contests for critiques and incoming
(3) Revise, revise, revise
(4) Never fear-writing is subjective
(5) Tarzan yell. Rally 'round my new motto: "Bring on the poisonous blow darts and put the kettle water on to boil-I'm swinging in on a vine."