Thursday, November 03, 2005

Writers love feedback. It's our crack. It's "The Precious."

That said, not all writers love honest feedback. I like to think of myself as one who does. I, however, prepare myself for honesty by first imagining the worst-case scenario, which usually involves being told my writing is crap. Hard on the heels of "your writing is crap" is the advice that I go back to my day job and do the world a favor -- never again put words to paper. Or, better yet, consign myself to a convent and take a vow of literary silence.

I also think of the single most privately humiliating moment I ever experienced as a writer.

After I finished the first rough draft of my Master's Thesis (oh, and it was rough), I forwarded it to my thesis advisor to keep her apprised of my progress. My advisor forwarded the draft to one of my readers, who had not been apprised of its roughness. The reader then responded to my advisor, who forwarded me her comments. Unfortunately, her comments had been intended for my advisor -- not me.

They were... candid, to put it mildly. (If I wanted to abandon my objectivity regarding the matter, I'd say they were rude, cruel, and unhelpful.) For three days I couldn't look at my draft without crying. I'd never felt so worthless, so stupid. It felt as if the two years I'd spent working up to that point had been completely wasted. Any confidence I'd had up until then was torn down and shredded.

I keep that in mind whenever I request critiques.

That said, I just sent an excerpt off to this gentleman: and I am presently trying to anticipate the absolute worst he can tell me. I imagine I'll be on tenterhooks for the next few weeks. I have already imagined a few scathing remarks provided to me free of charge by the darker side of my psyche.

It's inconsequential, but in the end I did end up revising my thesis (since I really had no other option besides abandoning all hope of earning my M.A. and that wasn't going to happen). The final draft was approved by my committee. It remains the single piece of writing of which I am proudest: sixty-three pages of blood, sweat, and tears -- "The Devil Makes Work for Idle Hands: Boredom in Melmoth the Wanderer."


Blogger jason evans said...

Sending a submission to Honestcritiques is very brave.

I know what you mean about the difficulty of the critique process. Both the reviewer and the writer need to observe certain rules in order for the process to be positive and helpful.

November 03, 2005 9:38 AM  
Blogger Bunneh said...

Thanks -- though it didn't feel brave when I did it. It felt reckless and foolhardy and phenomenally stupid.

But... well, I want to make it better any way I can. *shrug* I have a small circle of beta readers who've helped me on my road to revision (sounds much like Road to Perdition), and I trust them not to tell me something's good when it really isn't. I guess I'm afraid of finding out they were all just being nice this whole time.

But, really, I've reached an odd point with my writing. I love it in the way one loves a creation -- like a child, I suppose. But I'm hard enough on myself (some might say too hard) to try and search out the flaws I know are there. I'm obsessed with improving.

November 03, 2005 9:47 AM  
Blogger jason evans said...

Are your Beta readers writers themselves?

November 03, 2005 9:51 AM  
Blogger Bunneh said...

Some of them are. I have a technical writer, an NYU grad student, a former creative writing major, a writer friend who works editing programming books, and an undergraduate journalism major with an irreverent sense of humor. They all bring different things to the table. The NYU student is my favorite -- she's brutally honest and helpful at the same time.

November 03, 2005 9:59 AM  
Blogger jason evans said...

Sounds like you can trust them! You should probably lay to rest the "is it crap?" worry.

November 03, 2005 10:33 AM  
Blogger Bunneh said...

Ah, but if I lay the worry to rest, I may start to think myself brilliant, thus losing any semblance of modesty. Then again, if I started turning diva, my betas would more than likely beat me with blunt objects.

I'll remain modest and humble if for no other reason than self-preservation.

November 03, 2005 10:41 AM  
Blogger Mark Pettus said...

I love critiques, but I'm not sure how I feel about a public critique. I'd be afraid of the potential downside, and I'm not sure there is an upside.

Bad reviews are part of the business, but getting a bad review before you even get a sale...

Good Luck, Bunneh

November 06, 2005 12:08 PM  

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