Monday, August 3, 2015

Critiques, Complaints and a Sale

Since I last blogged, I've sold another short story and attended a meeting with my local critiquing group about literary magazines. The story I sold was a straight sci-fi piece, bringing my sold genres to: horror, sci-fi, fantasy, mainstream, YA fantasy and a weird sci-fi/fantasy mashup.


I've always sought out critiques from the people around me. In high school I made my friends tell me what they thought about stories I was working on. In college I made my roommate do it. In the past few years, I've made my kids and a friend do it. But earlier this year, I branched out into an actual critique group where you have to get dressed and do your hair and drive somewhere. 

The process of it was just like what they did on Girls; everyone sat around a big table and discussed each work in turn with each person talking about what could be improved and anything they liked about the work. It was actually the most fun I'd had in a while because I'm a giant nerd and talking about plot points, tones and character creation for hours was super fun.

But here's the thing, because isn't there always one? It occurred to me over the next couple of days that having my work picked apart and every little part of a line that didn't work and every little plot point that people didn't agree with kind of aggravated me. It wasn't that I wanted people to like the story more or that I didn't like it being critiqued. Quite the contrary- I know very well that not everyone can possibly like the same work (I actually know someone who hates Harry Potter and found the books to be awful.), and I do want to know what can be improved in any story. 

No, the problem was that it started occurring to me that this is the only branch of the arts where every little thing is picked apart and a work isn't considered a good one if there is any little thing that people don't like. Consider the world of music. Are there critique groups that pick apart songs and tell the singer that a note near the end wasn't very good or a line didn't sound sincere? Do directors solicit critiques about every scene they create and find out which shots aren't perfect? Do painters have their brushstrokes critiqued and have people tell them which parts of the painting didn't work? So, why then do writers do this?

I do like being critiqued. I  am actually going back this week to be picked apart again and this time with a story that isn't as good as the one they saw last month. I'm looking forward to telling them that I sold the story I submitted to them last time and hearing what they think of the latest weird offering. But I am annoyed by the idea that this is the only branch of the arts that is so savaged and so willing to have its minutia combed through. Sure, it may make your work better to hear what's wrong with it. Maybe. I'm not sure. I think any improvements that I've made over the years, though, have been because I read what I'd done and it didn't have the desired response from me. I rewrote items until they did. In the end, that may be the only real way to improve- write until you have something you enjoy reading. 

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