I’m at a point in my writing where I feel like I need some honest critiques from grown-up writers in order to grow. I’m writing quite a bit. I’m reading books on the craft of writing. I’m reading fiction and paying attention to the writing and structure of the story. But I feel like I need some input.
So, I signed up for a writing workshop. I’ve taken it before and enjoyed it. The instructor gives feedback on the assignments we turn in. I’m getting a couple of pieces I really like out of it and that I will go back and polish some more. But, I’ve still been craving some more feedback. It’s hard to tell on my own writing where I need improvement.
I decided to enter the NYC Midnight short story contest. The participants were divided into groups of twenty or so, and each group was given a genre and a topic that they needed to use to write the story and one week to complete it. The finalists from each group would then be given another genre and topic and twenty-four hours to complete their story. I thought it sounded like fun, plus there was a guaranteed feedback for everyone, so I entered.
In anticipation, I purused the possible genres. Most I felt I could handle. I was scared out of my mind I would draw Political Satire, and not too eager for the horror/mystery genres because although I love reading them, I’m no good at coming up with workable stories.
Of course, I got mystery with the topic, begging. Sigh.
After two days of mulling it over and considering not doing it, I got an idea and started writing. And it sucked. Mostly, it wasn’t a complete story, it read more like a chapter in a book. I didn’t feel good about it. So another day of mulling and plotting and I rewrote it. I was pretty pleased. It was a little rushed at the end, but it was a mystery. I spent a couple of days polishing, looking specifically to strengthen my verbs and eliminate passive voice and showing versus telling. Then I submitted it and waited.
No go on the finals. Last week I got my feedback. When I got the e-mail I decided to use the band-aid method to read it. Just skim it really fast and close the e-mail, in the hopes it wouldn’t sting so much. Then later, go back and get into it.
Well, it stung. It wasn’t that the feedback was mean. It was just honest. Too much showing versus telling and too much passive voice. With examples. Ugh.
After I got over that sick feeling in my stomach, (deep down, okay, maybe not that deep, I’m still that straight A student who doesn’t like negative feedback) I re-read it a couple times. Once I was over my initial emotional reaction, I was able to appreciate the learning experience.
I know those are novice writer problems, but I wasn’t sure if I was doing okay or still needed to work on it. Turns out, I still need to work on it. To be honest, I was discouraged. The things I was really trying to work on, and I didn’t succeed. So what to do? Give up? Decide that I’ll never be at a publishable level and just stop trying? Or use it for what it is.
Well, I’m going to go back and edit to see if I can fix those problems a little. I’m also going to expand on the story some. I think some of the problem is I chose too big a story considering the word limit. I had three gruesome murders and the discovery of the murder’s intent in five pages. Maybe a little ambitious. That’s something I need to work on too.
I wanted the critique and I got it. Time to put it to some use.
Have you gotten a critique that hit where it hurt? How did you handle it? Where do you go to get honest critiques?