What I Love About Criticism.

I returned home tonight with a stack of copies, many marked with red ink. The copies were the first couple pages of my short-story-turned-prologue, which had just been turned over to fifteen other writers to read and dissect as they would. It was my first time reading at the NWA Writers’ Group. I was understandably nervous; I had butterflies the entire way there, and they only increased when it was my turn to read.

“We need to see this part earlier,” was one comment after I had finished. “You spend way too long talking about this one item,” was another. “I want more description of the place, the time period,” said a third.

By the end of it, I’m bouncing. I had expected to feel hurt, anxious, even depressed. These people are looking at my writing and telling me all the things I did wrong. I’m facing what many writers, including myself, fear the most: that dreaded beast, criticism. Instead of those downtrodden feelings, however, I walked out excited, inspired, even pleased.

How did that happen?

For one, I love editing. Perhaps that should be mentioned first. The hardest part of writing for me is getting it out on paper: once it’s there, it’s free game to poke, prod, and polish. That’s not to say I don’t get frustrated with my work during the editing process; I often do. Yet there is something intangibly powerful about not having to get it right the first time, or even the tenth time.

Secondly, these writers just dropped a whole load of ways to perfect my tale right in my lap. They saw things I would never have thought about, and after I consider them? My story will only be better for it. You need to see that part earlier? Excellent. That means it’s interesting enough to get higher priority. That part is too long? Awesome. I don’t have to worry that I’m not getting the imagery across to my readers if I can par it down without hurting anything. You need me to clarify the setting and time period? Wait, you’re giving me permission to tell you more about this world that I’m excited enough to share with you in the first place?

Kick. Ass.

This critique did not crush my self-confidence. It actually helped it. By picking out the bad parts, it also revealed the good parts right along beside it. I get to dive back into my editing with a new, fresh view; I don’t have to sit here worrying about all those little things anymore. I know what I have to worry about, and there is power in that. Instead of going mad over a million things that might be wrong with my draft, I can focus on things that are wrong, at least in my reader’s eyes.

At the end of the day? Some of these red marks I might ignore completely. Some made me tilt my head in confusion. Some criticism is, and will always be, plain rotten. Yet in amongst the discussion and the slice of red pen is some golden critique. And that? Is worth too much to me to be anything but excited about.

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