On the Same Page: One Tip for Easing the Pain of Critique

DYLAN MANNING

Featured Image: Truman Capote, 1959 by Roger Higgins for the New York World-Telegram and the Sun via Wikimedia Commons. This image is in the public domain.


You’ve finished your short story,  painstakingly perfecting all twelve pages, and submitted it to your writing group to be workshopped. After weeks of apprehension, tonight is finally the night. You’re looking forward to the praise, congratulations, and encouragements you’re sure you are going to receive and perhaps a suggestion to submit your work to The New Yorker. You brace yourself for this cascade of compliments, taking a seat in the circle and nodding politely to your colleagues. “Don’t smile too much,” you tell yourself. “Be cool.” And then it starts. They smile and say they “liked it” and it “definitely had some parts worth reading” but overall it “needs some work” and “heavy editing” before it can be “considered for publication.”

You want to cry. You want to tell them how you really felt about all their pieces because all the times you thoughtfully critiqued their work you had really been holding back. You feel the urge to run away, rip up your piece, and never write again, regretting suddenly your decision not to go to med school or night school for automotive repair. You wish that you knew someone with real taste who could read it for you, really read it, and tell you that it’s a great piece of fiction and anybody who says otherwise doesn’t know a thing about writing.

They just told you your baby was ugly, and it hurt.

A Character Template: You Won’t Know If You Don’t Ask

By Julie M. Goldberg

The fiction project I’m working on features a large cast of characters gathered in a supermarket one autumn evening. I won’t elaborate on what is happening to them there, but suffice to say that not one is having a pleasant shopping experience.

When writing my first novel, I felt that the characters existed in the universe somewhere, and my role was to get well enough acquainted with them that they would trust me and tell me their story. They did, but it took a long time.

The characters in the current story have suggested their collective existence and experiences to me, but require much more effort to sculpt as individuals. I wanted each to have a separate soul, as evidenced through her language, her longings, and her choices.

Patience, clarity, and the “glimmer factor”

In anticipation of our upcoming 6-week workshop, “Step into Revision,” here’s a brief discussion on the topic. And, following typical revision advice (“Show, don’t tell”), our Fiction Editor, Donna Lee Miele, demonstrates the art of clarifying character motivation, improving syntax and word choices, and creating momentum in a scene.

Patience: First Draft and the Revision Persona

In prose or poetry, fiction or personal essay, revision begins in the first draft as the nagging, questioning voice of self-doubt. Most of us begin hearing that voice in the middle of the first paragraph! That voice is your revision persona. As you press forward, make note of that persona-non-grata’s questions and comments in a separate file or notebook. Then ask her to kindly get out of your way. Be determined, but don’t rush your first draft. The first principle of writing, and re-writing, is patience.