Sunday, January 2, 2011

The Full Monty

I’m a procrastinator.  Always have been.  If I have something that I have to do, I put it off.  I had it down to in art in college, by my last semester, I was no longer writing papers the night before – I wrote them day of.  It was both horrifying and fantastic.

The problem this presents is that since I’m writing just for myself now, I don’t have any deadlines.  Which means I put off working on things.  By like, say, posting on my blog, tweeting, browsing Facebook…all three of them.  Yeah, waste time much?

Last August, the goal I posted for all internetdom to see, in the hopes that it would motivate me to actually keep it, was to take a semester long novel workshop class.  I was really looking forward to this class to kick start my novel and get the creative juices flowing.  

So come September, I went back to college as an adult student and found myself a freshman again.

Most of us new writers were scared to death by the very idea of getting our writing critiqued.  We had expected golden words to flow from our fingertips instantly, but
unfortunately, it didn’t work that way.  Many of us submitted our first drafts for the class to critique and they were awful, nonsensical, and all but unintelligible.  It’s fair to say that all of us freshmen were confused by the feedback. It’s hard to hear someone say critical things about the writing you spent so much time on, but this criticism, made my writing a bazillion times better.

Here’s how I made the most of my critique.

#1 Prepared Myself
I was finally going to let someone read my writing.  HUGE STEP. But before I signed up for the class.  I made sure I was 100% OK with it.  I mentally prepared myself, so that I could fully accept criticism.

#2 Listened
I learned to listen to suggestions without trying to defend myself.  The teacher had set the rule of ‘silence’ until all critiques had been given.  I took advantage of the gag order and harnessed my nervous energy into taking good notes while I listened.  I brought a copy of my manuscript and jotted down helpful advice in the columns. 

#3 Stayed Open-Minded
A constructive critique can easily put you on your defenses if you don’t approach it with an open mind.  I saw this happen to several students during class.  I tried to remain open minded to suggestions and feedback. Before getting defensive, I tried to remember, the person was there to help me (and I had asked for it when I signed up for the class).  My classmates and teacher had spent the time to read my paper. The least I could do is give them my attention and consider what they were telling me.  Don’t get me wrong, it was hard listening to someone tell me my writing needed work, that my dialogue was flat or that I should send my favorite passages to the graveyard (in which many funerals were given for favorite lines).   But the more I learn to accept criticism and learn how to use it, the better my writing will be.

#4 Considered I Didn’t Know Everything
It’s my writing. And being so close to my work it sometimes makes it hard to get any other perspective.  That is why the class critiques were so important for me.  I got the opportunity to receive more than 20+ different perspectives from my classmates and teacher, all trying to help me make it better.  I even got the opportunity to ask them clarifying questions as needed.  My writing has been enriched by plot twists created because of questions posed by my teacher and other students.

#5 Showed Gratitude to Fellow Writers
What we ultimately had in common was writing, the creative spirit, and the commitment to further knowledge.  Being like-minded individuals we all helped each other grow, not just as writers but as people.  The students in the class ranged in age, which brought together both a mix of enthusiasm and experience.  There were some amazing characters too – the bubbly blonde, the perceptive bohemian, and the contemptuous detective (questioning everything).  And these were just the students!  The teacher was amazing too.  After my last manuscript submission, my teacher gave me what he called “The Full Monty.” It’s not the naughty British movie version of baring all, but rather the entire class spent 45 minutes going into excruciating detail to critique the “whole thing.”  The teacher ended up coming back to me and saying that the overall story was solid, interesting and he could see it resulting in a series of books…but my character needed an overhaul.  He said the main character bordered on whiney and my classmates wanted to slap her the entire time. 


But having them say that to me really made me look at my character through their viewpoint.  Turns out, they were right!  So now I’m going back and tweaking some parts of my manuscript to make the main character stronger and more likeable, as opposed to annoying and lame. 

Having the critique felt awesome.  While there is still a lot of work to be done, I at least know what I need to do to make it better.

As a writer, if you’re interested in making your writing better, you will, at some point, have to subject yourself to constructive criticism.  And if you’re lucky you may even get The Full Monty!

Giveaway Time: I am giving away a signed copy of Cassandra Clare's Clockwork Angel!

DEADLINE:  January 31st, noon, Pacific Time. Winner will be posted on the blog. Open to US residents only.

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