Thursday, February 2, 2012

My First Critique was not Without Drama.

Ryan Edward has been out of town for the last three days and I had big plans. One of my goals for January was to deep clean and repaint our master bedroom. The three days Ryan would be out of town seemed like the perfect time, cereal for dinner, dishes stacking up in the kitchen, me with no time for hygiene of any kind. I was up until the a.m. hours painting for two nights straight. Mix in the needs of four kids, visiting teaching appointments and a middle school newsletter deadline. It was an experiment in psychology!
I wasn’t even daring to think about the upcoming writer’s group meeting when I took a break to check my emails and facebook. I was hoping for a little contact with the outside world. A funny video clip, an inspirational song, a hint that there was still life outside of the paint fumes and the stark colors I had been staring at as they left the roller and clung to the wall (and were desperately scrubbed from drips on my carpet).
I wasn’t prepared for a reply to the first chapter I had sent out to this new critique group. It was from a man that I immediately respected at the first meeting. He’s a man, mind you, and he writes (probably among many impressive things) articles for fishing magazines. He writes beautiful, funny, manly, crass-in-a-good-way articles about the outdoors and life. He’s far from my target audience, but he’s brilliant at writing and critiquing. I knew right away that I wanted to impress him and I knew that he’d be one of the most helpful people I would ever get to read my work… if I was tough enough to handle it.
I wasn’t. *insert weak, weak shrug* He had a million genius suggestions for me. He told me about rules I was breaking that I didn’t know existed. He had a blunt but funny way of critiquing and I found myself laughing and snorting through tears. I suddenly needed Ryan and he was out of town. I suddenly needed to climb into my bed and not have to weave through wet paint and drop cloths to get to it. I suddenly wished I was well rested and at my most sane.
I wasn’t upset that my work wasn’t as good as it could be. I knew that. I was upset because I had deemed myself good enough to go and become a part of this group, and the truth was they knew a lot more than I did. I was a newbie, wet behind the ears, making mistakes that they shake their heads at. I didn’t want to go to the next day’s meeting. I knew they’d all tell me the same things that the email had. I could suddenly identify with those unfortunate American Idol try-outers who are so hopeless it’s embarrassing and nobody ever told them until they “out”ed themselves, publicly, to strangers.
I would find a way to justify missing the meeting and never going back. I would tell myself that I needed a few more years of practice before I was ready for a writer’s group. I would hide, make excuses and somehow find a way to live with my cowardice. I would give up my dream of writing. I would donate plasma for an income when my children would all be in school full time.
My husband would tell me that he understood my decision, but I would know deep down that he was disappointed in me. When my Dad passed away, Ryan told me that I was brave. He said that he saw something in me that he didn’t know was there.
I got to thinking, all writers get critiqued and the only difference between a critiqued writer who fails and one who succeeds is that the one who succeeds doesn’t quit. I’m a beginner. I’m starting out. There’s only one way to learn most of these techniques, and that’s to make the mistakes and have someone point them out. To swallow your pride and own your inexperience and humbly say, the one thing I can definitely keep doing is trying.
I cleaned myself up. It was tough after three days of no hygiene. No sleep +crying= puffy eyes. I scrubbed the paint splatters from my arms. I changed my clothes three times. I said hello and goodbye to Ryan and turned the kids over to him. I walked into the meeting ten minutes late.
It took forever for it to be my turn. The guy who had sent me the email critique was sitting next to me. I made a little joke about how he had baptized me into the group by fire. Everyone chuckled. Then everyone, especially he, encouraged me! They told me what was promising about my writing and about my book. They gave me ideas. They discussed and debated what direction I should go in. Two of the girls whom I adored at the first meeting and who write in the same genre as I do approached my friend and me about having a secondary, smaller, critique group. It was what I’d been hoping for!
On the way home I realized it. I’ve never been closer to being a writer than I was in that moment. That moment when I laid it all on the line, accepted the fact that it wasn’t good enough yet, decided that one day it would be and stared down the challenge of making it so. The reality is I’ll be re-writing a lot. The reality is being a writer is hard work. The reality is that it will all make me better and that’s what I want. The reality is I was really proud of myself… and to think… I almost quit.


Haley S. said...

I'm so impressed with your resolve and your strength to keep putting yourself out there for critique. I experience a very similar feeling over and over again in graduate school. I spend hours, and dedicate my very soul to writing something I feel good about, only to have professors tell me to push myself harder and to correct my mistakes and question my assumptions/instincts. It's very difficult. It leaves you in a constant state of vulnerability. Your putting yourself out there like this, and to so many strangers is heroic.

Can I propose a new way of approaching this? You say in your final paragraph that you've never been closer to being a writer. I dare say that this experience is precisely what MAKES you a writer. You are a writer. This is what being a writer is. Of course, you still have goals that aren't yet met (publishing! recognition!). And these are fabulous goals. But there will never be a point when you are beyond or above critique. It is the ability to write-receive critique-consider it thoughtfully-revise-repeat that makes one a writer. You're doing it. Now the hard part is to keep being a writer and to become a better one, rather than to become one at all. I think it's time for you to give yourself the recognition you deserve :)

Cheryl said...

Yeah. What Haley said. Seriously! You are amazing, and brave, and funny, and smart and creative as all get out! You are a writer! And you are going to keep getting better. Even when it is tough, and maybe even ugly out there at times. So excited for you! glad you are doing this!

Megan Bongiovi said...

Oh Adopted Aunt, I would have literally punched you in the face had you quit. Ok, maybe not, but there is a possibility I could have come close. Don't quit. You are much too good. You are doing wonderful things and you are brave. Loves.

Jullie said...

Love your post, Amie! I can't wait to visit more with you about your experiences!

Amie said...

Megan, I will will never again in my life feel so good about the threat of being punched in the face! haha! Thanks for keeping me going at risk of bodily harm. lol

Christy said...

I'm glad you're not quitting! :)

Ross, Amanda, and Sons said...

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat…” Theodore Roosevelt

I think your post echoes the sentiments of all of our first experiences with the group. Glad you're not quitting, I can already see you have a lot of talent.