Chapter 12: Critiquing – sleek & meek

348 years ago my identity was firmly set as WRITER. I was Writer Girl. An unorganised cluttered life overflowing with notebooks, literature and mopey hair. The full cliche.

That was a looooooooooooonnnnngggggg time ago.

So launching back into Writer Girl mode as the older, wiser, less give-a-shitter-out-of-the-loop Writer Woman – has been a tad overwhelming. Writing is by far the easy part (except for fricken commas). Creative. Exhilarating. Solo.

It’s publically identifying as a writer that is a bit tricky.

Among the many humbling and grounding moments along this journey of remembering I am a writer, is being reminded that I am essentially a new writer with developing skills at a basic level. Probably best to stay in my lane until I sort it all out.

Fair enough.

I have been seeking like-minded writers to fast-track where I left off on my writing journey a billion years ago and it’s been an interesting re-initiation.

My goal at this point is to create, learn, grow. But, as with most things I throw myself into – I’m a tad naive on others interpretation of things – and critique seems to be the core focus of many groups.

Problem – me no likey critiquey.

Recently in my pursuit of re-acquainting myself with fellow creatives I’ve been having flash backs to young adulthood of taking on course after course, attending festivals and creative writing classes and the more things I attend lately, the more I keep coming back to the same feelings I had all those years ago.

There is a bit of bullshit to sort through.

Writers are funny creatures, especially when herded together in the wild. Some are happy to hang with like-minded souls, some keep to themselves, some need to know your credentials, some are super eager to share theirs and some are just plain old weird. For some – age and experience are paramount to a well rounded skill set and others can not help but take a preaching role. Some just go with the flow and some enjoy the social aspect of it with no plans of ever publishing a word. 

And that’s all cool.

But, from my recent observations (essentially as a “newcomer”) – there are still some things that don’t really align to this current era of progression. I wish I didn’t notice them – but I do and suddenly I’m back at Edith Cowan circa 2000-and-something with a relief lecturer taking an instant dislike to me because she could smell the Supré, suburbia and lack of malleable youth for her manipulation.

There are occasionally some vibes I sense that make me want to scream – why?? followed by balloon deflatage sounds – blpblpblopppppppphphphppppp…pp…ptf…

Yes, it’s probably all in my head – but deflating all the same.

There is definitely a beautiful, open, evolving and encouraging writing community – globally and locally that really do want to nurture and nudge you forward and applaud all your wins, no matter how small, no matter who you are.

But there is also some grey area of what an author of the now should be (or at least appear to be) and it’s super intimidating to a middle-aged nobody whose brain functions like a bowl of mashed potato most of the time. The “stuff” you should be doing if you want a career in writing – is achievable – but hella triggery. It suggests in order to succeed you’ll need the two things I poorly lack – time and funds. Read local, read your genre, immerse yourself so deep into this world until you walk as one of them.

Virtually impossible when you’re time-poor, skill-poor, mentally poor and poor-poor.

Of course I am generalising and drawing heavily from a few past negatives and this is very much – wuss-talk. My experiences in the last six months have mostly been amazing and the resources on offer in these spaces are truly inspiring. I’ve met some beautiful people.

And as the post title suggests – I struggle with critiquing and it being an expectation when joining some groups. I’m just not a fan because I’m really no good at it and I can’t think of anything more squirm inducing than to tell someone what my brain is really thinking (if it’s thinking at all) even if I sugar coat it.

I get the benefits for both parties and valuable source of growth – but all I want to say is “I really loved it” and wrap the writer up in a fluffy cloud of encouragement. Because just to get here to even listen to you had me walking out on screaming kids, a pending divorce, a vengeful pug, a backpack full of aging dreams and more guilt-fueled angst that should have re-routed me to an asylum. I just presume everyone else is experiencing the same.

Why can’t I just stroke stories accordingly and nourish pdf’s with unicorn sparkles.

Apparently not everyone is grappling the same exit experience and grabbing a big wad of cotton balls and lovingly pasting them all over the author – is not what writers want.

Mollycoddling is useless and you can see the deflation – they’re hungry to know what people think. They want the validation. They want the discussion and dissection, because after obsessing over whatever it is they’ve written, the writer wants feedback. They need it. They crave it. They may feel entitled to it. Some are even a bit – I’ve done my job – now do yours.

I’m just really, really useless at this – especially via the ear. I’ve never been a good verbal comprehenderer. Words only seem to get converted to thoughts if I’ve read them and even those are suspect. Hello re-reading the same sentence 593, 000 times until it computes.

I also wonder – how can anyone truly be present to the piece while frantically writing down questions and thoughts and still have the clarity to take in the work in its entirety? Are you Sheldon? Words will be missed, sentences, subtleties that can only be picked up if you are reading it yourself. It’s like reading a book at a train station as opposed to reading it alone in bed. No matter how good it is, your other senses are going to be distracted. It’s a big ask of any brain. Mine is just shit-all useless with that level of multi-task.

There was a strong sense of urgency for me to get a hold on critiquing which I immediately clammed up at the pressure to conform and perform. Regardless of my feelings on it – I’m finding I don’t have the time to master this skill – and it is a skill – nor do I actually want to.

I probably don’t want to know what you think about this sliver of an example of my work anyway – at least not until it’s super polished, or draft 2 or 3, or the critique is ongoing – which is a huge investment I wouldn’t expect of anyone, save an editor or the dream – a publisher. It’s a bit like asking a painter to have their work looked over when it’s half done.

All I’d like to know is –

Is it clunky?
Does it sound shit?
Should I pack it all in?
Do you think I’m insane?
Feel free to red pen my appalling grammar, punctuation etc 

Truly, I understand the benefits of having work critiqued – especially when the focus is to elevate and assist and I am grateful to ANYONE who can spare the time to give me a slither of feedback. But, until I gain confidence in my own writing – I question how I can properly critique someone else’s work and whether I want to use that time honing a skill that takes me away from writing.

UPDATE

I did find the most wonderful writers group filled with beautiful, supportive souls who appreciate my limitations, challenge me with encouragement and helpful advice. They are very elevate-y and forward and honest. They are my friends, my circle, my  writing tribe.

Some of the best advice I was given from a member (a mentor) was –

“Don’t take critiques and/or advice as gospel. At the end of the day they’re other peoples thoughts, opinions and perceptions of your story. They can most definitely be very wrong and damaging. Listen to your gut and do what you think honours your work and if that means ignoring it all, so be it. Don’t worry about offending anyone – only you truly know your story.”

That’s not to say I don’t take on board every little thing that is said about my work, I absolutely appreciate every critique and bit of advice given – none of which is EVER ego based. A group not focused on others backgrounds was definitely helpful.

AND I am a far more confident critiquer – because of this welcoming, not remotely intimidating group of women – who understand, respect and appreciate each others skills, abilities, where each one is at on their journey, their limitations and individual styles. It’s liberating and the perfect environment to hone skills and learn new ones – even previously loathsome ones – like critique, which I’ve embraced. 

To anyone out there alone on their writing journey who may be seeking a little human writing contact, keep looking. You are not bound to remain in any group, but there is likely to be one with like-minded people.

Everyone has a tribe. If not – start your own.

I still have no idea where to put commas though. Tormenting little fCkers.

Onward

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