Friday, May 14, 2010

Listening to Critique--no more "don't touch my baby"

What is it with us writers? "I'm an artist--my story is my vision--you mustn't change a word." "But it doesn't really matter if I use a lot of adverbs, does it?" And my personal favorite: "You think I should change something? You must be saying I'm a bad writer!"

These make me want to scream! Why do writers believe that they are the only people in the world who don't need coaching?

Let me run a scenario by you. You're Tommy, a ten year old boy who likes playing football. You love football. You eat, sleep, and breathe football. Your mommy likes watching you play football.

You're good enough that you get on the high school football team. Your coach says, "Tommy, you're telegraphing which direction you're about to run. You need to not turn your head." You say, "Coach--I'm an athlete. My body is my tool. I have a vision of what I should be doing. I won't change."

"SURE!" says the coach, nodding enthusiastically.

You make it onto the college football team. Your college coach says, "Tommy, you need to pick up your feet more." You say, "Coach--it doesn't really matter if I pick up my feet or not. I still play well enough to win games."

"SURE!" says the coach, nodding enthusiastically.

You get onto a pro football team. Your coach says, "Tommy--you need to spend more time stretching. You're not limber enough." You say, "Coach--you think I should change something about myself? You think I'm a bad athlete. I'm going to take my talent elsewhere,to a team that appreciates me."

"SURE!" says the coach, nodding enthusiastically.


Tommy wouldn't last one year on the high school football team, much less make it into college football or go pro if he wasn't willing to accept coaching.

Why, as writers, do we feel that we are somehow exempt from needing to accept coaching? Writing seems to be the one profession where anyone can sit down, with no training or experience, and expect to turn out a fantastic novel. Why is it a bad idea to represent yourself in court? Because the lawyer knows more. Why is it a bad idea to try to treat your broken leg yourself? Because the doctor has the tools and training to handle it.

Please don't be afraid to learn more about your craft. Don't be afraid to take classes. Don't be afraid to join a critique group. Do be afraid of any group or any reader that tells you that you're perfect. Granted, you can't take everyone's advice, or you'll end up with nothing at all, but do be willing to learn.

I am so grateful for the Pikes Peak Writers--a great organization dedicated to helping each other become better at our craft. They've taught me 80% of what I know about writing. Without them I'd still be writing in passive voice, sprinkling my text with adverbs, and changing point of view three times in the same sentence. If you want to write, and you want to be successful, find a writers' organization in your area, take a course at your local college, or team up with some others and form a critique group. Be willing to be coached.

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