Whenever I hear about a writer’s critique partner, I always wonder: Does that partner help or hurt? Partners tend to be/ turn into friends. Don’t you want your friends to like you? When you’re both writing, it must be rough to strike that balance between friendship and truthfulness about the person’s work. You want to be nice, but not seem mean or competitive. If you’re a writer, you need the absolute truth. You need to hear: This is fantastic, show it to an editor immediately or this is really crappy (but in a helpful way).
I really like the truth when it comes to what I write (not for this blog, though :)). It means someone’s taking me seriously. When I need an editor, I think of friends who will give it to me straight–none of this tactful “You might think about possibly doing blah, blah, blah.” Usually, my friends lie by omission or forget my request, so I turn to my mother. I know, bad idea, but she tells me a version of the truth (“This is good, but make it more positive! Can’t he just go to rehab and not shoot himself?”). My feeling is that, for my truth-seeking criticism, commerce would need to play a part.
My prayers were answered. I had an experience of penning a project proposal, something my author base does regularly. I could do it, too, right? No problem. I read enough proposals so I can just whip one up. I did my assignment fast–because I’m naturally brilliant–and figured that was satisfactory. Fast is often acceptable and I am lazy enough to think that my version of acceptable is everyone else’s “amazing.” Then I got my proposal back with all kinds of nasty red everywhere. I mean, it was nicely put and constructive, but not the glowing praise I expected. Mommy?
For twenty-four hours, I blocked out the ego-bruising and did a puzzle. Maybe I slipped in a few Housewives and Downton Abbeys. Then I turned and faced the computer again. If I gave up or did it half-heartedly, I’d have regrets. Do I want to do things the same way? Definitely not. I needed to listen to the truth. My critic put in a lot of effort with the red ink all over my work. I revised a page, agonizing over every sentence. For hours. Days. And completely rewrote the thing, methodically addressing every single point. It made me remember Francine Prose’s excellent book Reading Like a Writer, which inspired me as an editor, reader, and in this instance, as a writer.
Now on the sixth draft, blasting Frankie Valli as inspiration, I’m thoroughly driven to keep re-crafting and putting better words together, thinking about what a reader might like to read, the heart of what I want to say, and staying positive about it all. I’m grateful for any constructive feedback, the absolute truth. I may not dish out the truth as well as I take it, but this journey is certainly helping me as both a writer and editor.
And now, I’m going to watch a lot of television.