Thursday, February 04, 2010

What Is It About Writers?

I've noticed a pattern in the critiquing I've been doing lately. It goes something like this.

Writer asks for a critique of her/his work.

I agree but say, "I want you to know that I am always honest."

Writer says, "That's exactly what I want."

So, I critique.

I send the critique to the writer and after a few days of silence receive an email much like the following:

Shirlee, Thank you so much for taking the time to critique -------. I appreciate your insight. I'm so glad you liked my story idea and thought my writing was strong. You said my heroine lacks motivation, but I wrote on page 85 that she......... I thought that was plenty of motivation. Also, you said that my hero lacks depth and that you don't understand his actions. I've had several other people read the manuscript, and none of them thought that. I think I'm just going to go ahead and query on what I have.

The above is not a verbatim note but a compilation of several that I've received. The gyst of all of them seems to be the same - while I appreciate your opinion, it is only that, and I choose not to apply it to my work.

The writer is, of course, correct in assuming that my critique is only opinion. However, the writer is wrong in assuming that it has no value. After all, I have spent hours reading through the manuscript. I have carefully worded all my critiques so that they are both positive and helpful. All that aside, I'm a multi-published author, and I'd like to think that I do know something about saleable work.

I want to be irritated by the "I'm not going to change it" notes, but I can't be.

I understand the knee-jerk reaction writers have when it comes to their work. Over the years, I have learned to be thick skinned about my writing. Still, every once in a while, I am faced with editor queries that make me feel defensive. It isn't that my editors are wrong. It isn't that their ideas lack merit. The fact of the matter is, I have never refused to change a manuscript based on an editor's critique.

So, what drives me to be defensive? What makes me want to dig in my heels and say, "This is the way I wrote it. This is the way it's going to be."?

Maybe it's pride. Maybe it's that I've poured so much of myself into my writing and I don't want to have to pour in more. Maybe it is that it hurts to hear that someone doesn't see my characters and my story the same way I do. Maybe it is simply a product of embarrassment over my less than perfect work.

Whatever the case, the feeling has given me insight into the various post-critique notes I've received. Knowing what it's like to be on the other end of the critique is what motivates me to keep offering my time and my opinion.

Sometimes, though, I want to sit Writer down and say, "I learned something really early in my writing career. I learned that, in order to improve, a writer must be teachable. To be that, a writer must decide now that nothing she writes will ever be perfect. She must purpose within herself to carefully consider all critiques. She must, as it were, learn to separate the chafe from the wheat. Only in doing so will she ever make a career out of writing."

Of course, I never do. I simply accept the thanks and let Writer do what she must with her work. My opinion can't, after all, make her work saleable. Only she is capable of doing that.

Still, those notes make me wonder:

What is it about writers that makes us cling so tightly to our stories and our words? Is it that we are so deeply invested in our characters and plots that we find it painful to change them?

Or, perhaps the better question is:

Could we be writers if we weren't so deeply invested in our work that critiques and critisms hurt?