I wouldn't say I had a meltdown last week. I did check out of life, as much as life would let me. Not that life ever lets anyone check out completely, but I sure tried. So, having missed my Wednesday and Friday posts, here I am back at my Monday update.
Having said that, it won't come as a shock that I didn't do much in the past week. That doesn't mean nothing happened.
A couple of weeks ago, I mentioned that I didn't make the cut in a contest I entered. Of course I was disappointed. What caught my attention, though, was the fact that the editors of the On the Premises contests offer a critique to non-finalists for only $10. My family's budget is tight, but I know a good deal when I see one. Since this wasn't the first go-around for this particular story, I clenched my teeth, sent in the money and waited.
The critique came over the weekend.
First, they were nice. Any fears I had of having my ego shredded and left for the literary vultures dissipated as I read not just the bad news about my entry, but also the good. The issues, they said, were minor. The story simply had enough minor issues to keep it from making the finals.
Second, they were helpful. The critique was concrete, balanced and actionable. I was left feeling that the story needed work, but that it was work I could do to create a better, more publishable piece. They also--intentionally or unintentionally--made my ponder myself and my attitude as a writer.
What am I talking about? For instance, they said parts of the story were overwritten, as if I felt the reader wouldn't get it unless I spelled it out. Is it because I look down on my readers or assume they won't get it? I hope not, but it's worth considering. It may be that I'm writing to the lowest common denominator and ignoring the readers who would, indeed, "get it." If that's it, maybe I should stop. Perhaps I shouldn't write to anyone else's level, but only to my own.
Another thing I noticed about myself was the desire to justify when the critique suggested I needed more background concerning why the character felt as he did. Oh, they got how he felt, they just didn't understand why. I immediately started pointing out (to myself) the experiences I'd had or people I'd known that prompted my character's behavior. Of course it was clear why he acted as he did! Then I remembered a question a professor once asked me: Was I going to follow around every piece of writing I ever published so I could stand over my readers' shoulders and explain the nuances to them? Um, no. Guess I'll just have to give my readers enough info to begin with. That means I can't be lazy with my writing. It means I'll have to live outside my head and view my stories through others' eyes. Bummer.
So, critiques--good ones--can tell us things about ourselves as well as our stories. I haven't acted on this particular critique yet. Some of their suggestions require additions or changes to the plot, which needs time and thought on my part to do well. I can immediately implement the things I've learned about myself, though. Hopefully, my writing will be the stronger for it.