Under the microscrope: surviving my first critique session

I survived my first critique!

Ahem.

Last month, I talked about the first proper meeting of the new writing critique group I’ve joined. This month, it was my turn to submit a piece to be critiqued, which was nerve-wracking to say the least. It’s not like this is the first time anyone has ever read my work–fanfic background, you know? And I’ve been sending original pieces to magazines for a while–but this is the first time I’ve had several people read something with the express purpose of critiquing and then discussing it.

My impostor syndrome kicked in big time. One of our members, S, has lots of fancy English lit education and actual formal writing learning. That’s pretty damned intimidating right off the bat! The others have been exchanging and critiquing their work for a long time.

And there’s little me, with my fanfic background and my weird little comedy short story, waving a tiny flag and hoping that I wasn’t helplessly out of my depth after all.

I knew that the story had issues. It’s the reason why I used it as my submission–I wanted some more eyes on it to help me figure out why it’s not working. So I had my expectations set really low for how it was going to go, and fully expected to hear my piece being shredded. I almost changed my mind about submitting that piece a couple of times, because I was half-convinced that the response would amount to “trash it and start again!” and I like enough things about it to want to fix it instead.

What threw me was hearing the group talk about how much they liked it. Picking out favourite parts, and talking about themes that I’d used and hadn’t been sure anyone would notice. The scarily well-educated guy was the one who really got the comedy and what I’d been doing with it, which was particularly gratifying, and that took a lot of sting out of the criticisms.

Yes, there were criticisms. It’s not an easy thing to listen to, but what stuck with me is that they explained why things didn’t work. That’s what I really needed to hear. I already knew that the ending wasn’t right, but knowing why it fell apart for them has given me ideas on how to fix it. I think the format of this group is going to work for me. Coming away with only a list of things that didn’t work wouldn’t have been helpful–listening to people discuss why it didn’t work, hearing people disagree about whether or not something fell flat for them, that was what really made the evening for me.

The disagreements, actually, were as useful as the places where everyone agreed. That told me whether an element was reader interpretation or author fail. As my piece was meant to be comedy, that was particularly useful–everyone has a different sense of what is funny, and it’s impossible to write something that makes absolutely everyone laugh. That’s an unrealistic goal.

For me, most sitcoms fall flat, which baffles most of my coworkers. My idea of comedy genius is Terry Pratchett and M*A*S*H. I’ve been plotting a blog post about that for ages, in fact.

I went into the critique meeting feeling incredibly nervous and came out of it feeling inspired to fix the story and excited to repeat the experience. Now that I’ve done it, I’m feeling much more confident about being critiqued in this format.

Well, excited apart from the bit where my next submission won’t be comedy, so I’ll probably work myself into a nervous tizzy beforehand again!

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2 thoughts on “Under the microscrope: surviving my first critique session

    1. I was definitely more nervous last month than this month, although I don’t know if that was due to critiquing you or it all being a new thing. Guess I’ll find out next month!

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