I’d like to start this blog with a short, rather funny story. A long time ago I had a friend, Tom. Tom had just purchased a crumbling old Victorian in a not-so-nice part of town; he and his wife were beginning that hard process of returning the lovely old row house to its original glory. It was a time in Pittsburgh where everyone was doing it, young yuppie couples wanted to live closer to the city and turn the North Side into a beautiful community. Eventually, they accomplished just that, some refurbishing house after house, flipping properties and moving from block to block in their determination. It gave them a sense of accomplishment and they became experts in the Victorian era in what was once known as Allegheny City. Tom’s house was in an area called the Mexican War Streets and it was … shall we say … a rather shaky place to live at the time.
One day Tom was walking home and he noticed a small, elderly man in rags struggling to carry a huge, heavy cardboard box. Being the good guy he is, Tom kindly offered to help and took the box from the man’s hands. As they chatted my friend glanced into the box only to see his own things! An antique dome clock, his wife’s jewelry box, several expensive items he’d planned to decorate his new home with when it was finished. Needless to say, poor Tom was helping that man rob his own house! It all turned out fine. With a few words the dude ran like the thief he was and Tom managed to keep his treasures. It was hysterical, since things like that always seemed to happen to Tom. He was that kind of guy.
Remembering this story, I suddenly noticed the similarities and contradictions between that situation and the fears a lot of new writers have; that terror that someone, somewhere is planning to steal your ideas, your writing, all your hard work. Unlike Tom who without thinking offered a hand to a struggling old man, many new writers are so busy holding their creative efforts close to the chest, they’re afraid to let anyone look at it. I see this a lot. I belong to several critique groups and have created a few too. The fear of being stolen from is as bad as Tom’s total oblivious nature.
Yes, your work is your work, it’s your heart and soul and anyone who’s written ten consecutive sentences can understand the blood sweat and tears that goes into doing it. It is a courageous thing to let it out there. But more than that, IT’S A VITAL THING TOO.
See, we all need critics. We need people to view our writing and tell us if we’ve actually told the story we think we’ve told. We need readers to be swept into the emotions of our work and writers to catch every misspelled word or misplaced comma. We NEED critics.
Many writers are afraid of critics. Having been a chef, I can tell you it can be an even worse experience when a critic tosses a plate of food at you then a fifty page excerpt. It’s messier, but hurts all the same. It isn’t so much a fear of having our writing read and hated. I honestly believe that what all writers really fear is facing the wrong critic.
Here are the facts.
1) No one wants to steal your ideas. Everyone thinks their ideas are much better than yours so open your clenched fists and get some good critique.
2) You need constructive critiques, not cruel criticism; support, not coddling; direction, not roadblocks. You’re an intelligent human being, after all you wrote a book. So, when you feel too abused or too pampered, it’s time to either restructure the relationship with your critic, or find a new one.
3) Lay the groundrules up front for a good critic/writer experience. Tell them what you’re looking for, what you want them to focus on. Then listen carefully when they point out a different area they may have noticed. It’s like a mini marriage, you gotta have trust. They want to be listened to and you want to have a say.
4) Try several critics. Join several critique groups. Play the field. After all, it may take a while to find the right match. Once you find it, whether it’s one or two critics, stick with them.
5) Finally, it’s your book, not anyone else’s. Pay attention to the critiques and take them to heart but always … ALWAYS … remember it’s your decision to use the suggestions or not.
My friend Tom was a good, kind and trusting man and karma stepped in to protect him that day. As writers we too must trust karma. There’s a yin for every yang, a bun for ever burger, and a critic for every writer. Open and trust and see how lucky you can get.
In the meantime, remember to copyright your work and lock your doors.