Saturday, July 3, 2010

Critique Groups - Motivation

I decided to stick with the critique group that was frustrating me so badly. (The "rule" that bothered me the most turns out to be only a guideline, and we're working out the rest.)

One of the many things critique groups do for your is ramp up the energy. (A class will do that too.) This can be good or bad. It's bad if you find you can't keep up. There are always a few drop outs or at least laggards who fall further and further behind. Some of these are people who just didn't know how much work it was going to be. Some are people for whom the timing was just plain bad.

The first few times you have to drop out of a group, or class or novel dare, you have to wonder "is this because I just don't have the stuff to be a real writer like those other people?" It can be very demoralizing. And I think the secret is this: The test isn't whether you can keep up with any group or class or novel dare. The test is whether you can get past the doubt that comes on you when you fail.

Because we all fail. We have deadlines we miss. We all have personal goals we don't achieve. If you don't fail once in a while, you didn't set the bar high enough in the first place.

The good thing about the energy of a critique group (or class or dare) is that if it doesn't leave you behind, it will certainly carry you forward, at least for a while. I don't know if it is animal magnetism or the herding instinct, but the example of others, and the need to keep up or outpace the rest, is a great way to get your muse in gear.

Today I've mostly been reading the earlier chapters of other members of the group, but I also found myself reading through the first eleven chapters of The Man Who Did Too Much, and really enjoying myself. I may be soon ready to move into the tricky stuff.

The other thing that happened was that I realized that I may want to turn A Fistful of Divas into a full novel. It's half a long short story right now, that I was planning to turn into a novella - but the one thing I really feel is missing is the depth and pathos of these largely comic characters. It's fine to just hint at it in a short story, but to stand up to the first book it needs more. And I realized last night that this story's whole concept is founded on Casey's backstory. I thought this was a story about Mick having to make up to Casey about a blunder he makes early on. But I think that's just the first act.

Now, the thing is, I didn't just decide to go deeper completely on my own, out of some artistic vision. When I'm on my own, I think I do things to improve my writing out of some grand commitment to my art, but the fact is, I'm a writer. I make up reality, and when I'm on my own, I make up my commitment to my art and all that as well. All it took to bring me to reality and make me do it for real was one fan who read Have Gun Will Play, and said he was eager for the next book. A real person, not an imaginary one.

Funny how that real person inspired me to do a whole lot more than a bunch of imaginary ones.

This is the real reason you have to put yourself out there. Writers tend to be shy. And people tell us that we have to develop a tough skin because it's good for us to be able to take criticism. Because criticism is good for us, and we will be better writers if we just listen to harsh critics more.

But that's not the real reason you need a tough hide. The reason you need it is because if you hide from the hurtful nasty stuff, you'll never experience the really joyful stuff. Yeah, a critic will probably do you some good, but not nearly as much good as just meeting one real fan. Because they are much more motivating than anything you just imagine.


rebel_of_nowhere said...

Allowing other people to read my work scares me...I've never gotten involved in a critique group, but it definitely sounds worth checking out.

The Daring Novelist said...

If you write to be read (i.e. you aren't writing a journal) you do have to get your work out there. It's hard at first, so you don't have to do it in a big way.