Last week, I attended my first meeting of a writers’ group I’d been asked to join. These writers had been together for many years and while I knew most of them well, I’d never been in this kind of intimate group before.
We had sent around writing we wanted workshopped during the previous week. Everyone had read the manuscripts and prepared comments on them. Everyone in that living room was a published author, highly competent, the winners of writing awards and fellowships. And this writer, whom I’ll call Mary, asked for comments on her picture book manuscript.
And no one liked it.
Actually, they did like some of it—the beginning mostly. And they said that, and many other kind and intelligent things. But they didn’t like the ending, that was for sure. They couldn’t understand it, they said it didn’t really make sense. Not in those blunt terms, but that is the essence of what they were saying.
And let’s just admit that no matter how professional and smart and confident you are, it’s not fun to sit in a room with other people and listen to them delineate all the parts of your writing they don’t like. It’s hard to keep your face arranged in pleasant lines. Mary did great, by the way. But I could see the tension in her neck.
And she wanted them to say these things. It’s a unique kind of torture that writers inflict on themselves. We want people to criticize our work. We certainly need them to. How else are we going to improve if our fellow writers just tell us our piece is lovely, and then move on?
It’s hard not to explain, or not to get defensive, or not to resent the person giving you the critique. Writers certainly fail at all those things during workshopping. But we stay in our seats and arrange our faces and try to relax our necks because we need this criticism. Even if it hurts.