My daughter recently joined a swim team. She loves to swim so it seemed like a good idea. I bought her a new swimsuit to celebrate. It was one of those sporty swimsuits; navy blue and designed for serious swimming! Of course she hated it and immediately told me so. She didn’t like the straps because “they felt strange”. She didn’t like the colour because “it was too dark” and she wasn’t going to wear it because she was certain she would be the only swimmer in the pool wearing “that kind of swimsuit.” She wanted to wear her favourite swimsuit; the one with spaghetti straps covered in pink and lime hearts.
A heated debate ensued, where I explained that it was better to keep her strappy swimsuits for fun and use the new one for swim team because it was designed to be comfortable for competitive swimming. In return she shouted a lot, there were tears and a slammed door, but to my surprise I eventually won and my daughter solemnly went to her room to change.
When it came to the next swim class I prepared myself for another battle. I handed her the swim-bag and waited for the moans and groans. But none came. Instead my daughter skipped off to change with the comment: “Thanks for getting me this new swimsuit Mum, you were right: it’s much better for swim team!” I was dumbfounded.
It occurred to me that receiving a tough writing critique is similar to this in some ways. It’s natural to be attached to our writing. We can be particularly proud of a certain phrase or a character. Then we take our work to the critique group only to find that our fellow trusted writers suggest cutting that particular phrase or even that we change a character or plotline. And we balk at the advice; it hurts. We suck it up and go home with a mind to ignore it completely! What do they know anyway right?
But see here’s the thing: if we wait a while and then pluck up the courage to look at that advice again, we usually find that they were right after all. And if we can be brave enough to take it on board and make some changes, we find that our work has improved.
I have really found that the best advice I’ve received has been feedback that I’ve thought, at first, was negative and hard to take. I’ve sobbed into the pages of my manuscript lamenting the ruthless suggestion to cut whole paragraphs. I have cried spooning sugar into my cup of tea as I mull over the suggestion to rewrite a whole plotline. But every time, when I have had the guts to do it, it has worked out for the better and I have almost certainly learned much more in the process.
So I think writing critiques are just like my daughter and the swimsuit. We should be open and try the new swimsuit on, even if we don’t like the colour or style… because we might find that actually it’s a perfect fit! 🙂