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Tuesday, January 3, 2012

My Worst Reader Responses

©urmudgeonly drawn by B.C. Matthews 




Part of being a writer is learning from honest critique. The other part is failing and learning from your mistakes (and failing a lot. Did I mention a lot?). The part that I find hardest to deal with is the mean, vicious, or completely indifferent response. It feels like a sucker punch.  

When I was a 17-year-old girl struggling to find my niche, or you know, life direction, I wrote the beginnings of my second book. It involved unicorns, ghosts, and an undead 18th century French Count aka Lestat-knockoff in a bad mash-up re-mix of all the things my seventeen-year-old heart loved beyond loving. And in order to impress this guy I wanted to date, I gave him a first draft copy of that monstrosity. Not only a first draft, but I also printed it out, put each individual page in a sheet protector, and bound it neatly in a binder. I sat back and waited for the praise to roll in, for teenage love to blossom once he read the depths of my soul in fictional prose.

He handed it back and professed—not undying love for me—but that he'd only made it through a couple of pages.

In college I thought I'd get smarter about this "letting other people read my work thing." And it was in the several creative writing classes that I took, that I had hoped that my English-degree cohorts would give an outstanding critique. While my professor insisted that there'd be no genre-bashing, it was suddenly clear to me that anything outside of artsy-fartsy super-ironic transcendental literary writing was going to be severely ridiculed. I wrote a horror short story, hoping that something Poe-esque would calm the raging English majors like a glowing full moon to a pack of wolves. I loved writing it, and all of the gory, bloody details. The intense plunge into insanity. And most of all the murder.

My manuscript was ripped to shreds in front of my very eyes. It wasn't a critique. It was a massacre. Some had labeled it in the margins as "disgusting" or "you're messed up! WTF?" or even "I wanted to vomit." (Though I'm pretty sure this proves that English majors are all wussies.) While I wanted people to be disturbed by the images, I didn't expect the backlash that followed.

I'd learned the value of a great critique group, and luckily I recently found a great one at Forward Motion. However, still in my quest for the ever elusive reader, one of my friends kept hounding me to allow him to read the revised-a-bajillion-times semi-finished manuscript. Despite knowing that it still needs a bit of polishing, especially after reading the in-depth and wonderful critiques from my FM group, I thought, "Well, we discuss books a lot. We like reading the same things. Give it a go." I'd learned not to hound, so I waited calmly for his response or comment, whatever it might be. So, later when we were discussing the plot points of a book I was reading, one sentence he uttered felt like a slap:   

"Well, at least it's better than the crap you write." And then he laughed. "Does your book get better at some point? I'm not even halfway through."

Ouch. But I'm still writing, even if each one of these moments still feels like a sucker punch to the face. I'm not even saying that they weren't right. I've written some dung-heap doosies. But still—sucka' punch, POW! Now, where's my rum and coke?

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