Taking a Punch

Your author may be wrong, but it seems to him that any attempt to defend oneself against criticism in a writer's group is both ill advised and doomed to fail.

Your author may be wrong, but it seems to him that any attempt to defend oneself against criticism in a writer’s group is both ill advised and doomed to fail.

Your Mum is an Idiot

When you hand your shining new story over to a workshop, editor, beta reader, spouse or mum, you may feel a natural tendency to defend what you’ve written.

“Your honest reaction is wrong!” you will think. “You are clearly a fool!” you will think (possibly of your mother).

I have come to suspect that these entirely natural responses are to be rigorously suppressed — because they are quite possibly wrong.

The State of Being: “To Be” or Not “To Have” a Case in Point

I remember a time when beloved fantasy author and one-time writer’s group-mate who shall remain nameless (Steven Erikson) expressed the feeling that I had overdone the passive voice.

Well! I looked closely at the text. I ran the style software over the thing, and I discovered that he was wrong. Wrong! I had not used the passive voice. Never! The fool! (The passive voice is not frequently used by yours truly). I felt vindicated — but I was fundamentally wrong. You see, while the writing wasn’t technically in the passive voice, I had chosen to avoid active verbs every time I could. He was there. She was that. They were boring, boring, boring.

Steve’s reaction? It was worth listening to.

The Information

Every reader’s reaction is information — and information can sometimes be quite useful. (Not always, mind you).

It was my mum who asked, “Don’t these fantasy novels sometimes have women in them?” (The fool). And, while I had a perfectly reasonable explanation for the sausage fest I’d written, I also had to admit that she might have had a point. (Many rewrites later, I’d put in a girl — the third book has three!).

Grin & Bear It

If you want a story to get better, you need to must learn to take a punch. (And respond after careful consideration alone at your keyboard).

Everything anyone says to you in a writer’s workshop (or anything said by a beta reader or mother or spouse) is information. You cannot argue someone out of their reaction. (That horse has already sailed). Ignore the information or not, it’s information.

I have given myself permission to nod understandingly and to ask few unloaded just-clarifying questions (such pain!).

But, once I have gathered the information, then, (after the fits of Faulty Towers clenched-fist rage at the unfairness of such things) I decide what to I must do next…

(You must, of course, make up your own mind).

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