It was my second critique session ever, but the first where I saw how oddly cuckoo-loops the process could get. I’d just returned from a year and a half in France. While there, I had written letters—blogs existed then, but I was too shy at the time for such a public display, so only a very select group of folks received my email missives about my shenanigans in Aix-en-Provence.
When I got back to the States, I signed up for a Creative Non-Fiction class. As my critique submission, I turned in some of these e-mailed vignettes. I awaited my round, trying to look chill as Ladies Anticipation and Trepidation had a duel inside me—and of course also amped about the soon-to-be-heard feedback that would both reassure me about what was working right and help me make the pieces stronger. Which is what I naively figured I would get out of every critique session. Here is what happened instead. . . .
The group, led by not a very effective facilitator, glommed onto some random point in one of the pieces, a total detail that was not quite as bad as debating if I should have put an Oxford comma into a series or not, but close to that level of minutiae. They debated, chewed, and gnawed on this pointless point like starved wolves on a raw T-bone. Time ticked by and they would NOT move on, and I nearly burst out with, “Seriously, people? I got it, already. I mean, geez Louise!”
I watched the clock run down, more peeved than upset or flattened by anything that was said—since basically they hadn’t really said much about my writing whatsoever. Finally, the facilitator decided to de-dud herself and actually facilitate something. “Does anyone else have anything to say?”
An older woman who had been quiet throughout the entire fray-of-pointless-triviality spoke up, “Her writing is very strong. And very evocative. She should keep up with these stories.”
That shut everyone up for a second, then there was some general positive mumbling, and then my time was up, and that was that.
I could have hugged that woman. And not just because she said something nice and useful—encouragement has a proven positive effect on motivation and productivity—but more importantly because she actually said something about my submission.
Sometimes, it is the most basic of things that separates the masters from the disasters . . .
MASTERS stay focused on the writer and the submission during a critique;
DISASTERS sidetrack the critique process into non-pertinent conversations.
I’m thinking this Masters and Disasters framework will be a recurring theme. Because, seriously, why be a train wreck in the critique process, when you can be a wizard of awesomeness? Wahooo!
Onward in kindness,
Christine Carron, The Critique MD