My Aha Moment and The Sting of Critique

Yesterday, for the first time in months, I had a breakthrough on my work-in-progress. I made several past attempts at the chapter in question in the past and hated each one. It’s a pivotal chapter, setting up the finale of the novel, and it was the worst. I put it aside for months on end, occasionally blowing the dust off of it and giving it another try.  It became the bane of my existence and I was afraid it was a hurdle that would put me off the project forever.

I’ve seen so many posts from writers about their “aha!” moment–that single thought that suddenly makes everything fall perfectly into place. I assumed I had worked too many angles on this piece to have that moment of sudden clarity. Then yesterday morning, while giving it only a passing thought, it clicked. Aha! My aha! I sat down, opened that file, ignored the creaking unused hinges on the door to the mess that is my first novel, and I wrote. And wrote. And wrote.

I finally used those muscles again! I finally got back to the characters that I missed for a while, to the bit of fictional realm I carved out for them. It feel good. Reaaalllly goooooood.

Like every up, there must be a down. I was emailing with a newish writing friend, comparing moving woes and complaining about life, when she said that she still hadn’t read anything I’d written. I didn’t realize this, apparently. So I dusted off the first chapter of my WIP, written over a year ago and barely touched up since. I made sure she knew that it was a very rough draft.

She kind of trashed it.

Maybe “trashed” is too strong of a word but I definitely felt a little beat up. She offered a lengthy critique which I sort of welcomed but hadn’t requested or discussed so it caught me off guard, I guess. There were some valid points and some that seemed a little bit much. I only read through it once and put it aside for a while, not wanting the criticism (constructive or otherwise) to dull my excitement of writing again.

It stung a little bit. A lot, actually. Yes critiquing is an important of any writer’s journey, but it wasn’t one I prepared for. I sent a “this is sort of where I’m going with my story” and got back some harsh words. Like I said, some points were valid and I’ll certainly take them under advisement but I felt ambushed a little. What I took to be a quick glance over writing material of a friend turned into something I wasn’t ready for. I would’ve given it a good edit, cleaned up the errors, deleted the troubled sentences, improved the spots that needed it.

Lesson learned, I suppose. Next time I share my writing I’ll be SUPER CAREFUL to note that I’m just sharing and not looking for a critique just yet. I’m not writing literary fiction here and I don’t intend to. I’ve had a former editor look it over for fun and she made comments about atmosphere, character, etc. I asked for it then. Receiving a negative critique bothers me less than receiving one that wasn’t asked for in the first place. Has anyone else experienced something similar?

I’m still on my breakthrough writing high, though, so I’m off to crank out some more words. Crossing the 60,000 word count mark was exciting. Closing in on the end of the book certainly added some much needed fuel to my fire.  I’ll revisit that critique again. Just not today.



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