1. Sulla
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    Sulla Member

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    Critiquing the first draft

    Discussion in 'The Art of Critique' started by Sulla, Aug 5, 2012.

    I've taken a few creative writing classes.

    Typically you are required to write a short story. You are then asked to bring in the first draft of this story. Either you break up in groups or sit around in a circle discussing the work.

    The comments you get all lack understanding.

    It seems to me that the first draft is still a creative work in process. People are commenting on your story but you are nowhere near being down. Again, you haven't let the creative process play itself out so you don't know yet where this story is going. Inviting people to question your story this early on can kill the creative work that you still have to do.

    Does anyone agree with me? Isn't the first draft still a draft where you are figuring things out creatively? Letting someone in, who probably doesn't understand your creative process, just hurts your ability to return and save the story.

    The second draft is where you worry about mechanics of story and grammar. The first draft is a process of creative workings that are unfinished.
     
  2. peachalulu
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    peachalulu Contributing Member Reviewer Contributor

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    Yeah , I don't think I'd be too crazy to show people my first draft. It's too raw, sometimes just stream of
    conscious rambling, scenes are haphazard and sometimes not even in the right order. People might tell me to junk it ,
    not knowing I can whip it into a presentable piece.

    Did your teacher have/give a reason for critiquing at this stage?
     
  3. chicagoliz
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    chicagoliz Contributing Member Contributor

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    I'm not certain that when the teacher says to bring in your 'first draft' that he or she necessarily means the very first words that you've typed into the word document. I suspect she means simply not to worry excessively and bring it in as best you can given the time period you have in which to write it.

    That said, if you are talking about a short story, which should be an entirely self-contained story (as opposed to a portion of a novel, where there might be vital pieces of information that are in other portions of the story, and could lead to a lack of full understanding if one only reads one piece of it), I'd be concerned if *everyone* who read it did not understand it. Even if it's an early draft, the story should make sense. The wording should be clear. The spelling and grammar should be correct.

    If no one is getting your story, you really need to try to understand the comments you are getting and figure out where you are not being clear and not getting through. As a writer, you are trying to communicate. If the readers aren't getting it, you're not succeeding.
     
  4. GHarrison
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    GHarrison Senior Member

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    Group critique is not necessarily solely to guage the comprehension of the work you bring to it, but an exercise in becoming critical about all aspects of the writing in front of you. Group crits let you develope the ability to scrutinize writing, together, not to improve a particular piece, but to learn to re-evaluate all of your own work better in the future.

    So, therefore, bringing a first draft to a group crit is actually beneficial to the group, because there is more there to correct, more changes to discuss.
     
  5. chicagoliz
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    chicagoliz Contributing Member Contributor

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    At the same time, however, critiquing also is about pointing out parts of the writing that work. Sometimes writers who have trouble setting a scene or creating believable dialogue say, "Aha! That's how you do it!" when they're reading a piece for critique. So I'm not so sure the goal is to have writers bring in a piece that's as bad as possible.
     
  6. vVvRapture
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    vVvRapture Member

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    Honestly, in these situations, I've just forgone the rule entirely. Depending on how much time I have, I usually do as much editing and draft work as possible. Then, when I do bring in the piece, while my teacher may consider it the first draft, it may actually be the third or fourth.

    Unless I don't care about the assignment, like an essay, in which I just write the draft then go play video games.
     
  7. Pheonix
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    Pheonix A Singer of Space Operas and The Fourth Mod of RP Staff Contributor

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    I've had that experience, where a rough draft gets totally ripped on. It's frustrating, irritating and demoralizing. But, then, when you stop and think about it, if you didn't get that critism, where would the second draft go from there? Grammar, spelling, punctuation, those are side notes until you're trying to get published. Ideas and content, those are what needs to be refined. Think of it like a smelter. You put all your raw ideas in, like ore. You may think, this is Gold! But until you heat it up super hot get the impurities out, its not worth a whole lot. Criticism is that fire that melts the slag away.

    Once you have a first draft, that's the best possible time to have it criticized. Problems that you might not have caught for a while can get shown up.

    The sooner you know something is wrong, the sooner you can fix it!
     
  8. chicagoliz
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    chicagoliz Contributing Member Contributor

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    The thing about grammar, and especially spelling, is that they are so easy to correct before you print out or attach a copy of your piece for critique. These days, everyone surely has a spell check and likely a grammar check in his word processing software. When these types of errors are included in the piece you are putting up for critique, they 1) distract the reader, and more importantly, 2) prevent the reader from giving you a full focus and critique on what you've written. That is, you can correct misspellings yourself. What is much harder to assess yourself is whether you've conveyed the emotions and depth you've intended to convey. Isn't it a more valuable use of your time (and money, if this is a class) to get feedback on the depth of what you've written, rather than on whether you misspelled a word? And if having a misspelling distracts a reader and therefore he misses an important insight into your writing, you've missed out on something really valuable.

    There will still be misspellings that get through, even though you thought you'd proofread pretty well. Someone is always going to catch mistakes you didn't. But you should still attempt to minimize those, because although you want them caught, what you really want to know is how well your writing is working.
     
  9. GHarrison
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    GHarrison Senior Member

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    Oh, so that is how you quote someone in a reply :) new to me....

    And I didn't say it should be as bad as possible, but a draft that hasn't been corrected yet, there is a difference :). Obviously scrutiny will lead to content issues as well.

    I guess my simple point is that in a classroom environment, the work we bring to it shouldn't be considered precious, but more a tool for learning skills helpful in the creative process later, when we are on our own. Now that I think, maybe the work should be as bad as possible after all. After passing through the group critique it should be fit for framing, so to speak.
     
  10. chicagoliz
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    chicagoliz Contributing Member Contributor

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    I agree the work shouldn't be considered "precious," and that it should be a tool for learning skills later on. But there will still be plenty to critique, I'm sure, without the work being "as bad as possible." Also, I disagree that it is likely that after a single group critique, the piece would be "fit for framing." I've heard of many an author having portions of their novels 'critiqued to death' -- that is over and over again. The harder point might be finding the place to stop critiquing, because there is *always* room for more (even post-publishing, many authors can't bear to read their work, thinking of what they'd still correct if they could.)
     
  11. Mckk
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    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    For me it's easier to show the rough than the polished - cus if people didn't like the rough draft, it's ok, I can accept it - it's rough, after all, and no reflection of my real writing. Whereas when it's polished and readers still don't like it, now that's discouraging.

    And I think it'd help if you only let the group critique practice pieces, not your beloved project of a novel or something. Only let trusted people, preferably writers themselves, touch your novel.

    But I don't know - I've never been part of a "writers' group" and don't much feel like being part of one. The idea of letting strangers tear my work apart is too much. For me, if I should belong to a group, then this group must be a personal, selective group - they must all be good friends, with deep understanding of how each other communicates (so that even if we hurt each other, it won't be the end of the world), and each must be a writer, a good writer with a good analytical mind - and most important, each member must respect and perhaps even admire all other members' writing ability and analytical abilities. That, for me, is a safe group. Unfortunately such groups rarely exist :)

    All in all, I wouldn't join a writer's group personally - I'd however happily create my own if only I knew enough writer friends :)

    And as for first drafts - no way would I let anyone touch that :p It'd have to be for practice or mindless scribbles. If it's my novel - then no, it's too raw.
     
  12. GHarrison
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    GHarrison Senior Member

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    Are we still talking about a class where the instructor recommended a first draft and why that might be the case?

    Basically it's about the group critique, and not the piece, exactly, we agree.

    Cheers,
     
  13. chicagoliz
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    chicagoliz Contributing Member Contributor

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    We do mostly agree, GHarrison. I take your point that there may be some merit in having a piece that is filled with targets for critique. It's just that I think that even a 3rd or 4th or 10th draft will still have plenty of targets for critical advice. What I'm sensing in the OP, however, is a desire to dismiss the criticism he or she received in the class, or at least a reluctance to accept its validity. Although it can be reassuring to say to one's self, "Oh, this is only a first draft. Who cares what anyone says?" I think this ultimately provides a disservice to the writer, because we should be seeking the most meaningful criticism we can get.

    There are a few issues raised by the OP: the value of the critique received and the value of critiquing. Grammar was also mentioned. Poor grammar gets in the way of reading, so it's better to minimize grammatical issues to the extent possible. Critiquing a piece gives one tremendous insight into what works in a story and what doesn't. These types of insights are invaluable in that they improve the critiquer's writing skills. But receiving criticism is important, too. Of course, the writer doesn't have to change the piece to incorporate every piece of advice given by readers. The advice will be contradictory and sometimes is inapplicable or actually harmful to what the author is trying to convey. But, if an author is repeatedly told that a piece is unclear or if no one who reads it understands the point of the story, he or she needs to seriously consider that the lack of clarity is not due to a problem with the readers, but with the piece of writing.
     
  14. GHarrison
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    GHarrison Senior Member

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    This sounds to me like the OP is holding their piece as precious, and not understanding the value in group critique as a classroom execrcise.
     
  15. chicagoliz
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    chicagoliz Contributing Member Contributor

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    I think we're on the same page, GH.
     
  16. Sulla
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    Sulla Member

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    A lot was said within this thread so let me try and address everything I can, as best I can.

    -I don't hold my work to be precious. I do hold my creative process as precious. When I'm still working on a piece I don't want a group of 19 year olds picking at my work that isn't done.

    -Which easily brings me to my second point. A creative writing college class isn't exactly a group of expert writers. Their first draft and last draft are often very close because they don't truly care about the work. Sure, there's two or three people in the group who may truly care. Everyone else is just anxious to move on.

    -I think most people were confused about my first post. My concern isn't with criticism itself it's with creativity. The first draft is still a creative work-in process. I hope many of you just misunderstood me. If your first draft contains all the basic elements of what your story will contain than you aren't doing enough in the editing stage. The first draft isn't always mechanically sound. Often times my first draft is just a general direction, a hint of where I am going. It's not enough for a full critique.

    -I do disagree with the classroom practice of using the first draft as a critique. I'm not in college anymore though so I am really referring to other instances where a first draft might be shown. For example, have you ever had a loved one want to read what you are writing? Ever made the mistake of letting them read that first draft? It's an awful mistake.

    Overall, my point isn't with having a group critique. My point isn't about that at all. My point is a first draft (a true first draft) is a work-in progress and it can be harmful to show that work to people who don't get the creative process. Schools don't teach you much about how to be creative. Not the ones I've been in anyway. They simply assign a story and then require you to bring the first draft in. If you are fixing grammar or story structure then you've all ready moved past the first draft stage. A first draft is a kind of free-write. As a free-write, creative piece it shouldn't be subject to scrutiny of a later draft. There's plenty of time for critique in the later stages of writing. However, critique can be difficult so early on. In a first draft you are still exploring. It call could all be scrapped, you don't know yet.

    Carl Jung wrote about containment. The notion of going over an idea without talking to other people. For me, this is what a first draft is. You free-write (the first draft) then you think about it for some time. You apply this thinking to a re-write. Once you've re-written your first draft it's not a first draft anymore and can and should be subject to criticism.

    A writing class shouldn't be a support group. You are not a writer or artist, nor are you really improving, when you read your first draft aloud to a support group. Having the support group encourage, push or detract you from certain elements of your first draft isn't an act of artistic improvement. They might be pushing you in the wrong direction. They might be taking an unfinished sentence and putting a period on it. We're all subject to peer pressure. Why wouldn't we try and do what the support group tells us? We shouldn't do what the support group tells us because we're still in the creative process. Too much rational thinking kills the creative process. That's why we leave that until after the first draft is done. If we over-critique we never get anywhere.

    A first draft shared with family or friends takes on an even stranger kind of psychology. Further, their critique isn't based in art or literature but on your status and relation to them. They probably don't get that the first draft is a work in progress and still a motion of creativity. Think of the school of the absurd. How would a first draft of Nikolai Gogol's "The Nose" go over with family or a group of freshmen college students? At least let him get past the first draft. Give him (and your creativity) a fighting chance.
     
  17. Pheonix
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    Pheonix A Singer of Space Operas and The Fourth Mod of RP Staff Contributor

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    I think that your idea of a first draft may be slightly different from what most people think of as a first draft. What you are describing sounds more like... well, notes. A first draft is the first, complete version. If your first draft is not that, then I think that you should consider refining it more and calling that the first draft.

    Also, Correct me if i'm wrong here, but should not a first draft have the basic elements of your story in it? How would that be a failure in editing?

    And, I also think that alot of the things you said show an inability to handle critisizm without letting it destroy your creativity. If it has that much effect on you that it destroys your creative process, your view of it may be a bit...askew...
     
  18. chicagoliz
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    chicagoliz Contributing Member Contributor

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    Well, Sulla, you certainly have a lot to say. And that's good for a writer.

    I think part of the issue in your original post has to do with the question of whether it is useful to critique a first draft. This raises difficulties because there are huge variations on what constitutes a "first draft." When do we have an official first draft? Most would say it's when we've basically completed the arc and resolved the plot of the story we want to write. If we're talking about a novel, we're looking at 80K-120K words, so we're talking about a pretty good chunk of time -- anywhere from weeks to years. But we have to also discuss process -- some people edit as they write. Some people edit after completing every ten pages. Some edit each day's or week's work. Some edit each chapter. Some do more than one of these. And some don't edit a single word until they've finished the entire initial draft. There's no right or wrong way -- each author should do what is best for him. What this means, though, is that at the end of this first go at the story, this 'first draft' is in different states of having been reviewed and/or edited, depending on what method the author has used. So, although it might be true for some authors that the "first draft" is just the stream of consciousness that flowed through their keyboards, without any additional pondering, for others, this "first draft" has already had considerable thought and analysis.

    Which leads me to your statement about creative writing classes requesting a first draft and your comment that you don't like having a first draft critiqued. I've also taken a couple creative writing classes, although a couple of them were from when I was in college back in the stone age. At least in those classes, I did not have the same experience you apparently have had, with people taking the classes, yet having no interest in creative writing. My college, although it required a writing class for Freshmen, did not have any kind of creative writing or fiction writing requirement, and those classes were relatively small, so the only people who took the classes did have some interest in writing fiction. I suppose if you are, in fact, in a class with people who have no interest in writing, their criticisms would likely have less value, as their commitment to giving thoughtful comments would be greatly diminished.

    In the classes I took, there was no requirement that our writing submitted to the class be something called a "first draft." I therefore question whether your supposition in your original posting is valid -- i.e. is it true that "most" creative writing classes today would require a first draft. I suspect that if those were the instructions given, the meaning was given more to alleviate fear than as a rigid requirement, as I stated in an earlier response. It is, of course, possible that I am completely wrong about this and wildly off base, in which case, I would have to agree with your position insofar as saying that a critique of a true first pass or first draft (setting aside for the moment the difficulty in defining such a piece, as discussed above), is at the very least, suboptimal.

    To address your response to the replies you received on your original query, I'll make notes in blue, below.

     
  19. Mckk
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    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Well, I had a similar problem with recognising what a "first draft" is - when I finished my novel, content-wise, nothing was coherent yet cus I changed things halfway through and just wrote on. No, no one will ever read that one. That one I considered my "first draft" - and after my first rewrite, to make it coherent etc, I called that my "first complete draft".

    I'd agree that you should only hand in your first complete draft, not your first incoherent draft. Does it hurt your creative process? Well, I'm not sure about hurting, but it wouldn't be very useful, because their comments would be irrelevant because you know it's gonna change or that part is gonna be deleted anyway etc. But if you hand in your first incoherent draft, then you can't be sensitive about people misunderstanding - I mean, what else did you expect?

    But if you had handed in your first complete draft and you're hurting over the fact that it's a "first draft" and still in need of repairs before you can accept comments - then you're probably being too sensitive. My question is why would you hand in a draft that has no coherent story line and good grammar? And if you did hand a coherent story with good grammar, even though it's in first draft form, why would it hurt your creative process?
     
  20. LuminousTyto
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    LuminousTyto Senior Member

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    You never know, you might gleam some ideas from other peoples comments. However, for me I generally know where my story is going because I like to outline.
     
  21. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    to me, a 'first' draft is not the same as a 'rough' draft... after you proofread and edit your 'rough draft' [= the very first spewing out of words onto paper/screen] it then becomes the 'first draft' that you can show to others for critique...

    as a mentor and writing tutor/coach, i don't allow my mentees/tutees/students to send me a piece of work before they've gone over it for obvious goofs... and if they don't edit it first, they get a major chewing out... just ask any of 'em!
     
  22. Sulla
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    I also consider the first draft to be the rough draft. I'm sure there are different meanings that people use to describe a first draft. I base my definition on what I learned in school and creative writing classes.

    I should've clarified that I was mostly referring to short stories. It would be difficult to produce a first draft of a novel because you are probably making changes for every chapter to fit into the next chapter.

    For Chicagoliz:

    -I am mostly describing my personal experiences with creative writing. In my experience there were a few people in my classes who truly were interested in writing. Everyone else was there for the class credit. I'm sure in an MFA program there would be major differences in how people interact. However, even in that environment I wouldn't want someone reading my first draft. I am still playing, as it were, and not ready to share that with others. It's not a matter of being "sensitive" but rather a matter of not being finished (not finished enough) yet.

    -I'm not fixed on Jung. I know little about him. I just find his thoughts about containment to be relevant to the creative process. I'm not contradictory. Most people thinking about their first draft, like to mull it over, before engaging in their second draft. I feel that is quite normal. When you are still at the roots of your story and thinking it over it's hard to introduce that raw work to a classroom.

    -Ultimately, I think we are in some agreement. A first draft should not be used for review but rather a second draft. I agree that much of this depends on the class and the writer. I'm not just talking about the classroom but friends and family too. It might be true that your friends and family are experts or at least knowledgeable about creative writing but it's not likely.

    I have found that there have been many times where I shared a raw rough, first draft with another person. They tend to not get it or be overwhelmed. I don't believe that when a writer is still formulating what he or she is trying to say that it's wise to put that piece up for judgement. Judgement is in the second draft.
     
  23. Pheonix
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    Pheonix A Singer of Space Operas and The Fourth Mod of RP Staff Contributor

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    Well, then as the writer, it is totally up to you who you show what, and when. Everyone has their own opinion and you have yours. I personally like other people's ideas when i'm conceiving things, helps me see what is ridiculous and what isn't. But, If you don't want that, and think you can figure it out for yourself, then by all means, do what makes you happy!
     
  24. chicagoliz
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    chicagoliz Contributing Member Contributor

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    I'm not sure what to tell you, Sulla.

    I think in some respects, we're kind of dealing with a red herring -- Maia wonderfully and insightfully pointed out above that it is possible to further parse the idea of "first draft" into "rough draft" and "first draft." I have no idea whether Maia works specifically with critique groups in her teaching and mentoring of writers -- my sense is that she does not, based on what she has shared on this site, my impression is that her work is mostly done via computer, although I could have that completely wrong. But her comment is equally applicable to both, because we're dealing with reader feedback -- she said she wants the glaring errors corrected before she sees the writing because it's a waste of everyone's time to point out issues that would be obvious to the writer. It seems that everyone who has posted in this thread agrees with that proposition, including you and me.

    But Maia's point also underscores my own, in that we're both indicating that a creative writing teacher most likely feels this way, as well. I interpret that to mean (and I hope that Maia corrects me if I'm incorrect or misinterpreting her point) that it does not seem likely that your creative writing teachers have meant that they want to see the first rough draft of your writing. I think that we all agree that if they do mean this, we don't like it and question whether the maximum value of the class and critique is realized.

    So I don't think that there is really a true debate here on whether it is useful to critique a rough draft.

    At the very least, however, you're also indicating at least a reluctance to accept the value of critique. You seem to have been stung by criticism in the past -- and believe me, I get it. Just the other night I had someone in a critique group tell me that he totally didn't care about my character, saw no merit in the story, and found everything I had written to be basically boring and meaningless, and that he would have no interest in reading more. And this was *far* from my first draft. Unfortunately, he didn't give me anything I could really use, as far as what he particularly didn't like or what he thought might help to improve it. This was a guy who has some writing credentials and really enjoys writing and wants to be in the critique group. Since I did get other feedback from other folks in the group who did like the story and did find it interesting and relatable, and since I've also had feedback from others on this piece who didn't feel quite so unmoved by it, I just have to shake it off. He's not my target reader. He'd never buy my book if it were in a bookstore. And that's okay. Not every critique is going to be useful.

    But I have had other feedback at other points that, although it was distressing to hear, was invaluable. There was a misconception about my character that kept coming up when I had posted the scene on another site for critique. I was dismayed to hear it -- oh, how could they think this about my character? It is so obviously not the case! But ultimately, it was helpful. I was able to really think through what it was that was not giving quite the impression I wanted, and what I could add to shore up the impression I did want to convey. And it's been helpful to me as I reassess the story from that point forward.

    So I'm not sure where the point of disagreement lies -- my impression and understanding of what you've said is that you don't want any critique until you've thoroughly polished the piece in your mind to the point where you find it to be perfect, or as perfect as you can make it. That's perfectly fine -- again, every writer works in his own way. Some people like a lot of input along the way, some want little or none. Just recognize that if you've been massaging this piece of writing for a long time and you feel it's pretty gosh darn good at this point, it is harder to accept criticism of it. It feels more hurtful, it feels more daunting (how to fix it after I've based everything on this point?, or after I've worked so much on it!), and it can feel like even more of a rejection because of all the effort you've put into it. Once you're in this mindset, it's much harder to accept the criticism as valid and to incorporate it into the writing.

    Getting critique is one of the hardest things for writers -- and this never, ever goes away. Even professional, successful authors dread reading a bad review, whether it's in the NYT Book Review, or whether it's some reader on amazon. They're always distressed by the one star reviews, even if there are a hundred five star ones. This is really an instance where you, as a writer, need to be brave and need to learn to sort through the critiques to find what's useful and what's not.

    Even your use of the word "judgment" above is indicative of this fear -- try to remember it's not a judgment of you as a person. It really isn't a judgment at all. It's a reaction to a piece of writing. Especially in the critique stage -- it's about making the piece of writing the best it can be. It's about loyalty to the piece of writing, not to the author. It's about getting the author's idea communicated as clearly and as effectively as possible. And there's no way for an author to know whether he's done this other than by finding out from those who have read the piece.

    I love this site because I love the exchange of ideas about writing and the process of writing shared by people who are interested in the same thing. One great thing about sites such as this is seeing how many writers have the same fears, go through similar things, and deal with and assessing criticism. I'm glad you raised it, because it's really important and it's something that's applicable to almost everyone.
     
  25. DanesDarkLand
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    DanesDarkLand Senior Member

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    Personally, if I had my first draft picked apart, or critiqued, or reviewed, it might have held me back. I needed to go back and read my own work and think about it. My writing style changed as I continued to write my first project. Details were added, changed, rethought, and sometimes whole scenes had to be deleted. I took out what I thought were key sequences, but they ended up disagreeing with the reality that I had already built. Now that I've been editing and revising, some reviews and critiques would be welcome. I don't think i would have learned the important skills that i picked up as I wrote and revised.

    I can now look at my own work and know when it doesn't fit with the overall story. I know when the reality doesn't gel, or when its in complete disagreement with the fundamental rules I have already put in place.

    One rule in particular stands out. A condition that occurs and has devastating results each time. Unfortunately, I made the main character miraculously heal, get up and pick someone up with one hand. The condition leaves the person weakened for weeks and unable to even get out of bed. Way outside my own rules and it was something that missed in my excitement for the scene. I would not have learned how to edit and revise my own writing, to a point, without examining my own work first.

    So, in essence, I don't believe a first draft is the proper place to have someone else reviewing your work. Give it a once over, maybe read it a couple of times and start that laborious process of revision. Then you'll be ready for a new set of eyes. Then you'll want another person's opinion to help you find the problems you missed.
     

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