This blog post has been reprinted from an article from Sarah Aronson’s weekly Creative Journal, with permission. (If you’d like to join Sarah’s mailing list, sign up here. Thanks, Sarah!
“What is most important (after receiving feedback) is to know that there’s still work to do and to be inspired to do it.”— Matthew Salesses, Craft in the Real World: Rethinking Fiction Writing and Workshopping
This week, in a discussion about the business of publishing, a writer I admire said something that A LOT of writers believe: that the most important parts of your critique are critical–the stuff that is not working.
Understanding what is not working for your readers is information we all must grapple with. Also of course, no book works for everyone.
But after 22 years of writing, there is one thing I am sure of: it’s not the most important thing you get from a critique. Not by a long shot.
Often, when critique groups focus on the negative, they also create to do lists for the writer. OR the writer leaves the session uninspired. Or confused. Or unheard. Even worse, when we force the writer to sit there silently, we can end up offering feedback–based on the strongest voices in the room–that is not even the least bit helpful.
When groups put all their efforts into what’s not working (for them), they miss the power of the POSITIVE.
There is nothing more essential than knowing what works. When we know where our readers are excited..where we touched their hearts or made them laugh or made them cry, we can brainstorm with enthusiasm–with an open door. When we give our friends specific examples of where we see the subconscious creating a strong beating heart, we offer hope. And connection. This is not to get to the “real stuff.” It is ESSENTIAL. Positive feedback helps the writer build on what is working. It helps them understand the places that are not working. And most important, it builds confidence. And joy.
Craft is great. Determination and confidence are essential.
Friends: it is impossible to keep going when you lack confidence in your ideas, your themes, your characters. If all you hear is what is wrong, where is your foundation? Where is your excitement? It’s so much harder to gear up for a big revision–or reimagination–if you don’t believe the good stuff–if you don’t celebrate the good stuff first.
Are you ready to stretch? Reach? Groan? Embrace the power of play?
What do YOU love most about your story? What was fun to write? What made you excited to get back to your story?
Today, go to one of those scenes. Print it, so you can really analyze it.
What made it stand out? Was it a scene heavy with dialogue? Was it an action scene? Did you touch closely to your theme? Was the language exuberant or scary or silly? Is this a scene where you shared your deepest truth? Is this the place where you were most giving..of yourself
Journal about WHY you loved writing this scene, how you felt writing it, what prompted it. Explore how you got into the zone. Let your subconscious rise up to the conscious and celebrate this scene and then apply what you discovered to other scenes. I find that when I examine my favorite scenes, I always find inspiration for the scenes that are not yet on the page.
When we embrace the positives, we see more. We feel hope. We get excited. We write MORE. And THAT is always exciting.