Last night was our first critique session. The set up for the group is submissions due by the 1st of every month with the critiques themselves on the third Thursday. This was it. We were either going to get it right or fumble along and waste everyone’s time.
Nervous? Yeah, of course I was. We changed locations, meeting back at La Fromagerie again where the tables and the tea are just so much more conducive to writing and discussion. I was there super-early, too, having booked off the time from work to make sure I wouldn’t be late. Super-early, and super-alone. I took a peek into the cheese shop, saw none of the writing crowd, and immediately started texting in a panic. Turns out a few were grabbing a bite somewhere else first, so I went in, said my hellos to the proprietor, and set myself up for the evening.
Eventually, the six of us who submitted all gathered at the table and got down to three solid hours of critiquing.
And it was great. It could have been so terrible but it was so great. Left me totally jazzed about editing. Editing! Editing hasn’t even been in my vocabulary until the last six months. Don’t worry, I didn’t subject any poor editor with my stories but after a traumatic attempt at editing my first novel (insert peals of laughter here), editing had become a dirty word. Only in the last few months, with our first tentative steps towards critiquing, swapping a story here and there, have I felt like I unlocked the door the tool shed out back and now have designs on the whole garden. Editing isn’t frightening anymore.
What I thought was really interesting was where the crits overlapped and where they diverged. In most cases, if something was sticking out like a sore thumb, everyone picked up on it. Hard not to admit that something in a piece isn’t working if more than three people mention it or agree with it as the crits go ‘round the table. But just as often someone would pick up on something the rest of us didn’t think of and occasionally that would rift into agreement but just as often there would be a valid difference of opinion. No egos, no abuse, just very thoughtful, constructive advice all around.
It was so valuable having five sets of eyes on my story and just as valuable as getting to crit their stories. Now, that’s something you’ll here often about these sorts of working groups, that you learn as much or more by critting than having your own work critiqued. But it was just as interesting to hear the other members critique the other stories.
The experience was energizing. This is what I wanted. This is what I need.
In my bag, I brought home five copies of my story, all marked up, suggestions in the margins. I had three people stumble on one scene, with two different suggestions on how to improve it (hehehe, I’ll just have to try both), finger-waggling at me for leaving in place-holders that I meant to fill in (need jungle varietals), cultural and temporal markers (art deco or art neuveau?) and some awkward faux-british description to get under control (I say, pip, pip).
Concrete, fixable stuff.
Once I get this editing thing figured out, the next stage is … where the heck to I send it?