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Smackdown!

Pair of black leather boxing gloves

Image of Boxing Gloves via Wikipedia

Ouch! As I’m writing this, I’m still recovering.

I’ve written about the need for editing before, in a broad sense, regarding Lady Gaga’s meat suit. So, I know I’m not immune to the occasional need for an honest outside observer, but does it have to feel like a sock in the jaw?! My current bout with editing began with my January 21st guest appearance on the Open Mic Friday feature of Satsumabug’s art blog. One of my stories was featured that day and I asked for feedback.

There were commenters at the Open Mic who liked my story. I was basking in the warm praise for a while, because despite its imperfections, my story resonated with some readers. They “got” what I was saying, enjoyed the journey, and I was all warm and fuzzy inside. I could feel the applause… I was taking virtual bows! I felt as good as I did in grade school when teachers liked my writing, and loved that at age eleven I actually thought I could write a book, and managed to finish several chapters. When you are very young and you’re good at something, encouragement is like sustenance. With the right constitution, you can go far with very little; but if you’re sensitive, a healthy amount of it keeps you going. That’s why it’s important to encourage children when you observe their talents. You don’t have to go overboard, but noticing is nurturing.

Well I’m an adult now, and I was way overdue for my smackdown. I knew, deep in my heart, that the story wasn’t quite right. I had become nearly cross-eyed trying to make out which of the individual parts were working, and which needed to be reworked or excised. No wait… it was only partly that. Mostly I was being stubborn. There was an air about the story that said, “This will do, but is that what you really want? To just be okay?” So I lifted the ropes and walked into the arena. Yes, yes, I know I asked for it, but I don’t seem to have remembered to put my mouth guard in. I didn’t remember to block. I certainly didn’t bring my gloves. But I do have them now. I’m using them on my real foe… my complacency. When I got up from the floor, I realized that Lisa (the lovely and quite talented writer of Satsumabug’s art blog) is an excellent editor. Excellent, because she only really socked me when I asked for it, and after the punch, I had so much important information (truth) to work with, that I was energized and ready to get cracking. It’s time for me to contemplate the fixes, and get them done. (And to stop whining about wanting it to be done already!) Now, of course, I know that a creative writer can construct a story any way she wants. It’s her art. No rule of structure for  the opening, the turning point, the ending, or the choices on grammar, punctuation, and sentence flow — is off-limits for an artist to tinker with. You get to decide what your aim is with your reader. People may understand and want to read my story, and they may not, but I know the writing decisions are all mine. I never studied creative writing in a college setting, but I did decide long ago, that I want to show my individuality and inventiveness through the proven “show — not tell” approach. Once I’ve mastered that to my satisfaction, I’d like to experiment. For now, the smackdown has done me a world of good. It was time.

The story is coming along well now, getting much better. I thank you, Lisa. Your input was essential. (And the smackdown, of course, was all in my mind.) Still, I’m surprised at how fierce and conflicting my emotions have been. They’re still fighting — there’s the child inside me who wants to pout and scream, “Well then, forget it! I don’t care anymore!” and then there’s the adult who wants to grow, and knows that it can’t be done in a vacuum.  They’re still swinging at each other. The adult is winning, but how could she lose? It’s not a fair fight.

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8 thoughts on “Smackdown!

  1. Good morning, Re! Congratulations on even subjecting your art form to such critique! You’re much more of an adult than I am! I DON’T want to go there! LOL! Although I occasionally solicit honest feedback on my writing, my need to just “get it out”, at this point, trumps any other need for critique and evaluation. As for now, I’m just loving the grounding benefits of writing more regularly. My turn to step in that ring will soon come, I am sure!

  2. Oh, man! I feel your pain! I too have taken direct hits on the jaw. I think you’re gonna be just fine though. If you write fiction half as well as you write blog posts, you’re golden. 🙂

  3. Critique hurts worse when it’s on a piece you secretly adore. I know the critiques I got on Second Sight hurt way more than they did on my current novel…which at this point sucks so bad all I want to do is throw it in the ire…

    Congratulations on stepping into the arena and taking that punch. You’ll be better for it!

  4. Ré, I’m so glad to read this post. 🙂 For me, getting critical feedback always feels like being smacked, even when it’s good, helpful, and kind. I love your image of the inner child and adult fighting with each other, because I think that’s how we experience our art-making. The one who creates the art is an inner child, who cares more about the joy of creating than about whether her creation is good in a critical sense. Then there’s the adult with the critical eye, who recognizes the need for revision, who cares about being published. In a very real sense, creation is always a collaboration, and so it’s natural that feedback always engenders tension: only one of the partners (the adult critical eye) even wants feedback in the first place, and even she is sensitive to it! The inner artist-child never asked for feedback at all, and now she doesn’t know why people are being so mean!

    As I said in my original feedback to your story, I really am honored to be asked to help you with your writing, because you are such a good writer. It’s energizing to me as well. 🙂

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