"It hurts when someone calls your baby ugly."
My co-author's comment rang painfully clear over the metallic thrum of the Metra train coasting along its tracks. We were on our way home after a writer's workshop in the city, and the "baby" she referred to was our book.
After years of balancing schedules, juggling real-life responsibilities, and carving out countless hours to write together our novel was finally finished. The result? Over 250,000 precious words detailing the beginning, middle, and end of each of our fictitious characters' journeys. We did it! [insert enthusiastic high five] But even as newbie authors we were keenly aware that just because you peck out those two little words on the very last page: The End doesn't necessarily mean the end. In fact, quite the opposite is true.
As fate would have it, one frosty winter morning, we each received an email announcing an upcoming revision workshop which included a "professional" critique of a chapter (or in our case, two) from your completed work or work in progress. Now, as you have undoubtedly surmised from the opening sentence in this post - our critique did not go as we had hoped. Comments like: amateur, cliché, too much backstory, were used to describe our chapters. OUCH. We thought we were prepared to hear the worst; we thought we had thick skin and could take it. But as the critique went on, each word stuck in our ears like glue, dulling the effect of any positive feedback that was given.
I would be lying if I said that attending that particular workshop was a great experience - it was awful. But since I'm being honest - I can also say that it was the kick in the pants we needed. We had become comfortable in our story, in our characters, and we clung to that 250,000 word count like their very existence depended upon it. We wrote the story as we saw it in our minds, in beautiful detail...lots and lots of detail. Was it possible that all that stuff we thought was absolutely necessary was actually holding us back?
We used the train ride back to the burbs as an opportunity to soothe our bruised egos with tiny paper cups of cheap wine and reflect on what we learned. Nobody wants to hear that they should scratch the first twenty pages of something they poured their heart into, and just because one person suggests doing so certainly doesn't mean you have to follow their advice. But if you're serious about taking your work to the next level and if you want that baby to grow and be adored by many - put it out there, keep an open mind, and revise at will, because much like growing pains, critiques are just part of the process.
Andrea Hunter lives in St. Charles, Illinois and is in a current state of revision with her co-author and their first novel - The Celestial Thread. Learn more about the author at www.thecelestialthread.squarespace.com