Last year about this time is when No Red Pen: Writers, Writing Groups & Critique published. Inspired by my experiences in formal and informal writing workshops and writers’ groups, No Red Pen was a labor of love for other writers, especially those starting out. The book is a free download currently from most online Ebook retailers with print versions available online. No Red Pen is a toolbox for becoming a provider of effective, useful critique in a respectful manner of both the work and the writer. For this blog tour, I’ve posted below a chapter from the book. Enjoy.
Chapter 4 from No Red Pen: Writers, Writing Groups & Critique – FEAR
Fear is a huge reason why people don’t join a writer’s group or seek out criticism, yet we know that feedback is essential to the writing process. Fear keeps writers from ever moving a manuscript from the drawer to the mailbox. Fear gets in the way. A writer venturing into the world of critique groups or returning after a poor group experience has a valid emotion when experiencing fear. Let’s not belittle the power of fear.
Fear, however, can also be a friend. Fear is a little voice that taps you on the shoulder and says, “Psst, pay attention.” Fear in a critique group is fear of failure; fear no one will like the writer, the work will be rejected, the people will be mean, the feedback will hurt, the process will be too difficult…There are many, many reasons to fear the unknown in venturing into a group of people, usually strangers (at least in the beginning) to whom the writer will expose her product of imagination or experience and hard work. One of the biggest fears an emerging or new writer has is that no one will like the work that has been labored over and poured out with heartfelt dedication.
“This is my heart and soul,” the writer says, “Do you like it?” Meaning of course, do you like me?
For a writer that wants to improve, the first step is letting go of that fear. Recognize that the writing is not the writer’s identity. The writing is not the writer’s self. The writing is just words on a page that create an experience for the reader to share and immerse oneself within. The writing ( even when you are telling a story where you are the main character) is not about you, the writer.
Letting go, in any aspect of life, is just plain difficult. It is not like we have a little button to click in the brain, the Letting Go Button. Letting go is a huge psychological process. Like any skill developed over time, with practice, the skill of letting go becomes if not easier, then more streamlined, faster, unconscious in its effort.
Successful letting go requires acknowledgement that there is something to let go of. In terms of joining a critique group, the writer must make the movement from not being in a group to joining and participating in a group. When fear is the obstacle in the way of the movement, and that fear is not acknowledged, all manner of other reasons will manifest: – no time, don’t know how, don’t know where to find one, don’t know what to do in one, the work isn’t ready… If you really want to join a group, none of these issues is a true obstacle. Let’s face it, “The work isn’t ready.” That is the whole point of the group, to help get the work ready! So, let’s go back to fear and letting it go.
Acknowledge that fear is the problem in the way. If you can focus specifically on what you are afraid of, that may be helpful though it’s not all that necessary at this stage. Notice how attached you are to that nice, comfortable fear? It’s what you know, it’s what you’ve been with for a while. Really, isn’t that fear a little like a buddy you’ve had with you a long time, sort of your teddy bear for not doing things? Think about letting that fear go be on its own now without you. Oh, there, did you feel that – that little twinge of guilt? That reflex of loyalty to what you’ve always known?
Fear is comfortable. Fear can be cozy. Fear can be a good friend or a frenemy. You get to choose. Once you are aware of your fear, you get to choose what to do with the fear. Let it lead the way, or let it move to the background and while present, fear is not in control. Sometimes we take our teddy bears with us long after we have outgrown them just because it makes venturing out into the unknown easier. Eventually, when we are ready, we put the teddy bear away, on its shelf. You can do the same thing with that fear that gets in the way of joining a critique group.
“I’m afraid to join a writers group.” Good acknowledgement.
“I can be afraid and still join a writers group.” Now you have moved forward and started to let go.
What does fear the friend whisper to you as you move forward?
“Pssst. Be safe. Take care of you.”
What is the worst that could happen?
Complete strangers who have no obligation to say nice things, won’t.
Mere acquaintances, who don’t know or care about little me, will slice and dice my heartfelt story.
These strangers, the competition, the perceived experts will tear me apart.
Oh wait, not me, the work.
So what enables a writer to put her work out there for critique?
Simply, have good boundaries. Like just about every other situation in life, good boundaries in a writing group keep us safe, promote civility and provide guidance for interaction. This is the work and this is the person who wrote the work. The feedback is about the work, not about the person. Not liking the work is not equal to not liking the person.
Boundaries make it safe for fear to not lead the way. A good sense of boundaries in terms of your writing means an understanding of where you, the individual is, and where the writing begins. The individual has many facets and aspects of identity. The writing is a product of the individual’s work, imagination and skill but is not the whole of the writer. Writers have a relationship with their writing and like other personal relationships, the lines can become blurred. Recognize that you, the writer, are not the product, the writing. Separate yourself from what is produced and it will be easier to hear criticism. You will not take the critique personally because you understand the critique is not about you.
Demonstrating a healthy relationship with your writing encourages healthy interaction with those who would offer critique. Have a sense of self that is greater than the writing. Now when you invite critique, you are not inviting criticism of self, merely feedback on the work. Your critique readers will appreciate that as it invites honest feedback that isn’t limited by concern for the writer’s feelings.
Freedom to give honest feedback is not license for abuse, disrespect or insult.
/End of Chapter 4/
Fear is your friend, in writing, and in life since it is telling you to pay attention. Just remember, you’re in charge, so you decide what to listen to when Fear peeks up.
Be sure to check out other participants in the Valentines I Heart Books Blog Tour.