Crits for Water

Clean water is something we take for granted, but not everyone has access to it. The Singing Fountains of Ploshschad Lenina

You can help change that. Team Megibow agent-mate Kat Brauer is once again organizing her annual Crits for Water drive, where I'm offering a query letter critique in exchange for a donation to this important cause. Writer Mary Baader Kaley was also kind enough to interview me on her blog about my thoughts on critiquing.

In case you're wondering why the picture of a fountain in Russia...surprisingly, the water supply in St. Petersburg, a major European city, is non-potable, and must be boiled before drinking. But lots of places have it worse.

I Crit for Water

Pride and prejudice

Lately I've been noticing a trend of mine when it comes to my writing: I believe every negative word someone says about it. I have no problem taking criticism; rejection notes and editing notes all ring true to me—unless it's something that really feels fundamentally wrong, like a rejection I got once saying Belphagor and Vasily's love story was a distraction that weakened The House of Arkhangel'sk. That kind of note I can look at objectively and realize the reader was simply the wrong reader for me. But if the criticism is that I didn't create strong enough goals, or a character's motivations aren't clear, or the writing isn't captivating enough, or a character is too passive, or any of those reasonable sounding, justifiable criticisms, I take them straight to heart. Because who am I to read such criticism and decide it doesn't apply to me? It seems like the height of arrogance for me to dismiss any of it, particularly if it's coming from a professional in the industry. They know their business. If they didn't love my story, it's because I failed.

Then there's praise. I've received it from critique partners and beta readers. I receive it in abundance from my wonderful agent. But I tend to think these people are a bit prejudiced. I mean, yes, they'll tell me when reading a draft if something doesn't work, but they like my work and I already know that going into it. Still, for the most part, I can accept that praise, though there is a point where I begin to dissociate from it. Sure, sure, I tell myself. They liked it. Maybe they even liked it a lot. But they know me and they know I need external validation to keep going. And if it's particularly high praise, I start to feel like I'd be a conceited jerk if I actually take it to heart.

And then there's praise from people who don't have a vested interest in boosting my ego. As much as I crave it, that really wigs me out. I recently received a blurb from one of my favorite writers that knocked my socks off. It didn't come out of the blue; I asked if she would consider reading the manuscript and giving it a blurb. Obviously, I was hoping she would like it and say nice things.

But here's the thing: I find myself cringing just posting that link. I'm not sure I can even complete this blog post. I don't think I have the right to believe that praise, let alone tell someone else about it.

Now, I'm not totally crazy. A more reasonable part of me is smacking the back of my head in frustration. Do I honestly think everyone who says anything positive about my writing is blowing smoke up my ass? Of course not. But who am I to read such praise and believe it applies to me?

Clearly, I have a strange relationship with my writing. It means everything to me, and I long to be good at it and to have others think so too. And at the same time I get physically ill at the thought of sharing my work with someone for the first time. The conversation between my loony personalities goes something like this:

Self 1: What if they hate it?

Self 2: Shut up. Why would they hate it? It's a good story!

Self 1: Oh, so now you're the arbiter of good fiction? You can't possibly know if it's any good. That's for them to say. And they'll probably hate it.

Self 3: Oh my God. I hate you both.

Yeah, I didn't say it was pretty.

Okay, writer friends: tell me I'm not alone. This is normal-crazy, right? Right?? Anyone? Beuller?