Our local NaNoWriMo group is engaged on a new venture: we decided to take things a step further and form a Critique Group. A week ago we had our first meeting, and we decided that every month, everyone would submit few pages of their work, and we’d all read it and give each other feedback. Sounds great, right?
Now, in the week since, two of our group members have put up posts on their blogs, saying basically the same thing, namely how scary it is to stick out your neck and hand over your work to someone else to criticise. And the reaction I had to both their posts was nothing so much as, “You feel that way, too?”
See, in the group, we’re all very self-assured, poised, and articulate; we have things to say and opinions to state; we’re writers; we’re cool. But, as it turns out, when we go home and look over our material for something to send to everyone, we want to pull in our little snail antennae and cower in our shells, quietly whimpering. Because sending our stuff out there into the world is risky!
So as I was sitting here this morning thinking about this, beside me on the kitchen floor played out a little drama: Louis the Now-Very-Large Kitten was stalking a stinkbug. (Don’t ask me what the stinkbug was doing in my kitchen in January. Maybe it hitched a ride into the house on a piece of firewood on which it was trying to overwinter?)
Now Louis is the kind of cat who, whatever else you can say about him, is not a tim’rous wee beastie. He’s curious. And persistent. The bottle caps and walnuts in the shell that he has slain number in the dozens, and the corpses are accumulated in the corners of the living room and under the kitchen stove drawer. So when there was this new and very interesting black little thing moving about the kitchen floor all on its own, Louis was mesmerised. He stared at it. He put out a paw and batted it. He stared at it some more, and batted at it some more – and so on.
After quite a while of this, he decided on a different approach: he tried to take a bite. And the inevitable happened: the stinkbug sprayed.
Well! Louis jerked back. He made faces. Pt pt pt pt! he tried to spit the icky taste out of his mouth. He climbed on a cardboard box to get the high-ground advantage over this unexpectedly dangerous thing, squinting down at it with eyes that were obviously stinging with stinkbug juice. He blinked and blinked again, went pt pt! a few more times – and then he went right after the bug again. More cautiously this time – he stayed well back for a few minutes, stalking it from a distance – but he kept at it. He crawled between the potted plants, flipped over the patio door mat to find it – he wasn’t going let that funny black thing get away from him. Even though it squirted icky stuff in his face, Louis was determined to get that bug. He took a risk – he got burned – and he went right back to risk again.
How very metaphorical, isn’t it? Louis the Cat and the Stinkbug. Now, I’m not saying that us writers are stinkbugs – uh, no. But that large orange-and-white fuzzball was rather inspiring this morning. He exuberantly takes risks, gets results that sting, then goes right on risking.
So even if getting feedback on your stories can sometimes sting (and sometimes stink, as well), it’s worth going back to risk it again. And the good thing is that as writers we know we all feel the same – sharing our work is scary. But we do it anyway.
Life, the Universe, Stink Bugs and Writers. I think Louis would say that the exhilaration of the hunt is worth the sting.