Even small bruises need to heal

One of my writing group partners emailed me a particularly rough critique last Saturday.

She wrote comments like, “I’m sure your readers are wondering how these people could be so stupid,” and “Would never happen,” and “Not likely,” and “Alright stop and think.”

Ouch, ouch, ouch.

She finished with, “This was a great chapter. Anxious to see what happens next.”

Yeah, right.

I tried to edit my work-in-progress afterwards. Tried to think about how I was going to tackle my next chapter. I felt like such a fraud. Who was I fooling, thinking I could write a story like this? Do I totally suck at cause and effect, at logic? Am I a complete idiot?

I struggled at my laptop all afternoon, but I had her voice in my head, way louder than my inner critic.

I know I don’t have to accept her opinion. However, she had valid points. But did she really have to deliver her thoughts quite like that?

In the past year, I’ve discovered I have a way of relating to people that isn’t healthy. They will unknowingly say or do something that hurts me and I retreat. I distance myself, put walls up, decide to share less with them next time I see them. Time goes by and I gradually reconnect with them, but I remember the slights. I guard myself. The other person has no idea how I feel or that something has upset me.  In other words, I’m a total fake.

I’m working on being more authentic with people in my world (especially after reading Boundaries: When to Say Yes, How to Say No to Take Control of Your Life with my small group at my new church—but that’s for another post).

The more I thought about my writing group partner’s critique, the more I realized—that was just mean. She was out of line. She should know better. She knows me. We’ve been in this group together for almost a year.

So you know what? I decided to perceive her words as small bruises rather than the blunt force trauma they felt like. Even small bruises need to heal, so I decided to let her know how I felt.

I wrote:

Thanks for these comments. Hard to take, some of them. Please remember to be gentle even if I write something ridiculous. My writing ego is fragile. 🙂

She replied within a day:

I’m sorry if I was too rough on you. Guess it’s just a holdover from my other [published writers] critique group. I’m told that’s how it will be with the publishers when we actually submit our stuff. A pleasant thought, right?

I’ll be nicer next time and I really apologies. I know how hurtful it can be when people critique your work when you’ve worked your heart and soul getting it down on the paper.

At times I feel I should just hang the whole thing up myself, and maybe I will. When you think about it, one writes for ones satisfaction and if one isn’t getting it anymore than they should stop. What does it mean in the long run anyway?

There I am being a fatalist…your story is really, really good and you should continue with it. It’s important. Sorry again.

Wow. Not only did she apologize, which I greatly appreciated, but she also shared her own writer’s angst. I replied with as much encouragement as I could, saying that her novel is imaginative, easy to read, unusual, intriguing, how much I look forward to each new chapter, how she needs to get her story out there.

When I see her at our next meeting on Saturday, I won’t have to be on my guard with her. The hurt is done. Over. Nothing to remember or hold on to. Authentic.

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.  —II Corinthians 12:9 NIV

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  1. This is a great moment that all writers can learn from. I am a freelance writing coach, and offering content feedback is part of my job. I know how important it is to tread carefully, but it does take a lot of restraint sometimes when we feel so passionately about writing.

    I have had my ms handed back to me with red marks scribbled all over it from fellow writers who thought they were being helpful. And it isn’t the negative feedback that hurts so much as the tone in someone’s voice (or pen, for that matter). I think we can generally handle a not-so-great critique when it’s given to us gently and respectfully.

    I’m glad you reached out and reminded her how to be a better writing partner. I’m sure your friendship and your working relationship is that much stronger for it. 🙂

    • Thanks Kate. I’m so glad I decided to acknowledge her comments rather than say nothing but allow her words to fester. I can take negative input but snarky? Not so much. I think this new boundary will be good for both of us. 🙂

  2. Critiquing is such a difficult process for everyone involved. I’m glad you found the courage to stand up for yourself – that will definitely silence the inner critic. 🙂

    • Thanks C.B.! And i want to say how much I appreciate you for providing me with my very first gentle but honest critique from a fellow writer – which gave me the courage to join a local group. Thank you!

  3. Your response was perfect. I’m glad it did your partner (and the rest of us) good. No, I’m not looking forward to that part of it all, if I ever finish this novel. Thanks for the prep!


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