I’ve been doing this critique thing a long time. I met one of my current critique partners before my son was born, before he was even much more than a possibility in my future. I’m pretty used to the ups and downs that go with submitting my work, having my critique partners chew it into tiny pieces read it, and listening to what they have to say. Like all good critique groups, most days are great; a few are tough.
Monday was different. It was the first time I’d submitted a picture book, not to mention the first picture book I’ve ever written.
I had a mini visceral flashback as I was driving to the meeting. My stomach was churning, just a bit, with that balanced mix of nervousness and excitement that, to be honest, I’d almost forgotten existed. Nervous: What if they can’t stand it? (Translation: What if I realize I should never have started this picture book, let alone thought about writing anymore?) Excitement: What if they absolutely love it? (Translation: What if it becomes obviously clear that all I have to do is come home and start emailing queries and this book will be on the shelf in six months?)
Yes, both extremes, both equally unlikely. What happened, of course, was that they were all very excited about what I’ve gotten on the page, loved specific pieces of it, and had some wonderfully brilliant suggestions about what isn’t working yet and what to do about it.
But the feeling in the car made me think back to when I was just starting out with critique groups, looking for one that was a good fit, mailing around copies of my work to people I’d never met, so they could read my writing for the first time. And I thought, this is what everybody goes through when they make the leap–when they jump into their first group.
Duh. Well, of course, I know this. It’s why I wrote my book. But still, this was a strong, physical reminder of what that feels like.
It’s a risk. Stepping into a group, whether it’s your first time or yet another round of trying to find your place, puts you and your writing on the line–emotionally. Even if you know, logically, that the critiquers’ responses to your writing will stay out of those extreme reactions, you still hope for totally positive feedback and fear the bad stuff. You will have butterflies in your stomach on the way to your first meeting, or as you submit your first chapter to an online group, and those butterflies won’t disappear after Day 1.
They will, however, go away eventually–making themselves available for another writer ready to take the leap. Your stomach will calm, your hands will relax their grip on the coffee cup at meetings. You’ll start to see the pattern of good and bad in the feedback you receive, and that mix will strengthen your writing and your confidence in your own abilities.
So, if you’re standing by the river, wondering, take off your shoes and dip a toe or three into the water. Start your hunt. Scary? Yeah. And worth it.