“To See Oursel’s As Others See Us”

avatarby Neva Bodin

I attended a writers’ conference a number of years ago and was critiqued by a few authors who are quite successful. Craig Johnson, author of the Longmire stories and others, was very gentle and gave good tips on my story that needed much work and was blatantly a beginner’s rendering. About a year and a half ago, I got to meet with him at a writers gathering and thank him. He said he never wants to discourage someone who wants to write.

DSCN3129

Myself with Craig Johnson

Another person not so kind caused me to be, rightly or wrongly, defensive and while not much came out my mouth, my mind was working overtime on negative thoughts about this critique. It was hard to acknowledge the wisdoms I gained for quite a while. Forget thick skin!

I have often thought of the words of a Robert Burns poem wondering what others think about something I’ve done, or even when I see someone I feel is acting pretentiously.

“O wad some Pow’r the giftie gie us

To see oursels as others see us!

It wad frae monie a blunder free us

An’ foolish notion:

What airs in dress an’ gait wad lea’e us,

And ev’n Devotion!

http://www.scottishpoetrylibrary.org.uk/poetry/poems/louse-seeing-one-ladys-bonnet-church, web source February 1, 2018

It’s a long poem and for some reason from my youth, I only remember the first two lines of that stanza. However there are eight stanzas in the poem, each six lines each, rhyming aaabab in a style known as standard Habbie according to Wikipedia.

Tonight I read the whole poem, and discover it is to a louse that is crawling on a young lady’s hat at church! Written in 1786, that is basically the title: “To a Louse, on Seeing One on a Lady’s Bonnet at Church.”

Believe it or not, it brought memories of that critique back to me. For you see, during the rather snide remarks about the deficiencies in my manuscript, said in a forceful voice with no smile, I noticed a small bug crawling on the person’s collar.

Nurse Neva

My nursing grad pic 

I am a nurse, accustomed to straightening someone’s clothing, giving personal care, helping someone to sit, stand, eat, and…you get the picture. Normally, I may have leaned over, grabbed the bug before it disappeared under the collar onto the person’s neck, and explained my action. I sometimes don’t pause if the situation feels comfortable.

But! I didn’t. I want to be kind. Most of the time I try to be kind. But I didn’t feel I was being treated kindly. And after all, it was harmless (I think). And I said nothing. And soon the bug slipped inside and under the collar. I still feel bad.

The person doing the critique was surely trying to help me be a better writer. My skin just wasn’t thick enough, (my mind not ready in reality) to hear so much negativity about my “baby.”

And now to think that every time I run that stanza through my mind, I will think of that person!

One final thing, I was told by this author to not ever have a prologue, which my story did have. After the critique, I picked up a book by this author to buy. It had a prologue. I didn’t buy it.

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10 Responses to “To See Oursel’s As Others See Us”

  1. Mike Staton says:

    On the Online Writers Workshop of SF, Fantasy and Horror, I occasionally get a nasty review of one of the my chapters. For one of my chapters on my second Civil War book, I had some fellow call some of my dialogue trite. That’s a signal to me not to take him seriously. He did do a line crit, so I saved the review in case he finds any grammar problems. Over the years, I have found reviewers on the OWW who do valuable, helpful critiques. I nurture them. It’s interesting that many of the longtime reviewers including me tell potential future reviewers we don’t use the workshop’s numbers system — 1 through 5 with 5 excellent — for grading plot, characterization, etc. The grading system is too subjective and can be used to take cheap shots. I’ve gotten 1’s and 2’s and I’ve seen high-quality authors who use the site get similar grades. But the quality reviews make the subscription I pay to use the workshop worthwhile. It was started back in 2000 by editors who worked at Dell, but is now no longer associated with the publishing house.

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    • Neva Bodin says:

      That sounds like a worthwhile group. I recently read some writing tips that said to pay more attention to negative reviews after your book is out than the positive ones for learning. Of course, I just naturally pay attention to negative reviews because they hurt my feelings! While I tell fellow authors that the person was probably just having a bad day. But I can usually talk my self into looking at a critique with a critical eye and seeing the value in a critique and using it to make my writing better. But it took a year after the person I wrote about to be able to look at his critique and agree with some of it. Most authors/publishers are great with their critiques and are definitely a plus for me.

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  2. Haha, Neva, my favorite part of your post is the line: “I still feel bad.” I sent my book to the editor last weekend, and I’ve been breathing into a paper bag ever since…!

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    • Neva Bodin says:

      I can really relate about the breathing into a paper bag, and I used to be such a calm person in the face of disaster. But when I send one of my free lance articles to a publication, even though I am approved and hired to write them ahead of time, I find I have to talk a bit to my inner workings to settle down. Same with my children’s book. I blame it on hormones…. Thanks for the reply.

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  3. What an interesting story and poem. I guess some people expect you to do as they say and not as they do.

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    • Neva Bodin says:

      Thanks for the comment. I think you are right Abbie. I’ve actually had that happen with other critiques at conferences too, their book doesn’t quite follow what they told me. So maybe they discovered what they did was wrong!

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  4. M. K. Waller says:

    I enjoyed your post. My students thought that poem gross (when I explained what a louse is–they knew only the plural–but it’s one of my favorites. As to your criticism–yeah. Have you read Ralph Keyes’ The Writers’ Book of Hope? Keyes says all that new writers need is information and encouragement. The agents and editors who complain in articles that they receive submissions from writers (aka knotheads) who don’t know how to format, etc. are, to me, so discouraging. Even when you research, there’s something you miss. And when people in workshops ask about publication, instructors say, “Just write something first (in a tone of voice that implies “knothead.) Keyes says aspiring writers need to know how the business works before they write. And he explains it. And he says instructors should stop putting people down. The book is dated now, unless he’s updated to take in online submissions and such, But it made me feel much better about not knowing everything, and about starting out. Keyes said when an acquaintance introduced his wife as an aspiring writer, he said that was great and wished her luck, and thought, “You poor thing, you’ll never get published.” Then he saw her name in the credits on a television program. You just never know. And now I’ve gone into detail, and you’ve probably already read the book. Where books are concerned, enthusiasm overwhelms me.

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    • Neva Bodin says:

      I haven’t read that book but it sounds like a great one to read. Many years ago I had a children’s editor treat me that way (as a knot head) and it took about 10 years before I wrote another children’s story. Now I’ve published one. I know of aspiring authors leaving a writers conference in tears over their critiques. I will have to look for that book. Thanks for the great reply! I believe those who critique at conferences should receive a little coaching first on how to be helpful and maybe guiding a beginning author instead of crushing them. I’ve had some really great ones also, more of them so perhaps it’s all good learning for me!

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  5. Wranglers says:

    I am laughing. You have a way with these blogs that always bring back a memory to me. I remember her the first art critique I had. I went home and told my husband Critique was just a word to allow people to Critisize. I never put my art up for Critique for at least another year. I wish there had been a Bug on the Collar of her shirt. Thanks Cher’ley

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  6. S. J. Brown says:

    As a writer you have to remember not all advise is good advice. As a professional she should have better communication skills. Then she could have shared constructive criticism without making you feel small. Personally when I went to leave the interview I would have remarked” By the way s bug just crawled down your top.”

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