by 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.
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.
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.