Most authors do it: share our draft work with people, hoping to learn what we can do better. Sometimes, we participate in critique groups. Sometimes, we have “first readers.” Or “beta readers.” Or “critique partners.” Whatever we call it the process is the same: Writer plunges in a knife, exposing her heart and all other vital bodily organs. Critic(s) deliver(s) body blow after body blow after body blow, tearing apart the work in question.
Oh. Maybe that’s just the way I see things.
When I first started writing seriously, I joined up with an online writers workshop, exchanging my work with fellow participants and collecting criticism through email. That was the perfect medium for me — I could go through all five stages of grief in the privacy of my own home.
What? You don’t apply the five stages of grief to critiques? The five stages were originally defined by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, a psychiatrist. They are:
Denial: You’re wrong about my novel. I’ve written a brilliant 100,000 words. They’re funny, insightful, sensitive, lyrical, pretty much a NYT bestseller, Pulitzer-Prize winner, and Hugo-and-Nebula-Award lock.
Anger: You, o critic, are short-sighted, biased, and humorless. You wouldn’t recognize quality literature if it jumped onto your to-be-read pile. I don’t even like what you write, and I can’t imagine why I ever wasted my time waiting for your critique of my work.
Depression: I’m the worst author who ever set fingerpads to keyboard. I might as well end my misery now — I’m never writing another word. I think I’ll delete the entire novel from my computer. With a book that stinks this bad, I might have to reformat the hard drive as well. My hopes and dreams of writing are dashed forever.
Bargaining: Well, I’ll make a couple of changes, to answer my critic’s complaints. Maybe that character *was* a little inconsistent in his actions. Maybe that middle *did* sag. If I give up my favorite movie quotations, spouting from that character’s mouth, can I keep the Monty Python allusions throughout?
Acceptance: Okay. The critique wasn’t one hundred percent on point (nothing ever is), but my novel isn’t perfect. I need to rework the plot (or the characters, or the worldbuilding), I can make this a better book. I *will* make this a better book, starting with edits today.
Sound familiar? Does anyone else have these one-sided conversations as they read through critique notes?
For what it’s worth, I think that there are a few other emotions that Kubler-Ross doesn’t address directly with her five stages. I’d add: