The Best or The Worst Critique; What Was Yours?
By Author Donna Jean McDunn
When I started writing at a very young age, I did it for myself because I had something I wanted to say. I never thought about getting published or who might want to read my stories. I just knew I loved to write.
Looking back at that time, I didn’t have a fear of being laughed at or criticized at least not until someone said, “I thought you had a better imagination than that”. Those words were spoken by my older sister, who is nine years older than I am, after I foolishly let her read a short story I had written. I was fifteen.
I put that short story away and didn’t look at it again for many years, but those words echoed in my brain for a long time whenever I was writing and I’d feel that same squeezing pain in my heart and wonder if I could ever be good enough.
I continued to write back then though, but my readers consisted only of my close friends, who I knew would love my stories, because they usually had the leading roles.
Of course I finally grew up and would write sometimes, but with a husband, three growing daughters, a full time job as a short order cook and livestock and gardening, I didn’t have much time or energy for much writing. But as the saying goes, “Nothing ever stays the same”.
Our daughters grew up too and finally moved out of the house. I still work full time, but now I work in an office that allows me to use my free time for whatever I want. We no longer have livestock, but we do still garden. I just don’t freeze and “can” produce as much as I used to.
By the time 2008 rolled around, we had six grandkids and I began thinking about writing a story for the two oldest granddaughters. They both loved to read, but then while reading a storybook to two of my grandsons, I suddenly saw something in my grandkids I hadn’t seen in anyone in many years; a safe audience. I could count on them to like what I wrote and not criticize.
I pulled out my old stories. I hadn’t read any of them in years and now I could see how lame they were. As for the story I had my sister read, well it wasn’t the gem I had thought it was all those years ago. My reaction wasn’t even as nice as what my sister had said to me. I didn’t know why I felt that way. I just knew they sucked and I needed help.
I decided right then, I had to write a story all the grandkids would love, starring the feral mother of five new kittens we found in the woodpile a few weeks before. I already thought of a title, “Wild and Free”.
But first, I had to take a writing class and boy did it open my eyes. I had the answer to why my sister thought I had no imagination and why I knew all the stories I had written as a kid sucked.
I had made the same mistakes almost all new writers make. I used a lot of dreams and the protagonist’s memories to fill in back story I felt my readers needed to know. But in the story my sister read, I had made the biggest mistake of all, I had my protagonist wake up and realize the entire story had only been a nightmare.
At the time, I thought it was clever and original and maybe it was when the first few hundred writers used a dream to end their stories back when they first invented the alphabet, but even in 1965, an ending like that was pretty lame.
All the new knowledge about “how” to write led me on a new mission. I wanted to fix the mistakes I had made in that short story my sister read. I worked on it for over two years. The story grew from a short story, to a young adult paranormal/mystery novel. The story changed so much it doesn’t resemble the original at all. The title, “Nightmares” and the fact my protagonist has nightmares are the only things I didn’t change. In fact I can guarantee Emily the protagonist, will not wake up and find she’s only had a nightmare.
Muse It Up Publishing will release my book “Nightmares” in May 2013. I’ve started working on the sequel.
I look back now and realize, even though it hurt, my sister did me a huge favor by telling me what she really thought. It was something I needed to hear. It’s true she could have done it in a kinder way. I’m still grateful though because it turned out to be the worst and the best critique ever for me. It sparked the motivation to take those writing classes forty-six years later just so I could finally prove her wrong and write a great story for my grandkids.
- My grandkids benefited too. In the picture above, all six of them received the story “Wild and Free” for Christmas that year. It has pictures of the real animals the story is about and there are pictures of them in it too. They loved it or at least that’s what they said. Now I have two more grandkids. I guess it’s time for a new story for them.How about you, what was the best and/or worst thing someone has said about your writing?As always, I love comments and appreciate your opinions or questions. If you leave your blog or website address, I’ll visit and comment. If you’d rather be found on Facebook, LinkedIn or Twitter, I will like, be friends, follow, or Tweet.
My facebook author page is: http://www.facebook.com/donnajeanmcdunn
My facebook profile page is http://www.facebook.com/mcdunndonnajean
It’s been said that writing is a lonely business and that’s true, but if we writers and readers continue to support one another, then we are no longer alone.