This month my short story ‘The Lake’s Lost’ has been critiqued in Writing Magazine’s Under the Microscope.
Happy New Year! Despite being housebound with some nasty flu-like bug for the first few days of 2020, I’m feeling strangely optimistic about this year and the twenties as a decade in general. I’ve also started feeling more positive about my writing. This is in part due to two things:
- I’ve finished the re-write of my novel and have began researching agents to initially send it off to. Now just for the somewhat gruelling task of rewriting the synopsis…
- My face popped up in Writing Magazine this month, in their ‘Under the Microscope’ section. Any version of putting your name out there is better than not putting your name out there, right? And this rather public critique is what today’s blog post is about.
‘The Lake’s Lost’ is a short story I wrote whilst living in Canada in 2017 (yikes I can’t believe that’s 3 years ago now). It’s one of those stories I’ve had a few attempts at sending out with no luck, so it’s been put on the back burner for a while. I’ve always had the niggling feeling that the opening to the story (no doubt in addition to other sections) isn’t working as well as it should be. Despite that, I’ve still not completely given up on this story as I feel it has potential and is based on one of my favourite experiences whilst in Canada.
That’s why when I saw the opportunity to send the opening 300 words of a short story in to Under the Microscope at Writing Magazine, I thought it could be a good opportunity to get a professional critique and learn where I’m going wrong.
Under the Microscope – The Lake’s Lost – Writing Magazine
The Stages of Receiving Critique
I’ve previously written about how important it is to receive feedback on your work.It is an almost crucial step towards making you a better writer. However just because it’s important, it doesn’t always mean it’s an easy process. I’ve highlighted the four stages I experience when receiving a critique below and hope to explain them in relation to my Under the Microscope critique.
- The Emotional Response
- The Taking a Step Back
- The Analysis
- The Rewrite
Stage 1: The Emotional Response
We’re only human after all. If you’ve spent hours working on a piece of writing, only for someone to come along with a blunt red pen and tell you everything that’s wrong with it, you won’t be alone in feeling an emotional response. You may experience anger or frustration, or you may feel disheartened about your writing.
I particularly struggle when I receive critiques that make criticisms about my story, which I feel is based on the ‘critiquer’ not fully understanding the context. This causes me to just into my defence mode, and shout at the screen (or magazine) – “you just don’t understand!”
For example, I remember feeling annoyed at a critique before which stated my inclusion of the term ‘The High Street’ was incorrect. They explained ‘the’ was ungrammatical. However, in the UK High Street is a common term used for a row of shops in a town centre and is not necessarily a street name.
So, what was my emotional response to my Under the Microscope critique? It’s easy when receiving feedback to jump on the negative points and ignore the usually overall positive message.
A Lake’s Lost is based on a real-life location in Canada called Moose Lake in Jasper Provincial Park. Most of the description in the story is inspired by my own experiences of seeing moose at that lake in autumn, when the water was still frozen in parts yet the ground around the lake muddy.
I was therefore somewhat confused (incoming emotional response) when the critique stated points such as “A moose in an inherently amusing animal so it’s best to avoid unnecessary humour” and “moose-related assonance that could provoke an inadvertent smirk”.
Instantly, I felt like penning a letter titled ‘What do you have against moose?’ but then I stopped myself (and decided to write this blog instead). It’s never a good idea to respond to a critique whilst you are still in the emotional stage.
What can we learn from this? Both the above examples show we need to carefully think about who our reader is and whether they will understand the context of the story. What market are you writing for? Will they understand that moose are common in Canada or that it’s not unusual to find patches of ice in the remote parts of the provincial parks? Never assume the reader will have had the same experiences as you.
Stage 2: The Taking a Step Back
Stop looking at your critique. For an hour, a day, a week… however long it takes for you to get over the emotional response stage. Make a cup of tea, go for a walk, work on a new project… There aren’t any rules.
In my next blog post I will discuss the next two stages of receiving a critique: the analysis and the rewrite.
The full critique is available in this month’s edition of Writing Magazine (Feb 2020).