Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Don't Fix Me

I had a friend who would always give me advice**.

When I'd say: Urgh, laundry is piling up at home. It's such a pain. I just can't keep up with it.

She'd tell me: What you need to do, is do a load every day. And put it away as soon as it's done. That's what I do.

Let's take a closer look.

What I really said: I have a tough time balancing what I want to do (write) with what I need to do (everything else). I wish there was a way to magically get all the work done so I can focus on my writing career. Unless I find a cleaning fairy, and trick her into being my personal servant, I guess I'm going to have to suck it up and do the house work. But only when I have to. :)

What she really said: I am better than you at life. I have my priorities straight, and get everything done. I won't let anyone see that sometimes I'm not in control of my life. I will reach down (from my pedestal) and try to lift you up to my standards. 

Okay, now clearly, my friend probably didn't mean to say this. But by always telling me how I should do things, that was what she was communicating. That she was better at something than me. Not that I had my own way that should be respected. Not that I should be enjoyed in spite of (or because of--gasp--) all my laundry flaws. And, not that she was going to support me through my laundry crisis.

But that she was going to fix it.

Fix me.

This is not to say that I don't want expertise. I WANT expertise. If you know how to fix my computer, and can show me how, that's super awesome. In fact, if anyone out there knows how to fix a dryer which won't spin, PLEASE tell me!!

But don't fix me.

I have some wonderful crit partners. They are tough. Very tough on my WIPs. They tell me what works, what doesn't. They tell me which parts pulled them out from the book, made their thoughts wander. Sometimes they tell me I'm crazy.

But they don't try to fix the crazy.

They don't say: Your main character should do this... or, I would write it like this...

They do say: In chapter two, the goal of your main character isn't clear. That pulled me out of the scene.

It's a fine line, I know.

But the perspective of the first example is that they know what is best for my story, for ME, and they will pull me up and teach me what it is. Which is awfully presumptuous. And a little jerky.

The perspective of the second example is that they are there to support me to make my writing better. In fact, if you read between the lines, they are confident that I know the solution, and can make the scene better.

Which may be true, or might not be true. If it's not, then because of that awesome critique, I now know what the issue is. And if I have an issue in one work, it's probable that I have a similar issue in another work. And I need to figure out what the fix is, or if I need to do some craft related research, so I can learn how to fix it. But it's mine to fix.

Don't fix me.

Don't fix my writing.

I love this quote:
Remember: when people tell you something's wrong or doesn't work, they are almost always right. When they tell you exactly what's wrong and how to fix it, they are almost always wrong. ~ Neil Gaiman
But, seriously, about the dryer--anyone?

How do you go about crits? How do you quiet your voice when it says to you, "if this was my work, I would write it this way..."?

What type of crit do you find most helpful? Have you had bad experiences with critiques? Good experiences? Do you let people know ahead of time what type of feedback works for you?

Update on ROW80--I lost sight of my goals for a few days. I could use the excuse of a laundry crisis, but I won't. I'm spending the day chatting with a crit partner, and getting back on track. How are you doing with your goals?

**I hope all of my friends aren't cringing over the time that they gave me laundry advice. I would love to hear how you get your laundry done. This particular friend just always told me how to be a better person, and is no longer my friend (not because of that trait alone, but I have to say that not being her friend makes my life much better). :) Also, if she were as cute as that kitten, I would have probably suffered through the advice!


  1. When I do hand-written critiques I'm like the second example you give, I don't tell anybody what to do, just what bothered me. Buuuuuut when I'm face-to-face with someone and they're telling me about their book, I am all over "fixing" it. I can't help it. It's just so obvious to me what's "wrong" with the book and the easiest way to make it "better." My way. :) Seriously, I do do this. About 60% of the time, people are really grateful. Hah!

  2. This made me laugh so hard. I think everyone does the "fixing" thing sometimes, but a few people just can't seem to stop. I am a disaster with car keys. I think I spend 15% of my waking hours looking for them. I therefore divide the population of the world into the following two groups:

    Group A: "I know, right? It's like I repel car keys. What IS that?"

    Group B: "You know, you should put your keys in the same place every time you walk in the door. That way, you will always know where they are."

    Group B obviously thinks I am too stupid to have thought of that. Stupid is not my problem. My problem is that I am constitutionally incapable of putting the keys in the same place every time because I have eleventy-teen other thoughts bouncing around my brain when I walk in the door so I don't even realize I have keys in my hand. They end up wherever my first stop is. Bathroom, refrigerator, laundry room, who knows?

    But fixing writing is different for me. I don't usually offer "fixes" when I crit, but I absolutely do not mind if someone else does. At least in a general way. Sometimes someone farther from the work sees an obvious solution I overlooked. I have a dreadful tendency to consider words on the page as historically accurate and not subject to change so I miss opportunities for improvement until a critter nudges me with a suggestion.

  3. Fantastic post, H! You fix appliances, meals, and robots - you do not fix people!

  4. I totally agree!! When you say things like "I never have time for this", people always say one of two things:

    1.) "Me neither! I hate how I never have time for anything."

    2.) "Maybe you should write a schedule for yourself. That always works for me."

    But what we want to hear is response #1. We want to be accepted for who we are, not changed.

  5. What an awesome post, about so much more than laundry and time management LOL. About friendship, about communication, about life. Am RTing!

  6. @Anita--LOL I think it's so funny that in person, people get the no-holes-barred will-tell-you-exactly-what-you-can-do-with-THAT-ending Anita. I can't wait until you and I get to meet IRL. Whenever that happens to be!!

    @Laurel--You hit the nail on the head--my friend couldn't see that she was calling me too stupid to know how to actually do laundry. I have an issue with keys as well. :) Some of your phrases have me cracking up-- "constitutionally incapable" and "historically accurate and not subject to change". LMFAO


    @Jess--I agree. And quite honestly, I love it when people fess up to their "flaws". I love to know what people are human. Then I feel connected to them. :)

  7. @KarenG--Oh, so sweet! Thanks! I like to throw in the kitchen sink. And a kitten for good measure. Thanks for stopping by!

  8. When I had a non-spinning dryer, it was the belt around the outside of the tub that had broken. Not an easy fix, but we did manage to do it. Don't ask me how - that was years ago.

    While I totally understand about the "fix" motif having been there myself (since fixing others before they knew they needed fixing was a survival mechanism), I have a hard time putting my writing suggestions into words. It's easier for me to rewrite something and say 'this is how I would do it' but I'm sure it's of more value if I could find the words to describe what and why.

  9. To be fair, what you really said was "Urgh, laundry is piling up at home. It's such a pain. I just can't keep up with it." That your Fix-It/Superior Dancing friend chose not to listen more deeply to hear what you were meaning through those words tells more about the depth of the friendship and the kind of person she is.

    However, you still failed to be clear in what you were meaning. That's a huge problem with writers, too.

    Any good criticism details what does and does not work and why. In fact, without the whys, such criticism is practically empty praise/damning. This is precisely why finding a good critique partner is so difficult and why, once you've found one, they're easily worth their weight in gold.

    -- Tom

  10. @Sarah--THANK YOU! I will see if I can find the dryer belt. :)

    And, I think that you raise a great point. How to explain how something doesn't work. Sometimes we don't have the words to explain it. Many times I don't know why something doesn't work in my own writing. :)

    I bet you are kind in your 'showing' crits!

  11. @Tom--I was hoping that someone would call me out on how poorly I communicated my feelings about laundry to my friend.

    To close the gap between saying and meaning is probably pretty essential in writing, and yet identifying with our characters when they live in the gap--that's important too.

    I also agree that the "why" something doesn't work is the key. Otherwise revision for me is just banging my head against the wall.

    That kitty picture was for you, btw. :)

  12. My three critique partners have all been awesome! And most of their observations have been spot on, so I go with the flow.
    As for laundry - my wife does it.

  13. P.S. I find it helps in communication if you say first that you just need to bitch for a minute and then the friend can listen without feeling the need to offer you the assistance you seem to be seeking.

  14. P.P.S. The same is especially true when it comes to critiques. Ask for what kind of feedback you're looking for and you might just get it.

  15. Great post! Your friend clearly didn't have the ability to dig beneath the surface to understand your real meaning, which is sad. In terms of critiques, I think honest feedback is important, though I still have a hard time getting/receiving it for fear of hurting someone else or getting hurt myself. I'm trying to thicken my skin, but it's hard, since so many people don't know how to do it in a positive, effective way.

  16. @Alex--I'm so glad you have some awesome crit partners. So nice to have people who can see your vision for your book! Envious of your laundry situation. :)

    @Sarah--I agree whole heartedly that the best scenario is to communicate feedback preferences upfront--you're smart to do so. I do so when asking for crits, but not so much with the laundry discussions! Although this friend was great for that wake-up call. Many times, I start a convo with #DontJudgeMe. :)If I'm okay with my flaws, I find other people are too. :)

  17. @Heather--Thick skin is so hard. I know that my crit partners will tell me what I already know is wrong with a piece of writing, and it is still hard to hear. And the times when they tell me something which I didn't see are worth their weight in gold. But it still sets me back a day or so, for me to get over myself, and get back the confidence to fix the issues. I wish it were easier, less personal!

  18. I cringed a little when I read the beginning of your post because I am a bit of a fixer! I would never utter the, "That's what I would do," line, but I am fond of offering up suggestions!

    However, when I am critiquing someone's writing, that is a whole different ball game. I always do that with care because as you pointed out - the writer always knows their own story the best. :D

  19. I like how you tied this experience back into writing and critique etiquette! I've heard when someone has a problem with a section, better to pay attention to where they had the problem rather than what they think would solve it... That's not to say that a good brainstorm with others can't help - only it's YOUR writing and the answers have to resonate for you.
    thanks for sharing this, and thanks as well for being part of the 2012 Comment Challenge!
    Keep on commenting,

  20. For my writing I'll take any critique I can get! For my life, though, I'm with you. Those kind of comments are not helpful. Laundry fairies would be very helpful. . .

  21. This is a good pullup for me. It's way to easy to tell people how to fix things.

    Susan of Pen and Ink

  22. I have not had much luck with critiques. I've wound up with many terribly nice people. Too nice. Too encouraging. Too much "Oh, this is nice." Not nearly enough "This is where you should concentrate on revising".
    It's not helpful to only praise.
    Conversely, when someone keeps handing me the same manuscript over and over with virtually no changes, I have to wonder why they are bothering to ask for any feedback at all.

  23. After carefully reading your post, what you should do is...

  24. Soooo true, Heather! I always tell my students on the first day of workshopping: "Don't try to make the story into something you would write. Instead, look at what it actually is and try to give feedback that will help the writer make it better." I'm happy to say that this seems to stick with them.

  25. Lily Cate, I've had similar expiriences. You wouldn't be looking for a crit partner by any chance, would you?

  26. @Kyra--Hi! Maybe I came out too strongly against suggestions--I think there is a place for those, especially respectful give and take. I love to chat through a plot issue with a crit partner on gchat. I bet you are very respectful and supportive when you offer up ideas to a crit partner!

    @Lee--I agree. The focusing on what isn't working is the best use of time! I love your reminder about brainstorming. That's one of my favorite parts of writing. Brainstorming with others! Thanks for stopping by! I love your comment challenge!

    @Rachel--If only we knew of a fairie we could press into our service. I would totally share her with you!

    @Susan--I know! I get so tempted to rewrite something for someone, or show them how I would do it. I read the opening of someone's WIP, and thought to myself, I would just change that one thing. How to explain that respectfully is tough. :) I guess Tom is right--there always has to be a compelling 'why'.

  27. @Lily Cate--that's a bummer. My husband calls that damning something with faint praise. Not so helpful!

  28. Please send the cleaning fairly to my house once you find him/her. Love the quote and how you suggest to helpfully critique.

  29. @Anthony--LMAO :)

    @Anna--That's great advice. Maybe I should come take your class! :) We'd have fun!

    @Rachel--Woohoo! I love it when people crit hook up--especially on my blog!

    @Natalie--Thanks, and of course, I will send the fairie your way!

  30. I usually end up agreeing with my critique partners about the big things and a lot of the little things. But the tone of a crit can be made so much nice by phrasing things in a nice way!

  31. I don't mind a few suggestions on how to fix if I'm totally blank on it, but too many would grate my nerves too I think.

    Also, sometimes it's just nice to commisserate (sp.?) with others. Like "yeah, laundry sucks!" instead. :) My hubby likes to be a fixer sometimes when all I really needed at the time is a hug or "man, you poor thing!" I think I should fix his ways. ;)

  32. Ah, I have/had a friend like that. She always knew the right way to do something that made me feel like an idiot. And it doesn't have to be that way, because I have a great friend now who does give me constructive advice, but it never feels like a putdown. She's a keeper.

    I'm the last one to give anyone house keeping advice, but what I do for laundry is vacuum my living room floor, do as many loads of laundry as a dare dumping them on the living room floor, spend an hour or more folding clothes while watching TV that isn't essential to see the screen every minute - like Jon Stewart, Colbert, What Not to Wear, American Idol, etc. Hope it helps.

  33. Over the years, I've learned to ask my crit partners what kind of critique they want. It can be anywhere from a reader's perspective to a full-blown in-depth review.

    They've learned to do the same with me.

    It took me years to find good crit partners. I sent them small bits of text at first. If I got a lot of "that's nice. this is cool." I realized they weren't really going to be much help (I knew I had writerly issues! I needed to know what they were!). Those who spent their time telling me how they would do it...well, I didn't send them anything else either. I needed a partner who would be brutal when I needed it, but only when I ASKED for it. Once you find crit partners that you can share that kind of equal bond with (since the road goes both ways), hang onto them. They're like gold.

    I've had some pretty nightmarish critique sessions. One involved a lady who asked me to rip the piece apart. When I took a look at the book, I saw a lot of grammar mistakes, so asked if she'd be okay with those first. She said definitely (was VERY enthusiastic).

    The grammar mistakes were repetitive, so I worked on the first chapter with comments chatting about grammar rules and such. No...fix this my way or any of that. Just the same kind of stuff my editor leaves me (used this word four times in two sentences, This is a run-on sentence--it was an entire paragraph as one sentence). I know I have plenty of grammar issues, and can get pissy about them, so I was as gentle as possible.

    Anyway, I sent it back to her. She popped on IM and proceeded to tear me a new one about how I was trying to change her voice. I responded as gently as I could that there were several confusing places in the text that could be clarified by cleaning it up a little. She then responded that she couldn't help it if I didn't understand her writing as English is a second language (French Canadian). I was completely confused, asking her what she wanted then. I could do any other kind of crit she wanted. Wasn't snarky, etc. She then lost her mind for the next two hours.

    It took years to get over that critique, and I'm still very tentative about helping anyone anymore. Five years and 100's of crits later...no one else has ever lost it like that. So I'm finally at a place where I can say it was an isolated incident.

    My grandmother told me this once...No matter where you are in life, someone is ready to "fix" you. Most of the time they do so in order to avoid the mess of their lives. Others have a heartfelt need to help, and still others have been there...and aren't very good at communicating that.

    Then she went on to say the quickest way to get those people out of your path or off the subject is to smile, nod, and reply with...that's something I hadn't thought about...will have to take a closer look...or will have to see if it works. Those who are trying to ignore the mess in their lives will never bring it up again (usually out of fear that you'll ask them about theirs). The ones who are heartfelt will ask again. And the ones who have been there will likely open up to you about their problems with that issue later.

    So far, this advice has served me pretty well.

    Good luck getting back on track! I look forward to your Sunday update. I hate laundry, myself. :D

    Keep Writing!

  34. When I critique a friend's work, I admit, I do sometimes leave comments like "I would like to see this done this way ..." or so on, but I know that my CPs won't follow all my advice. They shouldn't. That's not how it works.

    I think you have to have a high level of trust to work with people on both of your writing. You have to trust that they won't change everything you tell them to, and they have to trust that it will be okay.

  35. I loved this - I had a friend just like this. She new just about everything and she loved that I was pretty crap at everything. I was always late, unorganised and shy. She on the other hand could organise the planet and still come up with an hour for the gym and throw a great party. I always used to feel so self-conscious, I used to start most conversations with her with an apology. IT was stupid. I would never pick myself up if I stood beneath her mightier than God complex. So I quit being her friend (whipping boy) and moved on. People know and have to accept me for the house-work hoodlum I am. I will ALWays be behind on chores because they just don't matter enough. I don't want to live in a slum, mind you. So its never unhygienic - :)

    As far as critiquing partners are - that same friend was my first (well, she read mine - she doesn't write so I didn't read hers) and her feedback, although delivered in a accusatory fashion, was spot on. I took her suggestions and the story was much better. Swings and roundabouts :)


  36. it's definitely a fine line and you're so lucky you don't have to deal with french people every day. They LIVE for 'I'm better than you at life' statements. Actually, my least favorite words are 'Il faut'- which mean 'you must...' I think Neil Gaiman is right on.

  37. But.. But.. Fixing is a fixation. I'm guilty of this with my wife or another writer friend I know. I'm usually pretty good about catching it before it comes out of my mouth but I'm a guy. (BTW, your belt is either broken on your dryer or has slipped off the drum. Fixing that is a b*tch though because you have to open it up and put it back on/replace the belt.) I promise not to fix you :) I'm weird about my crits. Maybe my crit partner is too verbose but I've resorted to asking for her to simply use the ABCD method on giving feedback. If you don't know what that is, do a search for A J Hartley "Slotted Spoons and the ABCs of Beta readers". Have a great week :)

  38. Heather:

    I'm so bad at laundry, sometimes I just buy new clothes when I run out of things to wear (and no, I don't have the money to waste on that either).

    As far as critiques go, I receive them, read them, and do nothing. I don't make a single decision one way or the other on it. When I first read them, it doesn't matter if there's sugar on top and a cherry, I need distance to be as objective as I can. If my first reaction was overly emotional, I will read a second time without making any changes. Then I will go through one by one and agree or disagree with the critique. Most of them I agree with, a few are off target because the crit partner doesn't necessarily know the future of the story like I do. :)

    Hershey's Kisses with Almonds are also a must have office supply to edit and handle critiques. :)

  39. @Laura--I think you are right about tone--respect takes a crit far!

    @Kelly--I need the commiserating. I need to know that others are in the same boat, or that they understand me! :) My husband likes to fix as well, and I love him for it!!

    @MotherReader-I hate feeling like an idiot--I'm glad we've dropped our unhealthy friendships. I love that you pair laundry with something fun, like watching TV. I'll definitely give that a try!

  40. @Dawn--that's super smart that you've set up your critiques for success by understanding the expectations ahead of time.

    That critique sounds awful--I have heard similar stories from some of my friends. It's hard to know what you are getting into with a crit--I'm so glad you have reliable partners now! That must have been traumatic!

    That's great advice from your grandmother--and it's comforting to think that those critical people live within a mess too, they just go to extremes to hide it.

    I wear my mess on my sleeve. You're always welcome to come and hang out in it!

  41. @Matt-I think you summed this whole thing up--it's all about the trust. :) Glad you have good people to support your writing!

    Shah--That speaks a lot about who you are as a person that you were able to hear her advice about your writing--she sounds smart, if unhealthy! And, let's be housework hoodlums together. :)

    @Katie--I'm so relieved I don't live in France. I don't think I could take it! I agree--Neil's got it going on.

    Ryan--Thanks for the insight into the belt. I'm going to try to see if I can fix the damn thing this week. Also--I checked out the ABCD crit thing, and I love it's simplicity. So much so that I'm leaving the link here, in case others want to know a simple way to get back great feedback about their WIP:


  42. @Elizabeth--I can tell you and I are going to be fast friends. I LOVE that you buy clothes to avoid laundry. I agree--I need distance. Sometimes I'm in a funk for a day after receiving feedback. And this is respectful, spot on, I-agree-with-most-of-what-they-say feedback. That funk gives me distance (although it doesn't feel all that great.) Good point!

    Chocolate with almonds...Mmmmm. :)

  43. You hit the nail on the head with "What She Said"

    Ooh... it just burns my biscuits when people do that.

  44. I adore all of my crit partners because they each bring something different. I need help with punctuation and I have a very detailed partner for that. I also have one that sees the big picture and one that pushes me to get to the heart of things. I think everyone has different strengths.
    One of the things I love about this community!

    Hubs does the laundry in this house after a few "accidental" pink loads of wash. (That's a million dollar tip right there.)

  45. This is so very true! As writers, we need to learn to accept criticisms and comments with a grain of salt. You would then extract the 'useful' information from what is not.

    A thorough critiquer with the ability to make objective statements on your work are like gold dust!

    It's a shame that so few people in life struggle with this skill. I think most of us, actually, have had a moment or two where we think to "offer advice" rather than giving people the tools to make the best of the situation in their own way.

    Thank you for reminding me of this. :D


  46. @amybeth--Your comment got me laughing! It burns my biscuits too. :)

    @Terry--That's so wonderful. Kind of perfect, actually. A global critter, a detail critter, and a heart critter!

    @Kelly--I agree, and I know that most people have our best interests at heart, and think that fixing us would be helpful. :)

  47. You've had so many great comments, I almost hate to add my two cents. But I don't hate it enough, so, here goes:
    I won 2 critiques, both given by published authors
    Crit #1 gave me wonderful advice, ahe told me what I did right, and where she was pulled out of the story -- it was such a great crit, it made me want to be a better writer.

    Crit#2 crossed out sentences and wrote her own, asked me, "...why an 'A'?" as a character was thinking to herself that all she needed was a red A on her shirt...I don't think I could write for a month.

    I'm over that now.
    Great, great post.

  48. Balancing everything is always a challenge, at least for me. I hear ya on the laundry and everything else. I know that it's easier to maintain than to deal with a crisis but I can't seem to stay in the maintenance zone. I always put too much focus on one thing. I guess I'll get there eventually.

    It's all about tone with advice. I like to hear how other people do things but I don't like to be told what to do. My inner adolescent really rebels at that. LOL

  49. I got too much praise and not enough honest criticism with my memoir But my publisher's editors (WiDo Publishing) fixed that! Without tough criticism the final book would never have happened. I read that the same thing happened to Harper Lee with Mockingbird. She had an incredible editor. I don't mind suggestions as to how to write something. If I don't like the suggestion, well, I'll do it MY way!

    Excellent analogy. And I'm happy to meet you. I saw your tweet when I went over to see what Karen Gowen (Coming Down the Mountain) was doing. BTW, I'm old(er), but I still love YA/MG books. I think they're some of the best books written/being written. All the best for your works in progress!
    Ann Best, Author of In the Mirror & Other Memoirs

  50. I like to hear - and look for - what's working and what's not working.

    U rock. I just need to say that.

  51. I'm glad you had such a good time! Some day -- I SWEAR -- I'm going to get to a conference! (And not be a wallflower there, too.)