Besides my small wonderful WTF Critique Group, I also belong to a larger group of professional writers. We meet once a week to talk about writing and then the moderator reads someone’s work and the entire group has an opportunity to critique it.
Last semester the moderator read a heart-wrenching story about a young boy who was raped by his father. It was graphic and uncomfortable and I squirmed in my chair, at the same time, admiring the beauty of the work. At the end of the story, the moderator asked for critiques. The subject matter wasn’t anything I felt comfortable with critiquing, so I kept quiet. The oldest woman in the room raised her hand and said in her thin wavering voice, “I think it would be more realistic if the box of condoms was in the dresser drawer instead of being on top of the dresser.” She was right and I admired her for being able to distance herself from the emotion of the story and focus on the mechanics of writing.
A few weeks ago, a soft-porn piece was read. Again, I was too embarrassed by the story to even imagine critiquing it. The young woman in our WTF Group raised her hand. “Oh, no,” I thought. “Please don’t encourage this guy.” Like the writer in the previous story, she commented on the mechanics of the story, all the while talking about jiggling bottoms and erections. It was the right way to critique the story.
Another time a story was read that was peppered with the “N” word. I sat uncomfortably through the first few times it was used, but then got up and walked out. I returned after the story was finished and sat down next to another member of WTF. He raised his hand and courageously stated his feeling about the use of the word and then went on to suggest ways to make the story better without it.
I admire these people greatly, for having the strength and fortitude to disengage their emotions from the story and Be A Professional Writer. It is something I’m aspiring to be, but it seems, right now, I ain’t got the courage.