Surviving the Critique

I’ve been attending meetings of a local writing organization since February and I really appreciate their professional approach to critiquing material. You submit a short story or a portion of a novel-in-progress, and two members volunteer to critique the work for the next meeting. At the next meeting you read for up to ten minutes, and then the two volunteers give their impression of the material you’ve submitted to them. They are each given a few minutes to express their concerns, and then it’s opened up to the floor for other members to comment on what they’ve heard.

The critique considers both the material you’ve written, and how well you deliver the material. Since as a writer you may be asked to do public readings, this is an excellent opportunity to discover whether you speak too fast, you don’t speak loud enough, or you  slur your words. You might also discover (especially in science fiction and fantasy) that the names of your characters are very difficult to pronounce.

For the last meeting I submitted a portion of a science fiction novel, and naively assumed that the individuals critiquing the material would be impressed with my excellent writing. I was wrong. It was brutal. The individuals critiquing my material said there were distracting spelling and grammar errors, my action scenes were poorly structured, and I changed point-of-view too frequently.

Fortunately, that was exactly what I wanted to hear. I didn’t want anyone pulling punches to avoid hurting my feelings, I wanted the truth. If you’re serious about becoming a published author, you need to discover where your weaknesses are. Sending poorly written material to an agent or editor will result in a rejection, often with no explanation other than, “it’s not what we’re looking for at this time.”

You don’t need to worry about what other writers think about your material, because  you make the final decision. You should consider their opinions, but you are responsible for the end product. It can be very embarrassing to have other writers point out your mistakes, but that isn’t a bad thing. Whether it’s a story you’ve published online or a public reading, you have to accept criticism. Joining a group of writers and having them review your work is an excellent way to prepare for negative comments. If someone doesn’t like what you’ve written, just keep writing, you’ll eventually find readers who  appreciate your voice, your passion.

Copyright © 2018 by J. Paul Cooper



Catnip and the Ides of March

Your cat lies napping on the cat tree, basking in the afternoon sun. At first it may appear like a Normal Rockwell painting, but perhaps it’s more like a non-fiction book by Robert Greene.
It’s the classic image of a Senator in ancient Rome; with the snap of his fingers servants rush to him, feeding him grapes, offering him wine. The feline reclines comfortably in her cat bed, and as she utters “Meow,” her servants run to her side, bringing her a favourite treat.                                                                                                      Senators in ancient Rome were always aware of the threat of conspiracies, closely watching each other’s actions for clues of machinations. One cat rests on a sofa in the living room, when another feline enters. The cat on the sofa tracks the other cat with laser sharp focus, taking notice of who she shares her affections with.
Roman senators had to instinctively know when it was best to listen and observe, and when it was time to make their presence known, inviting praise. At times a cat will enter unnoticed and watch silently from a corner of the room. At other times, however, a feline will announce her arrival with a loud “Meow.” The plebeians compete for her attention, begging her to take a seat next to them, praising her unequalled beauty, bribing her with treats. With a swish of her tail, she dismisses them as unworthy of her affection, and leaves the room.
Two senators greet each other with pleasantries on the streets of Rome, masking the their true motives. In the afternoon two cats pass each other peacefully, but during the long hours of the night, the silence is shattered by the loud hisses of an altercation, as they vie for dominance.
The wealthy citizens of ancient Rome are also remembered for holding drunken orgies. It’s New Year’s Eve, and you’ve just given kitty some catnip to enjoy the festivities…. The intoxicated feline rolls around the floor uttering incoherent meows, in a display of unbridled debauchery.
It might appear that you and your cat are friends sharing a loving relationship, but are you truly equal? When was the last time a cat flushed the toilet for you? Forget to scoop the litter box and your cat will warn you with loud meows, and then defecate on the floor in protest. You fill the cat’s water dish, but when has the cat ever poured a glass of wine for you? When the cat turns her nose up at something she’s doesn’t like, what do you do? The next time you’re at the grocery store you won’t buy just any brand of cat food, you’ll buy her favourite brand.
After enduring a terrifying dream, Julius Caesar’s wife warned him to stay away from the Senate on the morning of March 15, 44 BC. Ignoring her advice, he went anyway and died from multiple stab wounds, inflicted by Senators who had sworn their fealty to him. The cat sits on your lap and starts kneading you with her claws. You think it’s a sign of affection from a loyal companion, but perhaps those claws represent daggers, and it’s really a warning, “Remember the Ides of March, and don’t forget to buy more catnip.”

Copyright © 2018 by J. Paul Cooper