I’m not the devil, I’m just trying to help.

This blog post title came from my son. It was his attempt at levity in a situation where I was feeling confused, hurt and sad. He succeeded. It made me laugh. But it also made me think about the incident and my reaction to it.  Perhaps, I was being too hard on myself.

Part of being a writer is giving back and writing and critique groups are an excellent place to do just that.  What I’ve learned is that I’m very sensitive to critiques. It’s been a few years of receiving them. I’m better with not “taking it personally”. I’m getting there. But it’s still hard.

However, when I give a critique I tend to focus on what needs to be “fixed”; the negatives you might say, not so much the positives. My brain skims over the good stuff. It’s like antivirus software looking for the bugs, it scans, evaluates and skips right over the parts that are working fine. But in writing, the parts are that are working fine are parts that need to be commented upon too.

You would think being as sensitive as I am, I would be just as sensitive to other writers. Yet somehow when I focus on doing a critique my brain goes into its own mode. I always try to make sure I include something positive, but my positives seem to have little impact. They aren’t specific enough for the writer. So I keep trying. Sometimes I do a great job, other times not so much.

You can guess what happened? I gave a manuscript evaluation to a friend. I spent a lot of time on it. I thought it was presented well. She hated it, felt gutted and told me it was too one-sided. There was no positive feedback. I was blindsided and upset. She was right, though. The critique was constructive but I didn’t highlight the positives at all. My brain skipped right over them: the excellent dialogue, the vivid descriptions, the character insight.

So, I left the meeting and called my husband. And started to cry while driving down the highway. I felt incompetent, and foolish, and worst of all insecure. I had hurt my friend’s feelings and that upset me even more. How could I not see what I was doing? Where was my self-awareness? And then that horrible sensation came over me, like in those situations where everyone knows what to do and say, and you don’t and you blunder badly and you feel stuck on the outside while everyone else seems to “click” and to just “get it” and leave you behind. My self-confidence plummeted.

Unfortunately, this is not the first time I have been told I can be too direct. The words haunt me and because they haunt me I try to actively monitor my thoughts, my speech, my writing. But sometimes, I just fail.

My husband read the assessment  and said it was fine. There may not have been positives but he didn’t think it was overly negative. Things were just stated factually. (I love him, but he’s not a writer.)

My son picked up on my mood so I told him what had happened. He grew quiet. “I feel bad mom, cause I tell you that all the time.” And he used to, a lot, especially when I tried to help him with baseball. He felt overly criticized and would shut down. His father would give him the same instruction using the exact same words and he would accept it, no problem.  He thought about that for a minute and agreed.

“Don’t worry,” I told him, “we’re mother and son, it’s just a different kind of relationship.”

He smiled, “You know mom, you’re not the devil, you’re just trying to help.”

I couldn’t help but laugh. But he was right. I’m not setting out to hurt people, I don’t have evil intent. I want to help. But apparently, I need to work on it some more. I need to recheck my critiques and remember to celebrate the positives in a story as well.

I’ve apologized to my friend and I hope she knows that she’s a gifted writer, and if my critique didn’t say that, then I’m saying it now, in writing, like I should have the first time around.




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