I recently signed back into my NaNoWriMo account after a few years because I decided to edit my novel for publication in 2014. The information about my 2008 novel had been removed, and I added it back. Through getting reacquainted with NaNo site, I discovered that a NYC writers’ group was looking for members.
I went to the initial meeting at the Whole Foods cafe in Tribeca on Greenwich Street. The four group leaders expected about 10 people to show. One hundred and twenty-five people signed up, and about 40 attended. Despite the raging noise all around, the leaders seemed to do a good job explaining the format, expectations, what kind of feedback to give, and the schedule.
The group format is meet every other week from February through the end of September on one of three days. You send your draft of 6,000-10,000 words to the group email at least one week in advance so that readers have a weekend to review what you send. At your scheduled meeting, critics bring their notes and give you verbal positive and constructive criticisms while you keep your mouth shut and listen. When all the critics have done, then you can ask questions of the group.
Getting feedback, we are told, requires thick skin and the bravery on par with mountaineering up K2. I am not sure how we as writers have come to view our writing as deeply personal extensions of ourselves. I tend to be sensitive to criticism, so I am going to take this opportunity to learn how to live with it and, more importantly, improve my writing and editing abilities.
After I wrote Butterfly Wings in 2008, I tried to edit the story. However, my own pessimism and internal critic depressed me until I gave up. When I have given up on endeavors, especially artistic ones, this is how it happened. I used to believe that a thick skin could be grown. Through therapy and exposure to new situations, I have tried to thicken that skin more times than I can remember. After over 20 years of lessons like these, I think I have been going about it all wrong.
To grow a thick skin would be to dull my sensitivity to other people’s words, actions, and feelings. Even if it were possible, I think that a more useful ability is to tolerate the personal pain of criticism and judgments in order to become better at one’s craft. The question should not be, “How can I grow a thick skin”? Instead, the questions should be: “Is there anything useful in what I hear?” and, if so, “How can use it to improve what I do?” If I were to grow a thick skin, then I would become something and someone else that I would rather not be: a closed person who is insensitive to others and, ultimately, closed to personal growth.
The first meeting is on February 8th. I ask the Universe (and my friends) to guide me in the direction of growth, change, and challenge.