Mammograms and Critiques: Don’t Be a Baby (About Your Baby)

This past week, I was a responsible citizen and had my mammogram. The things women endure! I did my best to make amusing chitchat while the mammogram tech cranked the little knob on the side so many times that I had the fleeting thought that she was attempting to tear it completely off. I mean, how flat does it need to be?

When she had it whittled down to the width of a piece of newspaper, I started wondering if maybe she just didn’t like my jokes. I mean, she could have just said so. Those mammogram machines must have been designed by Turkish prisons.

Here is what I feel like the mammogram should  have looked like:

torture device

When it (my breast) was completely deflated, she says,”Ok, don’t breathe.” I’m thinking, no worries, seeing that my entire front side is smashed between two steel plates! Oh, and my face is turned sideways (think Exorcist style) and is also smashed up against the plastic window thing. My arm is draped across as if I am embracing the machine. Far from it!! But listen, don’t let me talk you out of getting yours!

(What it ACTUALLY looks like)

mammography

When I was getting my mammogram, I started thinking “Don’t be a baby! It only takes a minute!” You know what it made me think of?

Critique groups.

I still remember when I went to my first writer’s conference. It was the 2010 DFW Writer’s Conference. I was at a “Learn to Pitch to an Agent” class. Everyone had to write their pitch, summed up in ONE SENTENCE.

I totally panicked! I couldn’t write my pitch in one sentence! My book is too complex! It has too many interesting plots and subplots! This is impossible. It was the hardest sentence to come up with, and you know me…I can write a sentence about paint drying. Why couldn’t I sum up my baby in one sentence!

I held my breath, wrote my sentence, and waited for Bob Mayer, who was teaching the class, to read my prompt. He didn’t get to it because we ran out of time and the class was packed. He did, however, promise that at any time during the day if we saw him we could go up to him and talk to him about our pitch.

I took him up on it.

Bob Mayer is one famous author. He’s been on the NY Times Bestseller list so many times it probably is as routine as letting the cat out. And, yeah…he’s a freaking GREEN BERET. He’s intimidating as hell. He looked similar to this:

arnold

But, when I saw him sitting alone at a table with a cup of coffee, I swallowed my fear and sat next            to him.

“So, I was in your class earlier, the one about pitching?”

Bob looks at me (or it seemed THROUGH me), and said,”Ok, shoot.”

I read my (terrible) prompt.

Bob looks at me again, and says, “Well, that’s interesting. But it’s not a book.”

WHAT?

“What you just pitched. It’s not a book.”

I’m thinking, “I beg to differ, Sir.” Of course I didn’t say it. I’m not stupid.

I felt my blood boil. How could he say it wasn’t a book! He doesn’t know my kind of writing. Blah, blah, blah.

“Your book is about secrets, and that is what you need to concentrate on.”

He was, of course, right. First, if you can’t put the entire plot of your book in one sentence, it’s because it’s too scattered. If you do’t know what your book is about, why should anyone care?

I know I’m seemingly random here, but this is where I’m going. As writers, we do think of our books as our babies. Don’t say anything bad about MY BABY. I will PUNCH YOU. I will HUNT YOU DOWN.

Blah blah blah.

Unfortunately, that kind of attitude will keep ANYONE from helping you and will keep you alone and unpublished, nursing your baby.

We must get to conferences. We must let others look at our books. Like a mammogram, it’s painful at the time. It pinches, it’s embarrassing. Parts of us are exposed to people we may have never met before. BUT it’s for the better. The doctor can’t help us if he can’t see the problem.

Of course, there are people who delight in giving bad critiques, ripping your story apart, and unnecessarily cruel. That’s the writing life. Think of it as developing your thick skin. If you don’t like your critique group, pick another one. There are tons of them, online and in your community. Do your research.

After you find a critique group, go to a conference, take a writing class. Show people your baby. It will be fine, I promise. You can’t publish if nobody sees what you worked so hard to write. Take a chance. Be daring. Don’t be a baby about your baby.

And oh: thank you Bob Mayer.

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