Monday, February 8, 2010

It's Warm in the Kitchen

When I get to cooking in the kitchen, things heat up pretty fast, expecially if I have bread in the oven. The rest of the house may be as cold as the devil's own heart, but the kitchen will be cozy. The more I bake, the warmer it gets. Add a couple more chefs--say, one simmering a big pot of vegetable beef soup and another putting the tea kettle on for some Earl Grey--and it can become uncomfortably warm. But stick around. Soon you'll have before you a steming bowl of soup, a slab of warm bread with butter melting into each crevice, and a fragrant cup of tea.

It's a little bit like a writers' critique group. Each member has a pretty good idea of what he is doing. Each has favorite recipes. Each writer works hard to arrive at the most savory results. And all contribute to the heat level of the kitchen.

There is nothing easy about any of it. For the bread to rise to its highest and lightest, conditions must be just right. It has to be kneaded properly for eight to ten minutes to develop the gluten. A warm kitchen certainly helps, but the yeast must be lively, and the flour should be the right kind. The humidity in the air plays a part. The vegetable soup is tedious to prepare, with all of its paring, chopping, and dicing. It takes time. Even the tea has it's own requirements for brewing.

When a writer submits a chapter to the critique group, it's a risk. Our writing is our favorite dish. We've chosen the finest organic ingredients available and put it together according to an original recipe. We've timed and measured, folded and beaten, sifted and stirred. And now we offer a serving to a cadre of tasters. What? They say it's too salty? Oh, but one thinks it could use a little more salt. Another says that a dash of this spice or that extract would make all the difference. Still another says, "Bam! Kick it up a notch." [LR, you know whom you are.]

That's when we must pray and use our God-given discernment. Who's right in the case of a contradiction of comments? Ultimately, it's the writer's call. It's the writer's work, after all. If multiple critiquers make the same or similar comments about a particular element of the work, the writer might be wise to seriously consider their comments. If the writer works in a different genre from the others, he likely is more familiar with the nuances of that genre than his colleagues, since he surely has read and researched it more. Further, every critiquer has her own strengths. I've been an English teacher and an editor; therefore, I tend to pick at punctuation, mechanics, and word usage. I've been told by editors and critique partners that dialogue is another of my strengths. I have a cp who often adjures me to "show, don't tell," and "lose the exclamation points." I'm getting better at both . . .I think.

I have learned so much from my critiquers, because God has blessed me with the best. For example, the hooks at the end of my chapters are stronger. I've learned that I don't have to struggle to come up with a powerful hook; I just need to end the chapter at the point of such a hook. I now tend to be more wary of tags, using them only when necessary, opting instead for action beats.

Thanks to some tough critiquers, my writer's skin is thicker. I can take the risk and accept the criticism. If it ever gets too hot in the kitchen, I'll just crack a window and let some fresh ideas blow in. I'll not be leaving.


  1. Wonderful analogies, Sharon. And the finished product is a terrific sensory delight--the smell of fresh baked bread, the golden brown sight, the sound of the oohs and ahs of those partaking, and the taste and warmth of it in your mouth. A manuscript at its best provides a feast for the senses!

  2. Thank you so much for your kind words, Kathleen. And thanks for stopping by the blog.

    Keep writing!

    Because of Him,

  3. Great analogy, Sharon and you are too funny. I guess I could do worse than to be likened to Emeril! From know on if I put BAM! in the comments you'll know I mean to soup it up!


  4. I have to say, our group is like the warm bread with fresh butter and strawberry jam. A crit group really is the best.

  5. Lisa,

    LOL! Thanks!

    I pray that God will teach me to do as great a job as you at critiquing.

    Because of Christ,

  6. Linda,

    A multi-pubbed writer in my local writers' group often tells us how important a good crit group is, but before I became a member of ACFW and a small cluster of scribes through them, I had no idea. "With all of that input, won't they steal your voice or change your story?" Of course I've learned that a good group only strengthens those things. Iron sharpens iron. I'm glad you're part of such a group, also.

  7. Such a fine line, sometimes - especially when we're all learning together - to find the right mix of fixing, yanking, re-writing and trusting yourself. But you're right, a thick skin is the best way to learn.

  8. Yes, it is a fine line. That's why it is also important that members of the group trust one another. I thoroughly believe that God brought together the small group I'm in. We had an immediate rapport. Therefore, when I comment on someone's work or they comment on mine, there is a trust bond: this isn't being said to hurt, belittle, or challenge--well, maybe to challenge, if that is needed--but only to help the writer and improve the work. We all want to see our WIP published.