I taught my brother how to dive, well that’s the way I remember it. For the record, I’m not a water fan, I don’t swim well, and I certainly have never dived.
I sat on the dock with just the two of us outside our grandparent’s house and directed him with each effort to point his body into the lake. “No, curve your back,” “Straighten your arms,” “Jump higher.” I’m sure with enough jumps and practice, his accomplishment would have been attained without my direction. But it’s possible my outside view brought him success a few jumps sooner.
Writing critiques feels a lot like this.-The story is engaging. The characters are true. The tension needs better pacing, there needs to be more suspense, the try-fail cycle…lacks…–
I can tell another writer what’s missing, but can I tell her how to make it right? With these same issues so plainly staring at me from my own work. I fear no, I am not able to articulate how to fix it.
The big difference between now and when I was a child is, though I am quite afraid of this new deep metaphorical lake, this time I desperately do want to be able to dive in.
I want to dive with power and beauty. I want to have the control it takes to hold the perfect formation, to cause the surface to ripple in perfect circles from my point of entry.
I want to go under the surface so deeply that I disappear.
Giving instructions to Tim on how to dive never felt fraudulent. I don’t recall being at all concerned that my own limitations made me less eligible for giving him direction. No. I have grown into that fear.
This is so true of everything we do, right? I blog about parenting a child with Down syndrome, when even after 23 years into the gig I feel pretty under-qualified to talk about it. So much yet to know, so much to learn, so much to do. Thank God I haven’t been forced to endure an open critique of my parenting. That would not go well.
They say that being in critique groups makes a person a better writer. By reading the works of others we better identify the limitations of our own work. Possibly. I suspect my critique groups are tired of hearing me chime up about the same issues over and over again, the ones that reflect me like a funhouse mirror.
Can I direct without harm? Can I teach what I have not perfected?
Time and again I have shown up to group with the piece I know will knock their socks off, will make everyone say – “Aha! Bliss in written form, at last!” But sigh, that time has not yet come. I leave both inspired by the group’s creative energy and bruised from the work yet to be done. At times I have been crushed by the weight of it all. And these are my peers, Oi! Imagine my reactions to rejection (both real and imagined) that comes so casually from publications of all sizes. (Don’t. Don’t imagine it, it’s too brutal.)
I wonder, is it obvious to everyone that I can only cannon-ball? That I have never yet been able to dive with the grace I so desire? Am I worthy to critique when my own fears keep me from the lake?
Chris Mandeville recently reminded us all to take Dori’s advice and “Just Keep Swimming.”
So here I stand at the edge of the dock, with only my toes wet, advising others on form and motion. The prodding from within me calls: What are you waiting for? You Must Dive In.
What about you?