November 27, 2011

Slice of PIE: Can “I Hate This” Be Positive and Encouraging?

I doubt that I’m the only one who has received a harsh critique of their writing.

I doubt that I’m the only one who has received a harsh critique of a life choice.

Even Jesus has harsh words to say to His disciples. In Luke 9:37-47, Jesus criticizes them both obviously and subtly: “ 37 The next day, after they had come down the mountain, a large crowd met Jesus. 38 A man in the crowd called out to him, “Teacher, I beg you to look at my son, my only child. 39 An evil spirit keeps seizing him, making him scream. It throws him into convulsions so that he foams at the mouth. It batters him and hardly ever leaves him alone. 40 I begged your disciples to cast out the spirit, but they couldn’t do it.” 41 Jesus said, “You faithless and corrupt people! How long must I be with you and put up with you?” Then he said to the man, “Bring your son here.” 42 As the boy came forward, the demon knocked him to the ground and threw him into a violent convulsion. But Jesus rebuked the evil spirit and healed the boy. Then he gave him back to his father. 43 Awe gripped the people as they saw this majestic display of God’s power. While everyone was marveling at everything he was doing, Jesus said to his disciples, 44 “Listen to me and remember what I say. The Son of Man is going to be betrayed into the hands of his enemies.”45 But they didn’t know what he meant. Its significance was hidden from them, so they couldn’t understand it, and they were afraid to ask him about it. 46 Then his disciples began arguing about which of them was the greatest. 47 But Jesus knew their thoughts, so he brought a little child to his side. 48 Then he said to them, “Anyone who welcomes a little child like this on my behalf welcomes me, and anyone who welcomes me also welcomes my Father who sent me. Whoever is the least among you is the greatest.”

The first critique is subtle. The crowd tells Jesus that His disciples can’t do something they claim they can. Jesus does it easily, implying in front of God and everyone that His disciples didn’t know what they were doing.

The second critique is not subtle at all. The disciples figure they’re a shoe-in for heaven and just have to figure out the victory banquet seating arrangements. Jesus tells them the kid standing next to Him is better than they are.

I have received both kinds of critiques of my writing. An example is pasted below and while neither Jesus nor this agent says "I hate this", it certainly must have felt like that for the disciples...and for me. The obvious is the first part:

“Wow, that is some story you just sent me! Editors could never call that one ‘too quiet’--the standard reason in the industry for passing on a picture book manuscript. I haven't even had my coffee yet and that one woke me up completely! In the end, though, Guy, it's a bit long for today's picture book market. Editors are calling for spare, compelling texts up to about 600 words. Should you choose to revisit the manuscript, I would be happy to take another look.”

The subtle is below and I’m still not sure if I will resubmit:

“Also, if you have it in you to re-send Victory of Fists again, I'd love to see the newly empowered version. If I've knocked the wind out of your sails, I will certainly understand.”

The obvious is just that and contains workable advice. I rewrote, tightened and resubmitted and even though it was turned down again, the story is markedly better. I will keep looking for a home for this one.

The second and subtle has given me pause. I certainly went back and reworked the story, but now I don’t know what to do with the second sentence. Is it a gracious way to let me back out or a backhanded way of saying, “Stop bothering me”? Is this 'positive and encouraging'?

Your thoughts?


1 comment:

Paul said...

Subtlety in a story is one thing. Subtelty in a business letter is something else. I'd go with the former interpretation--do the hard work of revising Victory of Fists and re-submit it--because it seems to me that if the editor wanted nothing more to do with it, it would have been completely obvious.