In the movie Because I Said So, Diane Keaton’s character goes to a spa with her daughters. She insists on wearing her turtleneck for a massage. Sounds a little stupid, doesn’t it? I know I laughed myself silly at that scene because it reminded me of my first massage. The masseuse assured me I could wear a swimsuit, a two-piece one. If I were okay with wearing a bikini in public, then I would own one. I did survive that first massage because I relaxed and allowed myself to trust. It didn’t hurt that the guy was a total hunk.
It made me think critiques are a lot like massages. We all seem to like both in theory. I’ve talked to several of my friends and almost none of them have had massages. They’d like to, but they can't bring themselves to get on a table facedown and trust their body to a stranger. Same with critique groups, most people who swear they’ll never attend have had a bad experience. Often their experiences come rather vicariously. A friend of a friend endured horrible humiliation at a critique session; therefore, all critiques will follow the same pattern. What would happen if we applied the same reasoning to everything?
Who hasn’t had a book-worthy bad date? I had one write me a three-page critique on what I could do better. That didn’t stop me from dating. It did stop me from dating him, though. Same with massages, I had one woman put me in such extreme pain that she advised me to take three extra strength Tylenols. An unfair or hostile critique should be regarded the same way my review writing date was. Quite frankly, not all critique groups or partners are a good fit. Just like not all masseuses will suit.
A friend of my mine writes explicit romances and then tries to have them critiqued by church ladies. It isn’t working out well. RWA has several different genre groups. Inside these groups, you can often find the right person or persons to critique your work.
Critiquing is a trust relationship. You really are pulling off the turtleneck to submit yourself to a critique massage. A good partner knows to give equal praise and to recognize growth in your craft. Occasionally, you may not agree with a critique, that’s okay. Go with what feels right. In you’re feeling really mellow about your critique group, you might be ready for an actual massage.
I am very grateful for my critique partners. They are right up there with my actual masseuse. Yes, ladies, I am shallow—he is a hunk, but very good with his hands. When he is done, he always says, "Enough torture." I manage with effort to slide off the table.
I would be interested in hearing about your critique and massage experiences, both torturous and heavenly.