Last night I dreamed that my writing critique group had invited several new members from a literary group. The piece I had just read before going to bed was up for critique. It was such a brilliant work that I had written OMG in several places. I know, I know, not very literary, but I couldn’t help myself, the emotion was so high, and the tension expertly built as the voice of a teenage girl dragged the reader into the fray of a shattering family.
In the dream, the members of the literary group were scattered among us. They threw out our carefully mapped rules for critiquing, and proceeded to shred the manuscript, calling it facile and obvious and unoriginal. And they were all talking at once.
I opened my mouth and began to list the merits and strengths of the piece, but I was drowned out in a chorus of condemnation. The author said with a smile, “This is when I need a writer’s retort.” I continued to attempt to quieten them and ask for order, but they were having none of it. They were literary after all. I pointed out that this was not a literary novel, and as such it should be critiqued.
You get the picture, it was a humiliating mess.
But was this dream about that person’s writing? I think not. I just read in Stephen King’s On Writing that for most of his life he’s been ashamed of what he’s written. Stephen King, folks.
If this were my dream I would wonder if this council of apes, as Clarissa Pinkola Estes refers to critical voices, was in fact my own judges, my own inner critics, my own snobs. My own personal council of snobs. They are the ones who tell me I’m not as good as those authors whose phrases take my breath away, the writers that have been perfecting their craft for decades. They are the snobs who shake their heads and say, why bother?
Interesting that they should choose my lovely friend, Noelle, to trash. Her writing is fresh and vibrant; cuts right to the bone and doesn’t flinch. Her work is brave and true. Maybe my council is preparing me for the sharks who would clamp on to my leg and thrash me through bloody waters just to hear me scream. Because what did my “Noelle” self do? She held her own, took it with a smile. I don’t know, maybe the tears and fury came later, but in that group of lettered literary folks she was dignified and gracious.
I am reminded that just after first meeting Noelle, I also dreamt of her as a midwife, racing me all splayed out on a gurney down a long hospital corridor. My literary dream muse has much to offer, it seems. Lucky me.
As I sit looking out on to the green of my river, birdsong a rich textured choir through the trees, sun in ribbons on the grass, I am inspired and uplifted. There is much to celebrate, much to write and even though the chorus of snobs still sits in their high chairs, I’m off my chair and dancing on the lawn.