Monday, August 16, 2010

A Snake In The Grass

I recently read an on-line posting about the value of a critique from a group member who opted not to identify himself/herself. Though all writers need a tough skin when dealing with critiques, those offered by an unknown may lack validation. I suppose some people feel they can be more honest when anonymous. Being anonymous isn't the issue.

Yesterday, I went on a short hike with my husband and a couple of friends. We drove up the highway to the small gold-mining town of Coloma. The town sits on the edge of the American river but has several nice hiking trails.
My husband thought it would be great to take the trail up to a supposed waterfall. First, it is late in the season and honestly, not one of us actually thought the waterfall would be all that impressive, but we went anyway.

And we had our sticks…

We headed up a thin trail, thinking (at least I did) that the trail would widen and all would be hunky-dory. My husband took the lead. I came second, followed by my friend with her husband taking up the rear. To the perils of four adults venturing out unprepared with short pants and basic jogging shoes this trail lacked all the qualities that usually make a trail an actual trail. Instead it was a thin twelve inch pathway through thistle after thistle of thorny little spurs scrapping our poor unprotected legs. But being the optimistic bunch we are, we trekked on.

All was fine for about the first 200 yards or so, when my husband heard a rustle in the grass and stopped and turned. Up popped the head of a rattlesnake. I am right next in line. Luckily, I wasn't following too closely, maybe about five feet behind. But when I saw the snake raise his head at my husband, I took off screaming toward our other two friends and hid behind them like the scaredy-cat that I am, shaking.

With the coaxing of my husband's stick, the snake slithered backwards across the wimpy trial, half in retreat and half coiled to strike forward then plopped over the edge about ten feet. The snake was about three feet long and at approximately two inches in diameter, seemed to have had his share of the abundance of field mice in the area.

I was beside myself with fear. My knees rattled about as much as the snake's tail had as I clutched my friends arm for comfort. With much pleading and reassuring from the three, they managed to persuade me to go on. We walked. All a lot more cautiously than we had been, but still, I watched the stick shake in my hand as I swayed it over the thorny brush, looking for any undesirable movement. As we got a little deeper into the wilderness, I managed to hold back sobs, but not the tears that hid behind my sunglasses. I did wimp and whine the whole rest of the way though, thinking what next, a bear? Finally, to my husband's dismay and to my relief, my friend claimed she didn't want to go any further and so I, just to make the point stronger and knowing I really couldn't go any further myself, refused to take one more step forward. Well, the men went ahead about another 50 yards just to see if they might catch a glimpse of a waterfall while we stayed right where we were in the middle of one of the widest parts of the trail and waited for them. It was maybe three minutes.

So, you're now asking, what does this have to do with critiques?

Absolutely nothing and everything.

The recent encounter with that rattlesnake has caused me to reevaluate the tough girl persona that I thought I possessed.

What I really want to know is; am I a wussy? Well, the word itself is most traditionally used for a man. So in that sense, no. I am definitely not a wuss. But did I act wussy? Now that would be the question.
By WordWeb's definition of a wussy: A person who is physically weak and ineffectual.
Okay, I suppose I was and am at times.

Urban Dictionary's definition: A person with no guts. A person who whines all day and sits around and cries like a little baby for years over nothing. Will blow anything out of proportion and create drama to forget about their sad miserable lives.

Well no, this is not me.

It takes guts to write. It takes guts to receive criticism and keep going. For me it takes guts to open myself up to people and let them see a part of me. My writing is a part of me. My comments are a part of me.

I have appreciated most every critique and comment I have ever received but sometimes I am baffled by them, but I keep trying and have most definitely, over the past several months, acquired a very thick skin. Don't get me wrong. I believe that every critique and comments I receive are helpful. Not all of them come sugar-coated nor do I expect them to. But please, have a heart and remember the person receiving the advice or the comment. If you can't give me some sense of who you are then how am I supposed to accept your validity?

There are some people online who choose to keep their identity private. Like the snake. He kept himself hidden until it was time to pounce. If you can't identify yourself, and share a bit of yourself with your peers then I don't want your opinion. A private identity is fine. I'm all for pseudonyms for fiction writers, screen names and so on. But if you're going to be part of a group and you want me to take you seriously, then give me something to base your advice on.

So, I guess, what I'm saying is, I'm afraid of rattlesnakes, along hiking trails and online. Don't be a rattlesnake. I have feelings and like to know who is crushing them, or building them up. If you want to give me your opinion, tell me a little about what qualifies you or doesn't, otherwise, keep it to yourself.

All-in-all, I have never received an unidentified or unwelcomed comment here on my blog, so those of you have commented, thank you and please continue to do so.


  1. Well, in fairness to the snake, he only popped up to warn you that you were in his territory.

    I've met all manner of beasts and believe me I don't know that I would have continued. But then I rarely go in tall grass unless I'm in long pants and hiking boots. I know what hides there. LOL!

    But as to anonymous crits and comments...

    Anonymity gives people a false sense of bravado. And sometimes that makes them say ill-considered and cruel things, thinking no one will ever know who they are.

    I have far more respect for people who pony up and identify themselves from the get-go.

    If someone feels strongly enough to make a damning statement, at least have the sand to attach your name and own up to any repercussions.

  2. Okay, first off, YIKES on the snake story! OMG! Too scary!

    (Calming self.) Now. The critique thing. I agree 100%. Critics need to identify themselves. True, as you pointed out, perhaps some feel they need the anonymity in order to express any kind of negativity. They fear the personal backlash or repercussion of their honesty. But if they feel that strongly about staying unidentified, perhaps they shouldn't be dabbling in critiques.

    You are an excellent storyteller. I am halfway through the work you shared with me, and I'm impressed.

    That all being said, it's hard to grow that thick skin. I should know. Anonymous or not, it's gut-wrenching to get some of the feedback we get. Take whatever constructive criticism you can wring out of this person's words and move forward!


  3. Thanks for commenting, Maria and Pam.

    I wanted to post this story about the snake because it was too horrendous of an experience for me not to, but I also want to keep most of my posts about the craft of writing. So, after reading the other posts last night about people who don't like to identify themselves before offering up a critique or other advice, I immediately saw the relationship to the snake. As though they are hiding like a snake in the grass and I didn't like the thought.

    You are right, Pam, it's hard enough and gut-wrenching to accept some of the feedback we get, but it's worse when you don't know if they actually know what they are talking about. It wasn't that I received a bad critique from someone, but that is sound advice on taking whatever constructive criticism you can wring out and moving forward. Thanks

    There's got to be a little give and take. Give us something that makes your thoughts worth paying attention to.

  4. Oh and Pam, thanks for the compliment. :D


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