The Crit: What Happened, And What Happens.

posted in: Day In The Life, Family 49
The deer is my power animal. So here's a deer. Image: Wikipedia.
The deer is my power animal. So here’s a deer. Image: Wikipedia.


I posted Tuesday that a woman who knew my father from way back when — never a good thing, trust me on this — would be on my first grad critique panel.  I was extremely nervous about it and then you all responded with such a tidal wave of “You got this, girl!” and “What, you worry? Pshah!” that I literally put my head down on my desk and made a whimpering sound. The sound of pain came from not knowing how to thank people that I mostly don’t know for being so righteously great. I mean, who are you? Who does that? How do I thank you for rallying around me in my moment of faltering? From the sub-cockles of my heart, with a kind of helpless, blissful bewilderment: Thank you. Thank you for that.

And yeah, it was super, super weird — both the crit itself and that this woman who knew my dad had a position of authority in a room with my work. More on that in a minute.

The critique structure itself is problematic and I learned this firsthand yesterday. I’m certainly not the only person who feels this process is far from perfect. In fact, it’s nuts: You’ve got under an hour, it’s five panelists on one artist, and the work the artist is showing is in progress, so an onslaught of feedback at that raw stage is really only helpful if the artist is expressly looking for it. There was a moment yesterday morning when I thought, “I could totally go off the rails if I listened to everyone’s opinion right now. Stay the course, Fonsie.” It’s not that I wasn’t receptive — I need all the help I can get, trust me. But there’s help, there’s insight, and there’s noise.

There were several times when there was agreement or consensus from the group about a certain passage and a couple times they all had similar questions about this or that concept and that was helpful for sure. If five people agree that there could be more cinnamon in your apple pie, you should probably increase the cinnamon, you know? In this way, the critique was valuable.

And as for the lady? Well, at one point I almost started crying. I didn’t cry. But I’ll tell you what made my eyes burn.

You all don’t know this because I’ve never said anything about it, but my father is an aspiring writer. He’s been aspiring his whole life. He’s never published a book. I don’t believe he’s published anything, though I can’t say for sure. A search online yields only his website and there are no publication credits there. (Note to self: Make sure to include my publication credits in bio for new website.) All I know is that my dad’s whole life has been this quest to write the Great American Novel or some canonical book of poems or whatever and so far, he ain’t written it.

I’ve heard stories about my dad’s attempts at writing. The manuscripts he burned because no one would publish them. His refusal to be edited because he’s such a genius, I guess. From what I’ve read, his work could use an editor and guess what? Everyone could use an editor. All of us. Me. You. My dad. The most terrifying thing about writing a blog — aside from delving into really, really deep waters like I’m doing right now — is that you have no editor before you hit the “Publish” button. Every one of these posts is a first draft, basically, and really, it’s ridiculous. Any decent writer knows she needs an editor, that your piece is only as good as your editor. The blog, it laughs at this truth and I do kind of love the immediacy, but it’s foolish unless you take it seriously (I do) and treat it as a way to practice writing and to connect with people. Check and check.

My point is that I try every single day to successfully put words together for this blog, for papers, this book I’m writing, my column, all of it. That my father has been unsuccessful in his writerly ambitions is heavy, guys. It’s really heavy. Heck, my mom’s writing a novel, too. What if they’re both no good? Where does that leave me? I know I’m not a great writer, but I’d like to be decent and I’m trying to get better. Nothing matters more to me. What if my book stinks? What if it goes the way of my father’s many novels: burned, trashed, unfinished, or buried in a desk somewhere, never to see the light of day? It’s possible. It’s more possible than running into someone who knew my dad from 30 years ago, I’ll tell you that much.

When I was looking at a page of my chapter yesterday in that room and that woman made some comment about it, that’s when I thought I might cry. Because all of that Dad stuff flooded in. It’s bad enough that my father shows up sometimes in the fears I have about being a bad writer; it sucked that he had to be there in flesh and blood while I was trying to be a good one.


49 Responses

  1. Dale Odberg
    | Reply

    An emotional mind bending experience..must have been difficult….Wishing you much love…Love your writing Mary! Thank you.

  2. Diana Welte
    | Reply

    My family always said “what you don’t tackle head on, keeps popping up until you do”. You’ve faced yours head on, now keep going. Someone can be the smartest egg in the planet but, without persistence, they can be rendered useless. You’ve already accomplished sooooo much. Keep going.

  3. Renee Reed
    | Reply

    Mary, you do my heart good. What you wrote today shared your honest feelings and vulnerability. I appreciate that. You have coached me through many quilts and I can’t wait to see where your blog takes me. Again, I appreciate YOU. Thanks.
    Renee Reed

  4. Mary Ann
    | Reply

    As always when you move into the tough stuff I almost start to hyperventilate. My own Dad was such a …yea, one of those guys too, So it’s a measure of very good writing indeed that you bring me and I am sure others right along with you to those waves of pain.

  5. Pat Hicks
    | Reply

    Mary you may not know our faces, but u know us from our comments to you. We connect to you, you’re open and I f o r one enjoy seeing what you write. I l ove the fact that you do want t o do many things in per s o n Andre err tough writing. You also willing to get back up if you feelyourself stumble.
    You keep go I ng forward. Imagine this big hug surround I ng you because if I saw u in person that is what I would give you. We wouldn’t 🙂 e strangers. That is what your we writing doe s for me. Glad Yuri out hung in there.

  6. Pat Hicks
    | Reply

    Mary my iPad changed some words Glad you hung I n there. Not Yuri who ever that is.
    Pat Hi c ks

  7. Jeanann Montney
    | Reply

    I religiously read your blog, and cannot adequately express how much your writing touches my heart. Thank you.

  8. Diana Foree
    | Reply

    Mary, what I love about your blog posts is that they’re “Unique”! You share from your life and your heart. Never look at someone who’s failed or succeeded to find your soul’s work. Continue to walk the “Mary” road and not the other person’s path. You survived this big test and it’s made you stronger. Looking forward to your next step and continue to write what’s important and inspires you. You inspire all of us. Bravo!

  9. Joyce
    | Reply

    All I can say is damn him. Love you Mary ❤️

  10. Betsy
    | Reply

    You are not your dad. You are not your mom. You are you and whatever you do will be enough because you are giving it your best effort at the time. Believe n yourself and the rest will work out.

  11. Deb Kineston
    | Reply

    When you were born, you became your mothers daughter…and your fathers daughter. But then…they named you. You were no longer Mr & Mrs Fons’ daughter, you became “Mary”. You may have a part of them that shows up from time to time. However you are your own woman, not a baby, not a little girl. Your an educated woman, so write your book how you see fit to write it. Hire a professional proof reader that you don’t know, nor was referred to you. And so what if yor mom’s or your dad’s or your cousins book is no good. The only one that needs to worry about that…is them. Don’t let the worries of their failures interfere with your successes. Chin up pen down….or maybe it’s chin down pen down!

  12. Baa Goldfarb
    | Reply

    Sweetheart you are NOT your dad, or your mom. You are you. The absolute BEST parts of both of them shaken up & spilling over.
    You are unique, there is only one you so be the best you that you can be. No one can tell you what that is except for yourself, so go girl! Write, sew, quilt. Whatever just do it tell your story however you can because YOU CAN. Love you, Baa

  13. Cindy Griffis
    | Reply

    Mary, you’re an amazing person with tone of talent and even more love. I love and live with a PhD, and work with many more. I can tell you,it isn’t what’s in the head that counts, it isn’t how much money that counts, it’s YOUR WILL that counts. If half the people criticing your work faced your battles, the wouldn’t be there. Believe me, I see it everyday.
    You are on the right course! FULL STEAM AHEAD!
    PSi. I’d love to have a coffee and chat the next time I’m in Chicago!M2H3

  14. Jane Brown
    | Reply

    So…now what happens after a critique? Are you supposed to edit your writing and submit it again, or does it mean you have passed this course?

  15. Colleen
    | Reply

    You go girl

  16. Carla Gutman
    | Reply

    Mary, I look for your blog on my facebook page before I read anything else. You write so well and so from the
    heart that at times I want to just wrap my arms around you and tell you everything will be okay. Other times I
    want to yell at you and ask so what is next; I need to know more. Even when I read that you were a Pepsi girl and I
    have Diet Coke running through my veins I took a deep breath and said “ok so she isn’t perfect.”
    That is what everybody is…..not perfect……….but like Mary Poppins you are “practically perfect in every way”,

  17. Rukmini G
    | Reply

    Im in a graduate program for writing as well (down the road from you, in fact) and I turn to this blog whenever I need a reminder of what good, clear, simple writing is. I’ve done this since high school. I know this may not help with the critique and the fears that come with writing a book (goodness knows that the thought of my thesis is terrifying, whatever people may say about my capabilities), but I hope it helps to know that you’ve got fans of your writing already, first drafts or not.

  18. Gina Z
    | Reply

    Your writing work is not determined by your mom’s or dad’s writing endeavors. You are you, and your work is yours, not theirs (or the crit group. )

    Let’s just say, if blogging is a “first draft” …. you are just fine on the writing front for this reader! Hang in there,

  19. Michele Hunter
    | Reply

    Mary, you are a writer. From a loyal reader. Keep up the wonderful work!

  20. Lynn
    | Reply

    Well said Mary! Thank goodness January is almost here..Berlin is calling! Peace & Love

  21. Jean Morton
    | Reply

    Mary, I love to read your blog. It has real heart and real life. We all carry baggage from our parents, some good, some not. You are the best YOU, keep on, you inspire many of us!!

  22. Gina
    | Reply

    Mary….ditto to all above…..BUT….I have a niggling brain, and I have to know, was your Dad actually there? Or just this person who kind of, might have met him…….

    • Mary
      | Reply

      (No, just the lady friend!) xoxoxox

  23. AJ
    | Reply

    I have a similar circumstance regarding parental dynamics and my heart goes out to you for having to manage that in the midst of an already stressful situation. A friend once gave me great advice , “Always remember that you start with you and no one else.” That has been a very difficult principle to embrace and practice but it has become my mantra when I am blindsided, as you were in this instance, by issues related to my parents and their lives. BTW, I love Papergirl and always look forward to new posts. I love it just as it is; unique, wonderful, and real, just like you.

  24. Rachel S
    | Reply

    You write, I read…what more? Remember, you are an adult, you are from your parents but you are an individual. Take your gut, do what you dream and charge ahead. Remember the excitement of being accepted into school? Don’t forget that excitement! No one said it was going to be easy, YOU CAN DO THIS!!

  25. Christine
    | Reply

    I think your fear is every writer’s fear, whether or not her or his father was an aspiring, yet unpublished, author. The key to successful writing is to enjoy what you are doing.
    Do you write because you want to be published? Or do you write because you are a writer and writers WRITE! ?
    To “coin” a phrase (LOL) It’s the journey! Clever, right? I know you have never heard that before (she said, tongue in cheek.)
    I thoroughly enjoy reading your blog. Your writing inspires me to get those swirling, twirling, piling up thoughts and epiphanies down in print and out of my head!
    As said in previous comments, your blog is amazing. It draws a person in, and I have to admit, when I am reading it, I am thinking, she’s talking so personally, she must know all these other people who are reading and reply. I think this shows that you have a true art for connecting with your audience. Keep going, and don’t let the demons in your head discourage you!

  26. Natalie
    | Reply

    Mary, you got through this, so now you can get through anything! “What doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger” , someone once said!

  27. Maribeth Woolsey
    | Reply

    My dad was mentally ill. When I was a child he read books in bed every evening and ate pop corn. For years I could not read in bed . OK, I did eat pop corn… It finally occurred to me that I like to read before I turn out the light and sleep so time to get over that idea that I was like my dad if I read in bed. I am not my dad! So you are your own person and will succeed on your merits. I enjoy reading your thoughts and ideas!

  28. nadine donovan
    | Reply

    Mary–do not let the rise and falls of your parents predict who you are and determine your success in life. We have our parents DNA, but we are our own person. You are unique.You are subject to your own positive and negatives—therefore–cut your own path in life and shine. I understand how you feel in some ways. My Dad was a terrible alcoholic and alcoholism on my mom’s side. I could easly fear that I could fall victim to it, but I refuse to let it rule me. I also understand about your blog writing and no editor. I too, have a blog. I am not a writter-just a quilter and a new blogger. I have no experience in writing. I also know that my spelling is not the greatest-BUT I will not let it stop me from blogging. There are worse things in life to worry about. Stay strong and keep doing what you are doing. You are awesome!

  29. Cheryll
    | Reply

    Lots of good advice here. Interestingly, when I first started reading your blog I thought to myself….this woman needs to be a writer, such talent. How about that? In any case, my feeling is that after age 18 you are your own person. Your decisions are you own and the consequences of those decisions are yours as well. The family dynamic follows us too. You do have great talent and while you develop it I suspect there will be hurtles like this along the way. Hang in there, you just passed a big one. Enjoy the feeling, it will make you the writer you are meant to be.

  30. Lindsey
    | Reply

    Ah, the ‘what ifs’. It’s difficult to ignore the ‘ what ifs’ but they are a blind alley. Follow your own dream in your own way. Learn from your missteps and move forward doing what you feel you are meant to do. I think the point of life is to use the talents you have. One of your talents is writing. You have enough humility to seek input, and enough wisdom to temper that input. Your path is your own.
    Your power animal is a deer? That’ s a prey animal that flees or hides from danger. Maybe find a different power animal, just saying.

  31. Tracy
    | Reply

    Be true to you, you are an entirely unique person apart from your parents. Do what you love! Keep writing!

  32. Emily
    | Reply

    I would like to critique your use of language in this blog. When you said “he ain’t written it yet” it was such a break from your normal tone that the sarcasm came through.

    I understand your fear of comparison to a parent who is less than stellar. Just remember, you are your own person, and a very good one at that. You are motivated and finish what you start. You communicate very well with all of us and are open to feedback.

    The fact that this woman cannot differentiate between who you are and who he was 30 years ago is sad and was unprofessional to mention in a critique of your work.

    Knowing that it hurt you shows you are not like him. If you don’t finish, it ends up in the trash, or burned, it is YOUR choice and does not reflect on his influence of your work.

    Soldier on, girlfriend. Hold your head high and write on!!

    • Mary
      | Reply

      Thanks, Em! Quick clarification: The lady at my crit didn’t bring up my dad that day. She sent an email beforehand asking if he was my father and that she knew him from back when. xo 🙂

      • Iris
        | Reply

        Hi Mary,
        For me, when the past rears up and the feelings are overwhelming, that fight or flight response kicks in. Mary, you stayed the course; you were a class act from the time of the email contact to the end of the critique. Congratulations ! I admire that so much.
        On the other hand, what professional panelist contacts a student to clarify an association or relationship in the student’s personal life hours before a critique? I repeat, who does that? If your faculty does not have a protocol to guide the behaviors of their panelists – it should be considered. Just saying.
        Finally, as everyone here has eloquently attested, you are certainly not your father. He should aspire to your talents and accomplishments!

      • Emily
        | Reply

        Oh!! Thanks for clarifying!! Glad she didn’t go that far.

        It’s great to see all the support from your internet friends!!

  33. Claire
    | Reply

    Criticism is so painful, particularly if your self criticism is already heavy on your heart. I don’t believe that you aren’t a good writer, you have too many followers who know that you communicate in a very effective way. Learn from the thread of the critique, try not to take it personally.

  34. Sarah
    | Reply

    Darling girl; so often a “critique” just feels like out & out criticism. It’s a little like agreeing to stand in a room and let people use you for a dart board. I can see that you have already processed some of what you heard and are using that to improve your writing and for that you get a gold star. Some of what was said was probably not carefully thought out prior to being expressed. It might be interesting for you to do a little role play and put sock monkey in a chair and pretend he is you and then replay some of the things you heard that hurt, only this time it is you role-playing the “critiquer”. I whole-heartedly agree with all the positive comments from the others and can only say “keep going, you’re doing great stuff.”

  35. andrea
    | Reply

    Dear Mary,
    I also do strongly agree on what your other readers have said. For me and all of us you already a r e a writer and a very special one. Don’t looe your faith in yourself.

  36. Marilyn Jackson
    | Reply


    Have you ever heard that when a business hires a “management consultant” to look over the business to help them succeed, the consultant HAS to come back with recommendations for some major changes, or else he/she feels that they haven’t done what they were hired for, and therefore the consultant isn’t worth the money they are being paid. And they just can’t come back to the business owner and say: gee, things are really fine here. No major changes needed at all! So, even if the business is doing just great, the consultant HAS to criticize some things and recommend changes — even if the people doing the work realize that the changes will make things worse, not better. Everyone needs an editor, yes, but those asked to be on a critique panel have to find something, something, to critique. Just sayin’.

  37. rita
    | Reply

    I haven’t got the energy to read all those answers. It’s late Friday night. Maybe you won’t read this but my point is this:

    You’re not going to face anything harder than this was for a very long time.

    Enjoy that part of it at the very least.

  38. Marion
    | Reply

    I can echo what everyone else says – and I do – but I also know that nagging voice that tries to derail us. All I can say is this – you are already published. You speak, you write, you make quilt videos that teach me – you show up. Doesn’t sound like he has, for whatever reason, but rather than me bash your dad – you don’t need me to do that – I can only say honey, you’re already making this happen. You’re willing to put yourself out there and that my friend is half the battle. Onward and upward.

  39. Nancy McFall
    | Reply

    Mary, my friend, you are already a better writer than your dad. You question your choice of words even if you don’t want to. You listen to criticism even if you don’t agree with it. You know everyone needs help sometime even if you would rather not need it. Not every writer reaches maturity but you’re well on your way.

  40. Judy Forkner
    | Reply

    My husband traveled to business in England with a colleague who was from Ireland. This guy kept going on about how you could tell where someone was from (people from various parts of England), by listening to their accent. My husband said “I don’t care where someone is from, I care about where they’re going.” He also says “I don’t care what someone did before, I care about what they’re going to do.” In other words, You are you–not your dad. He has (almost) nothing to do with you!

  41. Nancy Batchelder
    | Reply

    Do you know any writers whose fathers were great writers before them? Heck, I don’t. So, as Margaret Mitchell (“Gone With the Wind”) put it, “Frankly my dear( critique lady who knew my dad) I don’t give a damn!”

  42. Sam
    | Reply

    Mary, Mary, Mary – don’t let all those strangers rule you. You are amazing – we love your writing, love your endearing qualities and of course you are a “sewsister”. Don’t let those people rent space in your head.

    • Susan
      | Reply

      Sam, I just LOVE the term you used…”sewsister.” I’d not heard that one but I will use it! Already singing in my head my new Mary Anthem! “Go, sister, sewsister, go sister, go!”

  43. Lesley Gilbert
    | Reply

    I like that you write from the heart – I like the unedited version 🙂

  44. Jane
    | Reply

    I have also met your father. More recently than the critic at your review.

    Trust and believe in yourself.

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