“This is not pleasant to you, Emma – and it is very far from pleasant to me, but I must, I will, – I will tell you truths while I can, satisfied with proving myself your friend by very faithful counsel, and trusting that you will some time or other do me greater justice than you can do now.” Emma, chapter 43
Badly done, Emma! The quote above wraps up Mr. Knightley’s scorching reproof for her sharp witticism to Miss Bates at Box Hill. Emma was blown back by his words, but immediately acknowledged the justice in them. She was angry with herself, mortified, agitated, grieved, and vexed beyond expression. In fact, the author tells us, Emma had never been so depressed. Truth hurts!
Reading over Emma’s disheartening list of emotions, I realized that’s close to how I feel when on the receiving end of a seemingly harsh critique of my work (“Badly done, Shannon!”). I’m upset, embarrassed, depressed, ready to chuck it all. My first instinct may be to kill the messenger for failing to recognize my genius. But, eventually, I have to admit s/he might have a point or two. Perhaps my perfect piece of prose is not so perfect after all – not yet, anyway. Hard as it is to hear, though, I (like Emma) really need to hear it.
A writer (or any other artist) can never be totally objective about his/her own work. So how can you improve unless someone else shows you your flaws? A good critique group will do this for you. Your mother may swear everything you’ve written is pure gold (and her blind loyalty will help to buffer the acid in your stomach over the repeated rejections on the road to success), but we each need a couple of people who will tell it like it is – knowledgable, brutally-honest-yet-kind-hearted speakers of the plain truth. By their faithful counsel, they prove themselves our friends, and they call us to do their confidence in us better justice in the future. Hey, if Emma can benefit by a frank critique, there’s hope for the rest of us.