Eyes In The Back Of Your Head, Or The Value Of Critique Groups
The other day, I drove my two darling kids from another eventful trip to the grocery store. You know the kind of driving experience that ranks up there with a root canal. From the “Mommy, Shane hit me.”, to “No way, Emily hit me first.” To the most popular, “Shane won’t quit looking at me.”, followed by “Well, Emily spit at me”.
I, being in such a good parent, tell them to both cut it out or the next person who touches, spits, looks at, or talks, will not be getting dessert for a week. And I’ll know, because I can see them with the eyes in the back of my head.
Ah, blissful peace.
Once the suddenly quiet car came to a not-so-graceful stop in the garage, my son jumped from his seat and started digging through my hair.
“What are you doing?” I asked in that shocked mommy voice that can only be replicated by a cat that suddenly realizes he’s about to get a bath.
“I’m looking for the eyes in the back of your head,” my son announced in that seven-year-old befuddlement. “Where are they? I don’t see them.”
Trying not to laugh and give them the wrong impression that they were not going to be in trouble, I brushed his fingers from my head. “That’s because they’re invisible. I can see you and every movement you make, but you can’t see them.”
“Wow.” My four-year-old hurricane of a daughter exclaimed and unbuckled herself from her car seat. She started searching the back of my head along with her brother. “Hey, Shane, look. Do I have any?”
“Er. No, Emily. You don’t. Only Mommy has eyes in the back of her head. They developed in the delivery room when I had Shane and they’ll seal shut the moment you step up to the altar as a bride.” I answer smugly.
This conversation got me thinking about the mysterious concept of the all seeing eyes that are there, but not there. Just like critique groups.
The all seeing eyes that pick out our flaws that we are too close to see. These special people, unlike our children and relatives, who we’ve picked out and invited into our lives and into our writing. Similar to the way my children painstakingly searched through my hair, my critique group looks for missed opportunities in plot, motivation, description and grammar, just to name a few.
Like children, critique groups are a blending of individuals. But unlike passing on Uncle Charlie’s widow’s peak, or Aunt Mildred’s two-left feet, finding the perfect critique group can take a couple tries to get it right. Each member brings in their own personal strengths and weakness, while offering something unique and fresh. They also provide a special friendship, because who else would stick with you while you plan murder and mayhem or torturing lost souls for the fun of it.
While the eyes aren’t there for my children to see, the outcome is the same. Shane and Emily are well-behaved creatures now, (ha) in awe of mommy’s ability to see things when she’s not looking directly at them (if you believe that one I’ve got some swampland available in Arizona). My critique group is the invisible force that keeps my manuscript in line and is the reckoning force behind that polished piece of art on its way to New York City. And of course, we won’t mention the wine and the other delectable goodies available for consumption at our meetings either. That’s a whole separate issue.