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Using the Phrase "My Intention Was..." Will Save Everyone's Sanity


If you've ever been part of a writing group, you know that the group's main function is to read each other's stories and give feedback so the author can re-write and improve the story. When someone tells a writer what's wrong with their story, the writer's gut instinct is usually going to be to try to explain it. "No, I wasn't making her a shrew, I was showing how she was all full of vim and vigor until she married this guy who has drained the joy from her life. See, on page eight she says..."


The problem is that if your writing group, who is reading more carefully than the average person, didn't pick up what you were going for then you can't expect other readers to, either. They will explain this to you, and tell you why it doesn't work, and then you will say you think it does work and the whole thing devolves into an argument that gets nowhere.


For this reason, almost every writing group has a rule that when people are critiquing your work you are not allowed to speak. This rule makes perfect sense, keeps writing groups orderly and productive, and often leads to writers running out of the room in tears. Writers want to be heard, and being gagged while listening to people misunderstand their work makes them wonder if they've inadvertantly wandered onto one of the planes of hell where ironic tortures are carried out.


I have something I tried once. And it worked so I keep doing it. While people critique my work I sit quietly and take notes. After that part is over I go through the notes in order and say, "My intention was _______, can you help me understand why that didn't work?"


For example, "My intention was that the main character reminicing with her friends about all the fun they used to have would show the reader that she was once full of life, and that by comparing that to how unhappy she is now the reader would understand it was her marriage that caused the change. That doesn't seem to have gotten across to the readers. Can you help me understand why not?"


See what I did there? I got to explain myself, relieving some of the frustration of feeling like my work isn't understood, while at the same time acknowledging that as the author it is my responsibility to keep working on it until it is understood. And I asked for help, which encourages a group effort toward finding a solution. 

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