Writing

Open to Critique

Well, here it is…me braving my own personal wilderness. Putting my words out there and opening myself up to critique. For writers starting out, this can be a very difficult thing. Our work is personal to us, it’s a piece of us that we’re setting free into the world and opening up for rejection after rejection after rejection.

My dad loves to remind me that Jim Davis, the creator of Garfield, started out with a comic strip about a little gnat that no one really cared for. He received hundreds of rejections before he revamped his cartoon strip to feature the lazy, lasagna binging cat we all know as Garfield.

How did he come to the decision to switch his tactics? One of the editors gave him a critique…switch to something people can relate to. And thus, Garfield was born.

Image result for garfield comic strip writing

I’ve had considerable exposure to critiques, criticism, even the poorly edited flame by anonymous readers looking to hit a nice, juicy vein and destroy my desire for writing. I figured flamers out pretty quick and turned a blind eye to them…mostly because there was nothing constructive or helpful about their comments. They were just cuss word laden diatribes that made no sense.

Those other critiques though? Those I learned from and grew from. Those helped me hone my craft and continue to do so. Of course…that’s all fanfiction related. The real deal? The real deal I keep holding close like a good hand of cards, afraid to show anyone besides myself.

Time to set it free! Now, this isn’t done yet. It’s got more time invested in it than any piece of original fiction I’ve done, time that includes an outline. For anyone who didn’t catch my previous post on outlines…I despise them. Or did. I’m coming around. This is a work in progress.

But for anyone reading this, I implore you to comment, to offer your insight and honest criticism. There’s no growth in not being willing to admit that you’re still a work in progress willing to take the advice and apply it.

So, without further procrastination, here it is; a bit of Bound – Book One – Ten of Swords.

“Miss Sands, do you know why you’re here?”

“Because…because I’m seeing things that aren’t there.”

“That’s right, dear. You know, Morgan, an active imagination is a wonderful thing to have. However…when that imagination goes too far and starts to intercede with daily schedules, it becomes more damaging than helpful.”

“Damaging?”

“How old are you, Morgan?”

“Thirteen.”

“Thirteen…is far too old to be entertaining ideas of an imaginary friend, don’t you think?”

“….maybe?”

“Maybe. Well, we’ll talk more about this in our future visits. For now, I would like to start you on a prescription. It’s very mild, but it will help you maintain focus. I’ve discussed this with your mother as well and she believes that it is a very good idea. She’s concerned about you, Morgan. She worries about how withdrawn you are from everyone around you.”

“I don’t understand. My mother-.”

“We’re not here to talk about your mother. We’re here to talk about you. We’re here to talk about what’s best for you. Do you understand?”

“I…yes.”

“That’s a good girl.”

Morgan Sands sat up with a start, her hand gripping the arm of the chair she’d dozed off in. Bright red-tinted sunlight filtered through the sterile blinds, easing her from the memories and bringing her back to the present – back to a small room furnished with only the basics. That’s all she was really allowed. A simple quilt spread over the pristine white linens of the hospital bed, simple clothing in a three drawer dresser beside it, and aged books from the library on a bedside table that was fastened to the wall by strips of steel. 

Those strips of steel always sparked some deeply seeded anger inside of her, one she worked diligently to keep at bay. They didn’t approve of anger in the Tradewind Hospital. She had learned that early on. They approved of quiet, well tempered children who were clearly benefiting from the care they were being provided. And had Morgan actually had a problem, she would feel that the care was adequate. 

Her eyes fixed on the stretch of fading red across the floor, watching it ease its way over the bed. She couldn’t take her eyes from the spread of natural light. Late in the day like this, the simplicity of the natural light was something she craved. It was a normalcy that hadn’t existed for her in several years. Strong enough to banish the shadow of the bars that closed her in, it was easy to imagine that she was somewhere else where barred enclosures did not exist. Where doors remained unlocked and she was free to wander without having a nurse close behind her or without having a stretch of chain link in front of her.  

Closing her eyes, she pulled her knees up, hugged them to her chest and imagined what it would be like to walk without stopping. The cool grass would tickle her bare feet, the wind would tug at her hair, tempting her to run but she would resist. The smell of the salted ocean would coax her and she could go to it, walk in its surf and feel freedom wash over her toes. 

The grate of a key in a lock interrupted her thoughts and she turned her head to the sound, watching as Ms. Bast pushed the door open and offered her a smile of greeting. 

“Hello Morgan,” she greeted, walking to the bedside table and gathering the tray from breakfast. “How are you this morning?”

“I’m okay,” Morgan replied. Okay was safe. Okay was expected. It was part of the arsenal of the safe zone Morgan had familiarized herself with. 

“Your mother’s here. If you’d like to follow me-.”

It was worded as a question, but Morgan knew better. The nurses made every effort to include the patients, to make them feel like they had a choice and give them a sense of independence. And thought it was admirable, Morgan couldn’t help but feel disdain towards them. She was treated like every other patient. Only she knew she wasn’t like every other patient. The only sickness she suffered from was a steadily growing anger and sense of injustice. 

Pushing up from her chair, Morgan fell in step behind Ms. Bast. She kept her gaze fixed on the low bun at the back of the nurse’s head, ignoring her surroundings. They were never changing – the blinding white walls staggered with generic paintings of various landscapes, the occasional closed door with a numbered plaque beside it, other patients who either ignored her completely or gave her looks that bordered on hostile. They didn’t appreciate her silence. It made her that “uppity new girl” that everyone loved to hate. Even after three years, she maintained the title. 

Ms. Bast took a left as the hallway opened into a large community area, leading Morgan down a hallway that was designed a world away from the hospital-like surroundings of the ward. This hallway was classy – hues of rich burgundy and green inviting the families of soon to be or existing patients. Designed to keep people at ease in the face of something horribly awkward and disquieting, the “shrink wing” as it was called by all residence, consisted of counseling rooms, family waiting rooms and the offices of the director, assistant director and handful of psychiatrists. 

The door on the far left just beyond the lobby was her destination. She knew it well. It was the office of her psychiatrist who also played a dual-role as the onsite Assistant Director – Janet Burquist. 

As they approached the partially opened door, Morgan could hear the lull of feminine voices, both familiar. And though she steeled herself – forcing her shoulders back and fixing a look of indifference on her face – her heart tripped uncomfortably. 

“Ms. Burquist,” Ms. Bast said as she pushed the door open, announcing their arrival. 

Janet Burquist sat up and smiled, her glossy lips pulling tight over large but perfect teeth. “Hello Morgan,” she greeted in a voice that was painfully professional. Morgan never cared for Janet’s voice. She didn’t care much for Janet either. Tall and elegant, her blond hair always artfully swept away from her face and pulled back in styles that most could not pass off without looking sloppy, Janet was just too…perfect. And if her appearance wasn’t enough to prove that, the numerous plaques and diplomas over her desk made certain that the impression was there. 

In Morgan’s opinion, however, no amount of perfection and diplomas could make Janet realize that not everyone thought the same way. No person that came through those doors to be either a short term or long term resident was textbook in their disorders. 

Across from Janet, and the source of the nervous energy Morgan had felt upon entering the room, sat Roxanne Sands, her mother. 

“Hi honey,” she greeted, getting to her feet and smoothing a hand over the dove gray slacks that clung to her legs. The top she wore was woven cream, complementing the olive colored skin Morgan had not inherited. 

“You cut your hair,” Morgan returned, her voice flat and devoid of any emotion. She felt only the slightest twinge of guilt and the need to be less informal – but only the slightest. No amount of time could lessen the blow of her mother admitting her to this place. 

Roxanne’s hand flitted nervously to the angled bob, toying with the tips and reminding Morgan of a teenage girl confronted by her long-time crush. 

“Yes. Aubrey Hudson did it. You remember her, right? Runs a salon out of her house?”

Morgan did remember her. Aubrey Hudson was one of her mother’s long time friends and confidants. She had always been kind to Morgan, but there had been careful reservation in every interaction, almost as if Aubrey felt she was approaching a wild animal. 

Instead of answering the question, Morgan turned to Janet. She saw the disapproval on the older woman’s face immediately and couldn’t care less. Janet had wanted her to work on her relationship with her mother. As far as Morgan was concerned, her mother had given up every right to a reconciliation the minute she had decided Morgan was just too much for her to handle. 

“Have a seat, Morgan.” Janet indicated to the chair beside her mother with a sweeping gesture of her hand.

She did so, keeping her back straight and her shoulders back. Something about this room always provoked a sense of agitation. It kept her on guard and alert. Nothing good happened in this room, regardless of how much effort had been put into making the image professional and welcoming. She had been turned over to the hospital in this room, she had been prescribed medications in this room, she had learned that her mouth would only get her in trouble and quickly silence it. She’d been made to forget things in this room, a fact of which haunted her relentlessly every day and night. 

“After much discussion and taking into consideration the length of time you have been with us, we have decided to discharge you.”

The tension drained from Morgan’s body in a sudden rush, and yet she remained rigid, frozen in place by the unexpected news. “I’m sorry…what?”

Janet sat back, resting her elbows on the padded arms of her chair and steepling her perfectly manicured fingers below her chin. “This does not mean that I believe you’ve made much personal growth. I think we can both agree that you’ve taken some shortcuts in your treatment. However, your condition is mild, at best. What you have displayed is the ability to conform to a standard and, with continued medication, I believe that you should be able to function fine outside of the hospital.”

Gosh, thanks, Morgan thought, bitterness creeping through her insides. She didn’t appreciate the condensation in Janet’s voice, especially now with the added bite. 

“After reviewing your progress notes from your therapist and recent mental health evaluation. your mother agrees that your stay here has been sufficient and feels confident in allowing you to leave.”

Morgan started as her mother grasped her hand, looking at her with an overly bright smile. There was anxiety in her eyes though. No amount of fake smiling could hide it. 

“I want you to come home, honey,” Roxanne murmured. “I’ve gotten a good start at getting you enrolled in school again. Your senior year. How fun, right?”

Morgan hesitated, glancing down at the hand that tightly gripped hers. “Sure.”

“Your mother has already completed the necessary paperwork for your release,” Janet continued, closing a manila folder and sliding it across the desk. “The prescriptions for your medications have been forwarded to the local pharmacy. So…you’re free to go, Morgan. We hope your stay here at Trade Winds Hospital has been a pleasant one. We’ll stay in touch to check on your progress and I strongly suggest scheduling sessions in the future, though it’s not necessary. Just something we recommend upon release. I’ve included my references on your discharge notes that we provided to your mother. Did you have any questions?”

Morgan shook her head almost frantically. She had nothing more to say to this woman. She had nothing left to give this prison. The white walled, disturbingly pristine facet could burn to the damn ground for all she cared…with Janet inside preferably. The final thought had a ghost of a smile passing over her face as she stood and started for the door, the parting pleasantries of her mother and Janet registering as mild annoyances among the sudden elation at not having to spend another night somewhere that she didn’t belong. 

1 thought on “Open to Critique”

  1. HI Andrea. First – love the story, hope it continues. As far as critiquing goes, be careful with overuse of phrases starting with “that” – i.e.”It was a normalcy that hadn’t existed for her in several years. Strong enough to banish the shadow of the bars that closed her in, it was easy to imagine that she was somewhere else where barred enclosures did not exist.” I think you could switch out some of those clauses with an adjective or adverb. I.E ‘bars closing her in.’

    I felt the need for some additional commas in a couple of places, too; but, if I were you I would read this outload to see if pauses are necessary. I’m not sure about the use of the word “intercede” as it felt awkward to me and may not have the right meaning – it generally means to separate opposing factions – it felt like the word should be “interrupt.”

    Having said all that – mostly minor issues – I really like what you are doing with the character and wanted to read on. Given the amount of reading I do, that is meant as a complement!! Good job so far.

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