Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Critiques I: On the Receiving End of a Gut Punch

If you get a critique that doesn't feel like a gut punch, it's probably useless.

No, it's useless.


If you want to make your writing better, you WANT it to look like your critiquer made your paper bleed. (I use green pen or font color… Vulcan blood.)

It's okay to disagree, be pissed off, hurt, upset, feel like a failure. Give those feelings their respect, and move on. Sit on a critique for at least a day, if not longer. If you're in a live group, thank your critiquers and ask questions only for things you don't understand. Take lots of notes. If you're part of an online group or correspondence critique group, send a "thank you" note (or comment), and say you'll look through things later.

Then wait.

Do NOT defend your work.
Do NOT argue.
Do NOT send of a flaming email or letter or comment about how stupid a critiquer is or how s/he didn't get your writing and has issues… etc. etc. etc.

When you've cooled down (if you're a newer writer, this may take more than 1 day; I usually am good after a day or a good night's sleep), look at the comments. If you have had an excellent critiquer, s/he will have asked questions or phrased comments open-endedly, focusing on how/why this piece/part/sentence/word didn't work for her/him. If you have a not-so-experienced critiquer, search for the how/why in regards to these comments. This "how/why" does this work/not work is key to your work. Grammar and line edits are all fine and well, but if there is a core issue that 2-3 or more or all your readers aren't getting => THAT is what you are looking for. If several people don't "get" something, there's a good chance an editor, an agent, another reader won't "get" it. And that is your fault - the writer's fault. You have not communicated something clearly.

Readers who don't give you comments or just say something is good or make an excuse of your writing not "being their thing" are useless. If someone loves it, great. Your ego gets shined… but it doesn't help your writing. If someone bows out of comments because "I don't read science fiction" or "I don't like horror," that's a cop out. It might save your some ego bruising, but it doesn't help you.

An example:

I sent out a piece to my correspondence writing group that I knew was edgy, somewhat provocative, and not an easy read.

I had some interesting responses.

One woman absolutely hated the piece and berated everything; there was NOTHING going for this story according to her comments. From most of the other comments I'd received, her reaction was singular in "not getting" the story. However, she made several good observations about some crappy word choices, order, and sentence structure that others had missed - and that I agreed with. It was one of the most painful critiques, and certainly not the most useful, but I garnered something out of it. Furthermore, I know enough about this particular reader - and the others who didn't like or didn't "get" it - to have a better picture of what sort of reading demographic this piece won't work at, so I'm not wasting my or an editor's time submitting it there.

On the other hand, I had a comment where the critiquer found the story "horrific," and something she wouldn't read, so she couldn't comment on it.

Which of these women did I learn from? Who made my story better and helped me in my search for the right market?

The one who I really did have to wait several days for recovery from.

No matter how painful your responses are, no matter how much red (or green or purple or pencil) decorates your beloved writing, no matter if MS Comments sports a higher word count than the original document - THANK the person who is giving you the critique.

Think of how much effort they put in - to help you!

Thank them. And listen.

They might just be right on a few things.


A Novel Friend © 2008 by para Você | Re-design Sweet Baby Girl