Friday

Just the Way You Are

This blog offering was inspired by someone I've admired for a handful of years now - as a writer and person - and consider a friend - no matter that I've never met her IRL and she lives in a different country. Claire from All the World's Our Page had some terrific thoughts on the art of critiquing, and humility. (Do not let her humility in that post fool you - girl has serious talent. For realz.)

I couldn't agree more about her thoughts on great crit partners, and with some of her insights on believing in yourself first and foremost. I'm going to share something I learned about critiques when I first put my work out there for slaying critiquing, over at the Compuserve Forum - more than 3 years ago. And I think it's one of the most important.

You can't please all of the people all of the time.

Good crit partners are priceless. They will destroy your cliches, point out the passive crapola, slay the modifiers and dialogue tags, and have some serious-awesome suggestions for overall improvement.

Howevah...

When you get a critted piece back, read it over. Then read it over again, correcting all the inevitable typos and silly mistakes they found. Then put it away and pout, cry, curse, be pissed - whatever you need - for a few days. Forget all about it. Have some beer. Play Rock Band with the kids. Then read it again. This time, looking for all the personal opinions.

There are some things only you can decide for your plot, and MC's.

When I was a newbie, I'd get that first painful crit back and...really?...Critter A hates that part where X plays the trick on Y?

Obviously the trick needs to go. Seek and destroy.

Then Critters B & C would weigh in, and my reaction would go something like:

Wait, what? You both love X playing the trick on Y? But, but...Critter A hated that part. And, and...I already changed it. Crap. Back to the writing board.

People have different reactions to critiques, and plenty probably react similarly to the way I used to. Some may already have figured out to wait on changing things, and there are surely those out there who get their future bestselling masterpieces back and choose to ignore everything, because, well, their critters are obviously stupid and have no eye for good writing.

Side Note: Those of you in the last category may want to read over Claire's bit about humility again. You can be good, you can even be great, but you can always learn something from others.

Now, I'm not saying personal opinions can't also become good crits. For instance if 2 of 3 separately comment that X tricking Y isn't doing it for them, you need to take a hard look. If it's 1-1 and the third doesn't even mention it, chances are you need to do a thorough reading of that area and make your own decision.

Okay, you can resume singing Billy Joel now...*don't go changing to try and please me...*

31 comments:

J.L. Campbell said...

Good post. Whenever I get really critical feedback, I have to put same aside for a while (and let the throbbing in my head subside) before digging in to unearth the gems that are in there. I agree that if a few people mention something in particular, it pays to look at that and see if I wasn't way off base. My writing wouldn't be what it is today were it not for my critique partners.

Melissa Bradley said...

Awesome advice and I could not agree more. My crit partners are invaluable, I would not be the writer I am without them. But it is very important to maintain your voice and your vision. Thanks for sharing.

Claire Gregory said...

Aw! You're too sweet :) *And* you're an awesome crit partner yourself, which is clearly because you have the nouse and the experience to Get It. Oh, and the talent, too.

I realise I probably didn't emphasise enough the importance of the let-it-settle aspect of receiving critiques from anyone, crit partners or otherwise, so it was great to see your additions on that. So true. I'm going to add a link back to your post in mine so the picture is nice and whole.

Anne Gallagher said...

I always have to let things settle for a few days before I can really attack them. I read them and speculate, then leave them alone. Then I go outside and do yardwork. That helps.

Zan Marie said...

I'm going to agree with Clarie. You're a great critter! I really think it takes time to be able to learn from crits. I realize I'm just at that point, finally moving from a novice to a learning writer who can take what's said and let it really sink in.

Erica Mitchell-Spickard said...

I used to get mad, but now...after being with the same group for over a year, they are very, VERY, open about their likes and dislikes. I go through the technicals, the opinions on content however, it it's across the board on one issue I will fix it. If it's just one, I'll consider it. But we've been together so long now that no amount of red scares me. Most importantly, I learned to be humble and take the advice and then I learned, when it comes to content I get the final say otherwise the chapters go wonky with too many opinions. BALANCE :)

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

I take everything my test readers say to heart, but I do realize some things are a matter of taste. Usually I feel they are correct and make some changes, but I've held my ground on a few items.

Summer Frey said...

You are a kickass CP! I can't wait for you to get your red type on my MS. And the more friendship-level trust there is between CPs, the more you can take--and give.

Lola Sharp said...

What Summer said. :)

I don't think I've met Claire, so I will head over there now.

Have a delightful weekend, love.

welcome to my world of poetry said...

A great and interesting post. Wonderful to read.

Yvonne,

Carol Kilgore said...

I agree at least 200% on everything you said. I also agree with Summer about the trust. Now I'm heading over to read Claire's post.

Faith said...

Good points!!! I've entered MS's in contests and found that sometimes a lot of the feedback is just personal opinion... once I had 2 "crits" in the same contest from different judges, with completely different reactions. That was interesting. I just had to carefully parse what was opinion, what was genuine critique, and find the best suggestions to make my work stronger.

Melissa said...

I agree. I mean, you can't make anyone happy and there are going to be people who misinterpret your book and just "don't get it"

It's going to happen. We need to remember not to do anything that will destroy our own stories. It is very important.

Deniz Bevan said...

Great post Tara - and Claire! I wouldn't be doing what I'm doing now (revising for eventual publishing) without everyone at the Forum, and the advice and straight talk I get from you guys. Heck, I'd still be churning out first drafts, calling them finished and moving on to new stories. Or even, gasp, not writing every day!

Old Kitty said...

Oh yay for good critiquers!!! At the end of the day though, it is your story and I always believe in going with one's gut feeling about your unique vision - but to do so of course with a spattering of humility. If more than one person says x,y,z don't work for them, then it doesn't! LOL! I guess balance is everything! take care
x

Amy said...

Great advice. I will check out Claire's blog too. Thanks.

Sari Webb said...

Great post Tara. I love getting critiques back. When I see an email from one of my critique partners I get quite excited. But that's not to say I don't sometimes feel a bit defensive. Usually, though, I agree with what they've got to say.

Jai Joshi said...

It's good advice. Critique partners for me are first and foremost a source of fresh eyes and moral support. I always trust my own instincts but I'm open to suggestions and new thoughts because it always helps even when I don't think it is.

Jai

alexia said...

Great point! I love critiques, but ultimately you do have to make your own decision on whether or not to make the changes.

Joanne said...

Thanks Tara! There is some good advice in this posting. I remember going to a meeting with a writer's group and reading my first chapter. I got mixed reviews, including from myself (it sounds very different when you read it aloud to other people.)Instead of taking it all in I left with the notion that my book sucked and I should just stick with my day job! It took a while for me to finish licking my wounds and look at from a healthier perspective!

Jon Paul said...

Tara--Your spot on, as usual!

As you point out, trust (in yourself and in your CPs) is a huge part of being a successful writer IMHO!

I know without a doubt that when I finally get something finished to toss at you and the rest of the gang, I'll be in great hands!

Now if I could just get it finished....;)

Laura Howard said...

I've only just begun to be a "real" writer... Not much critiquing goin on here yet. I do have a writing friend who read my work and said " it's good" does that count?? LOL
If I buy a snuggie does that make me a real-er writer?

M Pax said...

I find online critique easier to take than with my local group. But critique is invaluable and it makes us better - if we keep an open mind.

I try to point out what people get right, too, when giving feedback. We need to be as aware of our strengths as what we still need to work on.

Jennifer O. said...

LOVE that you posted Somerset Maugham's quote on your sidebar. I hadn't heard it before, but yup--it sounds like something he'd say.

Sharon K. Mayhew said...

Super post! CP's are so important...they help us grow, they are our cheerleaders, they pick up the pieces when we are crushed. They understand us better than non-writing friends.

Regina said...

Fantastic post today. I couldn't agree more with what you are saying. Only you have the final say on scene changes and cuts. Crits and Beta readers can help with some of the other things but you create the story. You can be the only one to make the changes for good.

roh morgon said...

Great post!

Critiquers can be your biggest allies in getting your work ready to launch out into the larger world. I wouldn't be so far along in my writing if it wasn't for my CPs!

Not So Simply Single said...

Love the picture on the top of your blog. Beautiful!

Lovely writing! I will be back!

Lisa

Carol Kilgore said...

Stopping back again to let you know there's something for you at my blog.

Victoria Dixon said...

Yeah, I've really struggled with the wide variety of responses to my ms. What I've learned about critiques is to always ask why someone thought as they did if I disagree with their original comment. So many times what I think they're complaining about isn't what I'd expected and I find I agree with them!

Jennifer Shirk said...

That's really good to remember. When I first started writing I would change EVERYTHING if a crit partner said something. Now I hold off and think about it more before changing--if I change.
You're right. You're not going to please everyone. :)