Home of Ane Ryan Walker, Teller of Tall Tales, Writer of Short Stories

Tag: writing critique

Some Free Advice

“There are no monsters under the bed…

I’ve been having some difficulty with critiquing. Please don’t misunderstand. All writers—whether aspiring or accomplished need critique partners.

It is not easy to find what works for you and to identify what will work for others as well. Over the years I’ve been involved in multiple groups, where the support and assistance are invaluable. The people who are willing to tell you what’s wrong, and help you figure out how to fix it, are like a cool spring in the middle of the desert.

Sometimes, even constructive criticism is hard to hear.

The inability to perceive the construct in the criticism is typically due to our unwillingness to listen. So, here are a few tips that may help if you’re having difficulty getting to the heart of making the writing you’re working on saleable.

When you receive a critique don’t plunder into the material without thought. The person who provides the critique has spent their time, normally their writing time, to help you with your work. Typically to receive service in kind. So be thoughtful when you provide a critique as well.

Begin by setting aside time to review the work and do nothing else. Turn off the phone, shut down the internet, and focus on this task.

Be sure you’re open to new information. You may have planned exactly what happens next, or already written it down, plotted it out. Take this opportunity to be open to new ideas. Remember, writers are also readers. Be willing to let go of the old ideas and form some new ones. See if those are better.

Be in the moment. Think about the information offered. Do you need to ask questions? Is there something more to be accomplished with the give and take critiques require? Are you open to the discussion on improvements or clarifying points in the work?

Approach the critique with the positive intention. If you find the criticism confusing, or it seems odd, clarify. Make sure you and your critique partner are both speaking the same language.

Be persistent when working on your critique. Do not let your mind wander, or race ahead to parts plotted but not yet written. Push through and consider the advice you’re given. Sometimes it’s difficult for writers to see the tree in the forest. Occasionally others bring better ideas to the table.

Take the lead and thank the critique partner for their time. Be specific. “I appreciate your suggestions and am considering some minor rewrites.” Or “I need to set up the next event more clearly. Thanks for pointing that out.”

  Respect the time and energy the critique partner put into making the MS readable, and well-paced. Their writing may be meant to elicit emotions other than those you’ve targeted. But their input is always valuable.

When critiquing face to face, remember to look for body language clues that your partner feels underappreciated, or insulted by your “blow off” of their suggestions. Read the language you incorporate into your characters to avoid demeaning the work they did for you.

Remove ego from the communication. Be humble about the information you receive (and with the information you provide). You can pay attention to the details of the work if you do not equate ego with success.

Remember, stress or tension, such as that of first-time participants, can get in the way of effective communication. Stress affects the ability to listen. Again, read the body language if you’re given the opportunity.

Mirror the others communication skills. Being in sync with their style make it easier for them to listen and understand. Choose a similar rhythm to communicate effectively.

When you ask for help with a newly completed work, such as a beta read or a critique, the most important thing is to narrow your focus to what’s at hand.

Sometimes self-awareness means biting your tongue.

Happy Critiquing!

Truth or Power?

  “All things are subject to interpretation. Whichever interpretation prevails at a given time is a function of power and not truth.”

― Friedrich Nietzsche

So all the rules you can’t seem to help breaking today which will land you in plenty of hot water maybe perfectly acceptable tomorrow.  Just go with it. Things change. If you can wait around long enough.

When we begin our trip down the path to published author, we first need to learn the rules. Excellent advice. I cannot stress how important it is the know the rules before you break them. Only then can you justify the unique twist applied to individual voice.

My best advice is to go ahead and write through to the end. The end of the first (rough) draft.

Then, when the first draft is complete your real work begins. What do I mean by real work? Well, for starters, editing. What kind of editing you ask? Good question. Editing in and of itself, can be considered an art form.

There is Developmental editing. This editing looks at the overall story. How did you structure the story you wrote? Is it logical? Does it follow a linear timeline? Does it make sense? Does it have all the components of a good story, in a logical fashion which will most likely cause your readers to pick up your book, and keep reading through to the conclusion.

Developmental editing is very expensive, and it is not the kind of editing you can do for yourself. Often we ask critique partners to assist us with line editing, and Beta reads. Not your best choice. As far as critique partners go, they make great critique partners or we wouldn’t keep them as critique partners. Most writers–especially those who take themselves seriously–have beta readers lined up. Those are folks who 1) like to read, 2) will be honest about the material they read, 3)have some idea of what makes a good story. At least look for Beta readers who have a clue about what makes a story good and what make it fail story-wise.

Line editing is exactly as it reads. An editor, who you pay, or your publisher pays, goes through your manuscript line by line looking for typos, grammar errors, (such as their for they are, or where for wear, etc.)and other inconsistencies. A character who is short  in chapter one who towers over others in chapter three, or might have blue eyes for several chapters which mysteriously change to green eyes in the end of the book.

Copy editing is done by the truly anal retentive. A copy editor’s job is to make sure you adhere to the house style designated by your publisher. Check submission guidelines. Submission guidelines as laid out by the publisher, will commonly indicate “house style”. Often the Chicago Manual of Style is indicated as the standard. The copy editor is the one who will help you to “tighten” your story. They help you to remove the unnecessary words, those which drag your manuscript down, making it harder to read, or slower to read.

Acquisitions editor is the employee of the traditional publisher who sees your project (book) through to completion. They buy your book. Which means, they sold your book to the sales team and the editorial board,but that’s a story for another time, another blog.

That’s about it for now, unless you plan to use and editor for SEO. For those of you scratching your heads, Search Engine Optimization. Because, when someone goes looking for your book, you need to help them find it.

Opinion vs. Reality

   “Don’t let someone else’s opinion of you become your reality.”

― Les Brown

 

Do you sometimes put too much stock in what others say? Spend too much time worrying what other think? These are the two foremost traits of the dreaded internal editor. They are deadly to the pursuit of a writing career.

I’ll be the first one to say we all need a little help from our friends. Critique partners, mentors, like minded aspiring writers, Beta readers, and of course the professional editor whom we hire to help us make our work …better. That is the end goal, a story that is just better. and that’s a good thing, right?

But there sometimes is just too much of a good thing. So we have to know when to say no.

You know you can do it.  Say it with me now. I appreciate your input, I honestly value the time and thought you gave to this, but I just don’t agree. But make sure you know the reason why you don’t agree and that the reason is justified.

Anyone can correct my grammar. Almost everyone does, because sometimes it’s necessary. I have a thought, and not being the best typist, it goes down hard and fast. Mostly hard, and often incorrect. In spite of that, I sometimes don’t take well-meant advice if I feel it interferes with “voice”.

You are always allowed to say no, even though many times you shouldn’t.  There are those writers who come seeking advice and encouragement who want you to approve their choices. And that is not always possible. When the writer refuses to listen to the reason for changes, they don’t approach– and are certainly not receptive to– improving their writing.

The opinion most authors have of aspiring writers who fail to follow advice is often quite low. If you don’t understand the reason for the suggested changes, ask. Listen carefully, sometimes it is simply a matter of structure or placement, not big changes in the grand scheme of things.

Sheeple

The greatest fear in the world is of the opinions of others. And the moment you are unafraid of the crowd you are no longer a sheep, you become a lion. A great roar arises in your heart, the roar of freedom.

― Osho

 

So if you start this year making promises to yourself, stand up –or sit down if you’re writing –and tell your story, your way. The most productive thing you can do, is to keep the promises you make to yourself.

If you’re going to keep promises, you should make an effort to be your true self all the time, especially when you are telling your story. Remember to tell your story your way. After all, isn’t that what being true to your self is all about?

I know plenty of people who don’t do this, and that’s a major contributing factor to their downfall, or to a failure to launch.

Sadly, when we begin pursuing a writing career we are hellbent on pleasing everyone who gives us advice, and anyone kind enough to offer any type of direction. When this behavior is coupled with the personality type which attempts to please everyone else instead of oneself, disaster ensues. First chapter writing contests are a major offender. Many times writing contests sponsored by writing groups who claim to be able to help you with that introduction to an agent or editor are major offenders in this area.

These writing contests send your unattended story off to many non-trained people to offer a critique of the introduction to your work without regard to the level of writer giving the critique.  Critiquing is in itself an art form, and is not an experience to be shared with anyone you do not trust. Often harsh words and poorly thought out comments sabotage many aspiring writers, especially those with fragile egos or a lack of support at home.

In spite of all that, many aspiring writers acting as “sheeple” dutifully make the changes suggested, no matter how outrageous, and pony up another $25-$35 for the next round of ill-advised potential to “get your work in front of the editor or agent you want to impress”.  The writers who win these contests know it’s often left to the luck of the draw. Their writing is usually spot on, but first they were lucky enough to get first round judges who were looking at story, not hunting a simple misplaced comma.

Make this a word to the wise; not all advice is good advice even if you’re paying for it.

Take the time to ask questions. Make sure you are getting what you pay for, in terms of writing advice. Are the contest judges trained to give a reasonable and helpful first chapter critique? Do they offer insight to writing “mistakes” and a method to assist you in correcting the mistakes and thereby learning new skills? Is your story improved by the input you  received?

While asking for feedback from an independent source is scary, remember you pay a tribute to receive the criticism. Use the advice you get wisely, and remember it’s always your story, your choice.

 

 

 

A Word on Critique Partners

Coming together is a beginning; keeping together is progress; working together is success.

― Henry Ford

 

Giving a critique is hard work, but getting one can be almost traumatic.  It depends on where you are in your writing. I’ve been at this for a long time, and I know the closer you get to finally accomplishing your goal, if your goal is getting published, the more painful receiving a critique is as an event.

And getting a good critique is an event.

In my first chapter of RWA, the Published authors generously donated their time to critique manuscripts for the aspiring authors in the group. Each month, the aspiring authors recorded the number of pages they completed in that thirty-day period into a small booklet at the chapter meeting.  For each fifty pages, you were given an entry into a drawing and once a quarter, the published author who had volunteered provided a critique.

This is how I learned all critiques are not created equal.

Although the generosity of the authors in my group never failed to amaze me, the difference between the critiques was much like night and day.  Most authors offer valuable input in terms of when they get pulled out of the story, and obvious glaring grammatical errors, but many aspiring authors don’t know how to convey exactly what is wrong with the story, even when they know it to be true.

Especially writers who are “born Storytellers”.  They are often some version of pantsers (those who write by the seat of their pants) who have an innate sense of story, almost a race memory from ancient times and even though they know something is missing, they cannot name the missing element.

Sometimes, just being made aware of “bumps” that throw a reader out of a story is helpful.  Sadly, for the person just starting out who is still learning the craft, those notifications are often more aggravating than helpful.  They need the assistance of the experienced writer in vivid detail.

If you’re trying to help an aspiring writer just take a chance, try telling them where they went wrong and the specific why of how that happened.  Such as, “I don’t believe your character would do this” (motivation), or there is no point in telling us this right now, (backstory). Help the aspiring writer find the steps of character growth. You don’t need to hold the hand of the newbie, or do it for them, but rather help with pointing to a class and craft workshops or books which may help them develop a writing style on their own.

The most valuable critique partners are those who are on a similar level, and are willing to work on their craft.  They often see the problems in your manuscript more clearly than they can see their own mistakes, and this is an effective way to learn.  I often find my own transgressions after doing a detailed critique for someone else.  Every aspect of critiquing enhances a writers polish on their own work.

Critique is the single most valuable input a writer can get on an unpublished manuscript. Hopefully, before beta readers tell you whether or not your story is salable.

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