Monday, October 20, 2008

Be Your Own Worst Critic (So Others Won't Want To)

(reprinted from the blog at

We all do it. We write a book we love. It's wonderful. Its characters made us laugh. They made us cry. They made us fall in love. "That book is my baby," we say.

Until that manuscript goes into a drawer for a month while you let the ink dry, and the objectivity comes back.

This is what you must do as a writer, to distance yourself from the books you've written. Only after you haven't seen the work for a while, can you read it with fresh eyes. And when you come back and hate the words you've put on the page, and you're ready to burn it, and you think you should never torture the world with your prose again ... then you're ready to revise.

Being critical of your work is not a bad thing. In fact, it will help you get the thick skin you need to be an author. Your worst critic--you--is about to become your best ally on the road to publication.

First and foremost, you'll need to look at the mechanics of your writing. Are the sentences structured properly? Are you using poor grammar only where it's done on purpose (There are such instances!)? Is your book loaded with adverbs? Too much telling and not enough showing? Remember: Unless you fix the mechanics, your reader won't be able to see past clunky writing to appreciate the great plot and characters of your book.

Next, look at characterization, POV, and flow of your storyline. Is everything consistent? Do a character's actions and reactions make sense for his/her worldview? Do the scenes flow nicely? Are some too short and others too long? Do you get to spend enough time in each major character's head to fall in love with him/her? Could a scene be written better in someone else's POV? Cut scenes, move them, rewrite them. You can save the whole enchilada as a new file in your computer, so that you have the old version on hand, should you want to change something back.

Do not be afraid to slash and burn parts of your book. If the core of your story is strong and moving, it will survive the editing process! And if an agent or editor suggests a change to your manuscript, consider it carefully. Most of them are experienced in what sells, and they want you to get the best bang possible out of your manuscript. They aren't out to tear up your work, I promise.

That's your job. :)


priley65 said...

Revision is hard work. Changing the first draft for mechanics is easy. When you know it's wrong you change it, but the characters and plots are tricky. As a writer you get this image in your head of who your characters are and it's stuck. You want them to be perfect. Looking at the story with new eyes gives you a fresh outlook, but tightening the plot takes a lot of practice. The more you do it the better you get. Taking your work from a hobby to a job takes dedication, hard work, and a lot of criticism. Thanks for these wonderful posts. This powerful knowledge from the professionals gives us newbies the edge to becoming a successful writer.

Mary Ricksen said...

Great advice. I truly understand about the cutting thing, I had to pitch my whole first chapter when I learned it was purely backtelling.

Brenda J Weaver said...

I have to say I don't agree with you on this. I do think a writer needs to step back, take a deep breath and then go through it again. Revision is something we all have to do but we needn't take it apart and trash it in order to revise it. You just take one step at a time. I am a succesful writer and yes revisions are a necessary evil but not the way and extent that you described it.

Roni said...

Thanks for the great post Nicki, I couldn't agree more. Authors love their book, and sometimes its tough for them to be objective, but if they would stop and listen to what others have to say, editors in particular, there may be enough good in there to make it work if authors are willing to dump some scenes that may be "wonderful" but add nothing to the storyline. Each scene needs to be in the book for a specific reason AND needs to move th story forward. If it doesn't do this, then it needs to be cut no matter how "great" a scene it is. Save it and use it for another manuscript.

That's going off on a tangent but its something that's crossed my desk time and time again and thought while authors are self editing keep that in mind as well.

Rhonda Penders