Wednesday, December 10, 2008

To Critique or Not to Critique

by Donna Basinow

You know, there is nothing harder than to tell another writer, “Sorry, it’s just not good enough.” At least here at the Wild Rose Press we go a little beyond that and tell you why. We try to point you in the right direction, guide you on the road to improving your writing so next time the answer could be different.

The bottom line is that most of us are writers as well as editors, so sending a rejection letter is almost like receiving one ourselves. And our writing is no better than anyone else’s.
The problem is that when you write a story…you’re involved. This is your child. You’ve created it (monster or angel doesn’t matter). And like most parents when someone criticizes your child you take offense.

So what do you do? First you write the story that’s burning to get out, then you proofread it, then it’s ready to go, right? Heavy sigh. Polish, polish, polish, shine, shine, shine.

The best way I have found to polish my writing before I submit is to let someone else read it. But you know that if the person who reads it is: your mother, your sister, your best friend, your aunt, your cousin, or anyone else you know they are more than likely going to tell you what you want to hear. “It’s wonderful! I can’t wait to see it in print! I’m going to call cousin Ida now and tell her to watch for it at the bookstore!”

So okay, you say, if I can’t let someone I know read it then who? What about another writer? They’ve struggled with the same problems you have. They understand about characters and conflict, about plot and setting, about point of view…ugh, point of view… And the one advantage they have here is that they didn’t write this story. They can see mistakes that you can’t!
Have you ever noticed it’s harder to catch your own mistakes than someone else’s? That’s because you can’t see what you’ve written if it’s still alive in your head! And trust me, it takes a long time for those characters to get off the stage and move on.

So here’s my Dear Abby piece of advice for the day – join a critique group, or at least find a critique buddy. It will do wonders for your writing!


Hope Wilbanks said...

I agree, Renee. I think a critique group is essential. The exchange of advice and suggestions is so helpful. Great post!

Kathy Otten said...

Joining a critique group was the best thing I ever did. The objectivity of others is invaluable. Critique groups can let you know everything from you've used the word "table" four times in a paragraph, to your plot isn't strong enough. You just have to take some of the criticsms with a grain of salt.

Susan Macatee said...

I joined a critique group about two years ago and it's vastly improved my writing. I was lucky, though, that I fell into a great group. And we all set our stories during the Victorian era, which is a great help in getting each other's work.

CJ Parker said...

I have two critique partners. Going against what you said about best friends, they are my best friends. We each have a strength; Sher is the plot master, Pam is the echo queen. Me? Flow. And I find things that get messed up along the way, like hair and eyes changing color or names changing. So I agree 100%. Find a crit partner. Someone you trust and will be honest with you and you won't be ofended when she/he says, Damn, girl, what were you drinking when you wrote this?

CJ Parker said...

They need an edit button on here. LOL That should have been offended. Guess I should have let my critique partners look it over before I posted.

Renee Lynn said...

Hi Hope,

Just wanted to say that this was actually written by Donna Basinow, one of our esteemed editors here at TWRP. I only posted it :)

But thanks for stopping by, and for everyone's insightful comments!


Eliza Knight said...

I agree!!!

I belong to a critque group and have a couple critique partners. These ladies have been invaluable to me in not only my writing but looking over my synopses and query letters too.

It is ALWAYS a good idea to have someone else look at it, for the reasons stated in the article, you can't see what you've written because your brain already knows what it wants to read, so it just skips over the mistakes.

Mona Risk said...

We are three critique partners living in three different countries, me in the States and my CPs in Canada and England.

We started as members of the FTHR chapter critique loop and branched on our own. We became best friends and we meet two times a year at conferences. Our critique covers plot, characters, hooks, writing style, emotion, pace... It's a thorough critique but we respect each other's voice. We each has our strengths and totally support each other.

Linda LaRoque said...

Hi Donna,
You are so right. They can see things that we miss, and a good critique partner always tells it like it is. I think the hardest part of having a critique partner is learning when to take their advice and when to go with your gut.


Debra St. John said...

The local RWA chapter I belong to does a critiquing session every time we meet. It is one of the most valuable things I get out of my membership. Without the wonderful ladies at Chicago-North, I wouldn't be a published author today.

Anonymous said...

I've been REALLY lucky with CPs, having a group in which each individual had a different strength and who were able to tell it like it is gently/respectfully. A great deal of credit (including the dedication page LOL) goes to them for the creation of my first story published here at TWRP (Twilight Whispers).

But I also know of others whose writing "voices" have suffered for it. Is this the fault of over-zealous critiquing? Or of a writer who's not self-confident enough or "advanced" enough (so to speak) in her writing to know what's messing with her voice and what's legitimate critique stuff to pay attention to? I dunno for sure... maybe both.

I think it's important to be able to go into a crit. group and know what kind of critiquing you want and also *don't* want, and to be able to make that clear to the others. And to be able to remember that it is still YOUR WORK and, as with our kids, no one else knows it like you do, and that these people are, after all, trying to help. Following on that thought, probably the most important thing for crit groups is to be honest with each other when issues arise about such things! It really can be a delicate balance.

Sheesh, and if you can't tell, I need CPs to tell me when I'm to wordy. LOL

Catherine Bybee said...

I love, love, love my cp's. Not only are they great about letting you know when you've 'been asleep at the wheel'. But they also pat you on the back. I love the little comments throughout my ms's like, LOL or ROFLMAO, or *sigh* It makes my day. Your cp's will be honest to a fault.

Pamela S Thibodeaux said...

You are so right!

Great post.

Rebecca J. Clark said...

My CPs have saved my butt on more than one occasion. I'll think my scene/chapter/whatever is perfect then they'll find a fatal flaw. Yikes. So I definitely think having at least one critique partner is worth its weight in gold.

Mary Ricksen said...

Doing it so that you don't hurt someone is the hardest part. Why is it we can't see our own mistakes, yet we can pick up others just like nothing.
But I will tell, you finding a good crit partner is a gift.

Skhye said...

I have a few critique partners who I've critiqued with for years. A lot of people come and go in critiquing sessions. But the few who have "worked" with me are invaluable. We learned to communicate and understand where we're all coming from. The communication is key to objectivity in critiquing.

Unknown said...

Great post, Donna. It's crucial to have a critique buddy (or 2 or 3). It's hard to critique our own babies. It's good to have at least one more set of eyes and a different opinion. It's so helpful to have someone else with strengths that may catch our weaknesses. I'm so very grateful for my critique partners and I thank all of you for working with me.