Thursday, May 6, 2010

What Do You Need?

Sheesh. Some days I have nothing to say. Others . . .

It's important to decide what it is you really need when you ask someone to critique a few of your pages.

Are you looking for someone to tell you how wonderful you write, or are you looking for someone to help you improve?

I admit there are days when I hunger for gentle words that lift me up and feed me. Actually, there are a lot of days like that. I'm human, and I often forget how brilliant and amazing and gifted I am. It helps to be reminded. Makes me feel loved. I tell you this just in case one of these days you read something of mine I've actually slaved over. Or bake you an apple-nut cake.

But where my writing progress is concerned I only get better if I have a few doubts. Doubts that propel me to get an honest appraisal and solid advice with which to improve. I don't much care if someone wants to tell me a better way to change oil. I do want to know if there's a better way to structure a scene or insert misdirection or switch POVs.

Most of the critiques I receive are a combination of affirmation and information. Those are wonderful. I'm getting a little meat with my milk.

But you have to know what you want, and embrace what you need. They aren't always the same.

I recently read about a woman (true story) who nagged and nagged someone who was a little farther up the publishing chain to read something she'd written. The more successful author had to actually give her some credit for persistence, and after a while, acquiesced. When the woman received the feedback, she was quite upset about the critical comments. She determined that the stars were not aligned properly and thus elected to disregard any of the comments made about her writing. After all, they couldn't possibly have any merit.

If you want to be told only what a wonderful writer you are, let someone who really doesn't know very much about writing—and who loves you—read your work.

If you want to build your base, understand the architecture, and move to the next level, search out someone who will not only see where improvements can be made, but will tell you. Sometimes they'll be gentle, sometimes they'll be blunt. But it's all designed to make you think. Once you can think about the comments (rather than feel them) you can decide whether or not you agree.

And if you're having one of those "needy" moments, set the critique aside and wait until you're more open to ideas to make your writing better.

CR: 212 by Alafair Burke.

Working On: Incorporating my newest edits.

It's all better with friends.


  1. Figuring out how to gauge feedback is one of the biggest lessons we can learn as writers--and it continues from the earliest days of critique groups all the way through (I am told) getting reviews and working with your editor.

    But knowing at the outset what you're looking for is an angle I hadn't thought about before, Peg. I think all of my trustys (as I call them) are of the bring-it-on! school of thought. Which, as you say, is good for my writing. Can be hard on the heart.

  2. I think it's a little like a tender shoot. We need to be pampered and sheltered and encouraged until we get a foothold. After we've learned a bit, become established, we'll grow stronger only if we're exposed to the elements.

    We're expecting a freeze here in Colorado tonight, so some plants are covered while others are expected to survive . . . and thrive.