Often I'll write a scene and think, 'Brilliant! Best chapter yet.' Two days later I'll read it again--and realize it's the most over-written mule puckey I've ever done. (Then think: "Who uses words like 'obfuscate' in commercial fiction? Idiots trying to sound like writers, that's who!")
And I'm not alone. Most writers (even those who've been published multiple times) admit it's hard to see what's right/wrong about their story.
So we turn to others--critique partners, spouses, beta-readers, friends--hoping for a clear, objective assessment of what we've written. When we get really (desperate) serious we'll even spend our dollars on online courses and workshops, or subject our manuscripts (and egos) to the helpful-useless-encouraging-brutal commentary that accompanies contests.
So here's the first in a two-part series about what I've learned about soliciting and accepting critique:
1) People who love you make lousy critique partners.Think about it: There's no upside for them. If they genuinely like your work, you won't believe them; if they tell you it's awful, Thanksgiving dinner is going to be really awkward.
Family is wonderful for sharing experience. So grab them and visit the Grand Canyon, go Bungee jumping, celebrate birthdays and anniversaries. When it comes to writing share your happiness (I got a request!) and sorrow (but they turned it down.)
And don't EVER let them read your work-in-progress.
If they ask, tell them you'll send a copy once it's published.
2) Critique groups can be wonderful*When I showed up at my first critique group, they complimented my writing--then gently informed me that punctuation goes inside the quotation marks. The next week they suggested having a line or two of dialogue (or some direct action) on every page.
It's been a long process, but my critique partners have been unfailingly kind as they guided me toward creating readable prose. One long-time member summed it up: "If it's real bad, we'll emphasize what a great typist you are!"
Critique partners catch emotions out of whack, words that don't fit, sections that lapse into exposition or a distant (less compelling) point of view. If everyone gets stopped by the same phrase or section, I need to take another look.
And I learn as much from giving critique as receiving--especially when I look hard for what works, then figure out why.
3) Critique groups can be creativity killers*Sometimes critique groups become echo chambers where voice, usage and tone get passed from one member to another like a virus. We all have a tendency to seek approval, and when everyone nods and smiles at what you've written, it's intoxicating.
Problem is, we writers tend to applaud people who write just like us.
I'm the worst offender, which became painfully clear when I recently edited a friend's work--and realized I'd changed her 'voice' so it sounded like mine. Then I read a book in her genre (not one with which I'm familiar) and saw that my suggestions would've been completely wrong for her audience.
After apologizing, I vowed to leave the close editing to others and merely comment on her story arc--which is very compelling.
Some 'truths' are nearly universal: Action and dialogue move a story along; exposition slows it down. Backstory is boring in long chunks. Jumping points-of-view can be confusing. Direct action is better than reported action.
But when evaluating critique, sometimes it's important to know what to disregard (at least for now.)
Next time I'll talk about beta-readers, online courses, and contests.
I'd love to hear your experience with critique groups, and how you decide whether to heed or ignore the advice you receive.
Cheers....and Happy Writing!