that's me - Stephanie Boman!

Monday, June 28, 2010

IMHO

A quick post on receiving criticism:

When I first started sharing my writing online (because I couldn't find any real life writers in my area) I begged for feedback. And I got it. But it was all over the board. I remember printing out those first responses, reading and rereading them, and trying to incorporate every single change they suggested in my manuscript.

Yes, imagine that. Among a myriad of smaller suggestions, there were issues with POV and tense. You can imagine how I edited myself silly in those days.

I was so new to the critique thing that I assumed if a reader suggested it, it must be so. I was letting the wind blow me any way it wanted to. I ended up with a messy pile of words and a discouraged heart. Needless to say, that first manuscript is still on life support in some dusty corner; a cautionary tale in how not to receive criticisms.

I LOVE hard critiques. Lay it on me, baby, it's the only way my writing will get better. It's one reason my family doesn't critique for me. After my early days trolling for feedback in forums, I have since found a community of people who offer helpful, trusted feedback. Here is what I've learned over the years:

First of all, after reading the critique once, set it aside for a day or so, let it settle, then reread it. You'll find different parts jump out at you for your consideration. Read it several times (though not obsessively) to make sure you're getting everything out of it.

Read between the lines. Even if you ask for a hard critique, some people have a hard time giving them, or give them in a roundabout manner. Try to determine what their real meaning is. Don't be afraid to ask for clarification.

Don't make every change that's suggested. Duh. I don't know how I didn't get that in the early days. Not every suggestion is helpful. Especially minor things that don't ring true to you. Have your salt shaker nearby and take a grain or two with everything you read.

DO listen for things you hear over and over again. Critiquers will not all say it the same way, though. One may say your MC needs more depth, another may say they don't connect with her, and still another may say she's pathetic. This will all be woven in with critiques of different aspects of your novel. Pick them out. Taken all together you should get the gist that your MC needs some work. Sometimes the pattern shows up over the course of a few years of revisions. Always keep your ears perked up for criticisms that you've heard before: they're telling you something.

To sum it up, you will receive criticism all over the board (some directly contradicting others), so in the end you have to go with your gut instincts. But look for a pattern in the critiques; what themes are recurring in the majority of them? Be open to suggestions you hear over and over again.

Above all, be thankful for and hold dear those readers who offer honest feedback. Untainted impressions are worth more than gold to me. They are tools to help you make your manuscript better - and that's utterly invaluable.

6 comments:

Christine Fonseca said...

Great post! Crits are so important...but so is YOUR voice as the writer! Nice.

Nicole Murray said...

Just recently I took the first two pages of my first chapter of my WIP 'Ghost Mountain' to my Focus on Fiction Group(also up unedited on my Blogger Blog-last weeks WIP Wednesday...Hint! Hint!;-D).

We all agreed I had a fair bit of grammar(go figure) and some POV issues but nothing I can not fix. But then there was that one guy. You know, the one who is really loud and well spoken so he must be right guy. He did not get anything that was not spelled out for him in text. All the things everyone else got clear as a bell. Proven so by raise of hands during meeting(*snicker*).

My point is, that reader was my grain of salt. We do not always get others writing styles or get gotten by all readers (very literal and dense readers).

I like your list and agree about hard critique. It can sting sometimes, but once you've been doing it--getting reviews, you start treating the experience like the learning experience that it is and search it out wherever you can. The tougher the better. Who ever learned from a milquetoast teacher anywho?

Jen said...

This is awesome advice! I've had a critique group for a few months and I'm now realizing that a thick skin and really good critiques is needed in the business, it's the only way to get better!!

I found your blog thanks to your fantasic query at Matthew Rush's blog!!!

Nicole Murray said...

BTW, I have a lovely thank you on my site for you. ;-D

Julie Musil said...

Contradicting opinions is something I struggle with. But you're right, only the writer can determine what's truly best for the story. Critique partners are priceless, there's no doubt about that.

melissa said...

Just wanted to say how much I liked your blog. I'm a new author and i'm in the process of writing my first book. It's been a journey. I am now a follower here and will be back for updates.

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