Saturday, 30 June 2007

Critique or Criticism?

Look up 'critique' and you'll see such words as evaluation and assessment. Look up 'criticism' and you'll see disparagement and disapproval.

As new writers, we eventually find it necessary to offer up our work for critique. This isn't the same thing as asking friends and family to read your book. Your family will love it no matter what. Your friends may like it. If they don't, they'll merely tell you they were too busy to read it. Maybe they were too busy. Maybe they couldn't choke it down because your writing wasn't up to par.

The truth is, you're not getting an honest critique of your work. If you jump the gun and start querying and sending partials willy-nilly into the publishing world, there's a good chance you'll be disappointed by the results. Rejections will likely pour in with the regularity of an electric bill. Maybe you'll give up, convinced that you suck. Or maybe you'll realize that there are people out there who can really help.

So, you join a writers' group or forum. You get tips on making your work better. You discover flaws like passive voice, showing not telling, info dump and wooden dialogue.

Maybe a critique is particularly harsh, and you instantly take it personally. Perhaps you lash back, telling everybody you know that the critiquer is mean. If that's the case, you have a lot to learn about the critiquing process. Resist the urge to diss the critiquer. Don't flounce off in a huff because your brilliant prose didn't blow the socks off everyone who read it. The people who think they're helping you are not necessarily professionals, and not all of them know how to assess another writer's work with an objective eye.

Take each comment, positive or negative, and store them in a safe place. Take some time to cool off and look at the comments again.

Some will be inconsequential, like: "I thought that joke was in poor taste and I don't think you should use it." So what if the reader didn't like the joke? A thousand others will. Disregard.

Some will sting: "Using excessive 'there was' is the sign of an amateur". Okay, that could have been worded differently, so take it in its intended context -- omit excessive 'there was'.

Some will be extremely unhelpful: "This sucks. You can't write." Or: "I didn't like the plot." Ignore these people and move on.

Most will be helpful, and eventually their advice will percolate into your psyche if the same tips are given again and again.

Above all, whether you agree or disagree, take the time to thank your critiquer.

I'm telling you this because my writers' group was recently attacked for rejecting a potential member based on her submission. She sent her complaint to a new blog that specializes in exposing unfair treatment in the writing world.

I love the people in my writers' group -- they all helped me hone my rudimentary writing skills until I was eventually published. Now they are helping me in my quest to obtain an agent. They are the sweetest, most generous and kind ladies I'd ever met online. Together, we help each other learn, we lean on each others' shoulders when tragedy strikes, and we laugh together on a regular basis. I don't regret joining the group, and I wish it could be open to the whole writing world, but it can't. They can't accept everyone, just like a dedicated couple can't adopt a whole orphanage.

Yes, there are watchdog and resource sites out there, with Absolute Write, Writer Beware and Preditors & Editors at the forefront. They carefully research any claims against agents, publishers and writers' groups, offering both sides of the story if available. A random blog has every right to complain about individuals in the industry, but it may backfire on the owner if they don't back up their claims with facts.

There are great critique groups out there, too. Run your first pages through Elektra's Crapometer and you'll get honest and helpful opinions. Give your query letter a shot at Evil Editor's blog and you'll laugh your ass off while he picks apart your pitch in a most hilarious fashion, followed by a revised letter that will likely be 300% better. Join in the office party at the Absolute Write water cooler and you'll get lost in a whirlwind of opinions, jokes, critiques, writing exercises and just plain fun (and a little flouncing, too).

Hopefully you'll also fit in some writing, too.


TR said...

Congratulations on your novel. I appreciate your suggestions and advice. I am writing everyday, and hoping to stay away from distractions long enough to let it fly. Sometimes the phone rings, and its a client. I have to work. So I've been writing late at night when they are all asleep. Now if I can just figure out when to sleep, everything should be fine.

Chumplet said...

Sleep? What's that? I love writing early in the morning while everyone is still asleep. The problem is the time flies by so quickly it's time to go to work before I realize it.

Thanks for the encouragement, Healing Bear!

Kate Thornton said...

I just noticed your beautiful paintings - I am stunned! How gorgeous!

I write very early in the morning too - and yes, the time goes too quickly...

ScaramoucheX said...

What an interesting blog...

Chumplet said...

Thank you, Scaramouchex. I see you reference the Okanagan in your blog. My father resides there. It's a beautiful, inspiring place. A scene in my book is set in the Oliver area.

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