Thursday, May 30, 2013

Being critiqued - panning for gold

Okay, you've got a critique, preferably more than one, from people who can be trusted to be blunt and honest.

It hurt, but you got over that. Now, you need to glean some goodness out of all that commentary. After all, that's the whole point of the process, right?

I'm not going in to all the details of how to read a critique, but here are some pointers I use to help me decide what nuggets to pay attention to.

The blindingly obvious

Some things - obvious typos, for example - make me go, "Doh!" *Facepalm*

More subtle, but equally obvious, are those light bulb moments. The moment the critiquer says it, you wonder why you didn't think of it yourself. These can be anything from wording or sentence suggestions, to plot points or character development.

These are so obviously right, that you don't need to put much effort into accepting them, though what to do about them isn't always so clear.

Things you don't want to hear

But handling critiques isn't all plain sailing. Sometimes you need to hear hard truths, things that go against the grain, things you don't want to hear.

How to identify nuggets of gold that you are inherently resistant to seeing?

One thing I look out for is if more than one critiquer makes the same observation. That is always a good clue that there's something worth further consideration.

Another group of comments I pay close attention to is gut reader reactions. Things that are running through the critiquer's head as they read. These may appear as criticism, or a good critiquer may identify them as running observations, but either way they are worth looking at. Whether the reaction is what you wanted or not, it is a window into how your story is landing in someone else's mind. That kind of feedback is golden.

Similar, are comments that give you a new perspective on your work - I didn't see it could be read like that! Again, a window into another world. If a reader mis-reads your words, you don't get to beat them over the head and say, "That's not what I meant, dummy!" All you have to play with are the words you choose to put on the page, and it's useful to know if they are not conveying what you intended - whether you like it or not.

That doesn't necessarily mean you need to do anything about it. The reaction may be exactly what you want, or it may be clear that the reader is too far removed from your target audience, but discarding comments should be a reasoned choice on your part, not a gut reaction.

It's not all bad news

Not all critique comments need be bad news. Sometimes, they just make you think, maybe lead you to new ideas, new avenues to explore in your story.

And sometimes, you get to hear what people actually like. As long as you can trust this is genuine, and not the dutiful gushing of a doting relative, it's invaluable to know what is working for that reader.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Being critiqued - handling the pain

Getting your work critiqued by someone else is an essential step on the way to producing a publishable work.

But it can hurt.

A lot.

Here's your writing - your baby - that you've agonized over for months, polishing it within an inch of its life. It's perfect. How can anyone not love it?

You put it out there to your critique group, expecting nothing but unstinting adulation - the next New York Times bestseller! Agents will be flocking to your door to represent you! Publishers will be bidding six figure advances to snag the honor of putting your novel on bookstore shelves. Movie deals are in the offing ...

What you get, instead, is carping criticism from ungrateful Philistines. Boring! Infodump! Characters flat and uninteresting. Confused - what's happening in this scene? Plot inconsistencies. Disbelief - this character would never do that. Your writing sucks!

It's easy to be discouraged, especially when you get a harsh critique on your favorite scene. It's equally easy to dismiss a painful critique out of hand. Both paths are problematic. Do you want to be a writer, or don't you? Do you want to improve, or don't you? If the answer to both is "yes" then you need to persevere and listen to what others have to say.

This first group of tips is all about coping with that pain, because you need to get past that before you can move on and get real value from the critique.

This is meant to help

Critiquing, no matter how painful, is all about making your story better. It's meant to help, no matter how harsh the comments, no matter how offensively they may be delivered, the purpose is to help.

Keep that in mind. Cling to it, even when the critique seems to be hell-bent on trashing everything you have to say. Even when the critiquer has made it perfectly clear that they are not, in fact, interested in helping but only in showing you how much your writing sucks, they are helping nonetheless.

It just may not feel like it at the time.

Distance lessens the sting

Read, but don't respond. Accept the emotion, but don't try to do anything with the critique just yet. Let it sit a few days (or weeks, or months ... whatever it takes) before coming back to it. You will often re-read with a more objective mind and be more able to decide what to pay attention to.

Another distancing trick is to pretend the writing belongs to someone else. Read what the critiquer has to say as if you were eavesdropping on someone else's critique.

It's only one person's opinion

Give this to a hundred different readers, and you will get a hundred different reactions. Remember that what you are reading is just one person's view, and it's just an opinion. It's not truth, engraved in tablets of stone that you are expected to absorb, worship, then swallow with a glass of milk.

It's not a competition

Whatever you do, don't ever ... ever ... argue with the critiquer. They've voiced their opinion. They are entitled to it. You asked for it, for heaven's sake!

The critiquer is always right, even when they're wrong. If a comment is blatantly, factually wrong, just make yourself a note that it is wrong, and move on. This is not about you versus them. It's not a competition to see who's right. From your end of the deal, the only purpose of the critique is to improve your writing, not the critiquer's.

Of course, it is always good to double-check your facts too. I've been surprised from time to time with things I was sure were correct.

It's not personal

Always remember, the comments are not about you, they are about your story. Specifically this story.

A good critiquer will always make that clear. They will refer to the words on the page, not to you as a writer.

Not all critiquers are good at critiquing. So remember, the comments are all about the story, even if they are worded personally. When they say thing like "Your writing sucks" or "You suck as a writer" all they are really saying is "This specific example of your writing sucks ... in my humble and inexpert opinion."

Some critiquers really are trying to be personal. They've decided to make it about you. Remember, they don't know you, except through the words you've written, so it's still only about the story.

OK, this assumes you don't actually know the critiquer personally. If you do, and this really is personal, then there are bigger things going on. This is no longer about the critiquing process and is outside my territory!

You're the boss

No matter what the critiquer says, no matter how emphatic they are that you need to do things their way, remember ... always ... that you're the boss. You are not obliged to pay any attention. They've given you their opinion, but they have no say in how you choose to use it. The next part is up to you.

So, finally, if you get an especially stinging critique, remember that you have the last laugh. Print it out and use it as toilet paper if it will make you feel better.

Phew! That was a long post. My apologies! More posts to follow on the specifics of processing critiques but I think that's enough for now.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

The art of being critiqued

I am beavering away, putting Tiamat's Nest up on Critique Circle. I'd forgotten how hard it can be to let other people see some writing for the first time, and openly invite brutal commentary.

In the case of Tiamat's Nest, I can see there's work to be done, which is what I was expecting. Luckily, there's also a lot of positive feedback too, which suggests I haven't been completely wasting my time.

Now I'm in full-on critiquing mode for the next few months, giving as well as receiving, I am reminded that there's a distinct art to the whole process. There's already all sorts of advice out there on how to give a constructive and useful critique, so I'm looking at how to receive and make use of critiques.

Being critiqued can be...

Confusing - one person says they love this part, another says they hate it!

Frustrating - dammit, it's obvious, I explained all that back in chapter three!

Overwhelming - so much advice to deal with. Where to start?

Soul destroying - you mean I have to go back through the whole novel and change my main character from an angsty emo teen to a no-nonsense snarky goth?

Heartbreaking - doesn't anyone like anything about my baby? Why do I bother?

It needn't be

Over the next few posts, I'll share some of my own critique survival tips. I hope there's something someone out there will find useful.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Life beyond writing

I'm lining up a post or two about the process of critiquing, but meanwhile, more on that thing called Real Life that has a habit of intruding now and then.

Nothing bad, I hasten to add.

* Pays silent homage to many blogger friends who've been quiet lately because of more serious Real Life events. You know who you are *

No. My diversions are much more prosaic and non-threatening.

Botanical battles

I have declared war on all things that send runners through beds and borders choking the life out of them. I like my plants to know their place, and not attempt world domination. Not on my patch, anyway.

Public Enemy Number 1 - Couch grass

We spent long weekends last summer trying to keep this invasive pest under control in the shingle bed we built a few years ago.

This is our reward.

The problem is the layer of stones and the membrane we put down - ironically, intended to stop weeds - mean we can't easily get at the roots. At least we seem to be winning the battle in the rose bed, which is only covered in loose soil and mulch.

Any wayward bit of green that dares raise its head is simply guiding me down to whatever bit of root I managed to miss last time around. Mwahahahaha...

Note: Those green shoots are gladioli, not couch. So Ali assures me.

Number 2 on the hit list - Lemon balm

At least we think it's some variety of variegated lemon balm.

Although horribly invasive, this is easier to keep under control and more rewarding to remove. Unlike couch, you can spend a few hours removing it and it does not bounce back three days later yelling the botanical equivalent of "Bazinga!"


Although prickly, these are relatively benign in comparison. Having said that, anyone who thinks wooden spears and arrows would be child's play to fend off would think again after tangling with some of these thorns.

Plants are not soft and cuddly.

The saga of the patio table

Taking a break from gardening, we spent last weekend getting the deck ready to use. Power washing done, we unpacked the new patio furniture we'd treated ourselves to this year.

Eight seater table, for entertaining. Metal base, tiled top.


F***ing heavy.

Ali and I half killed ourselves getting it out of its box, let alone across the drive and up the stairs.

But we made it. Got it all set up.

And then it started raining.

Two solid weeks of unbroken sunshine, and within minutes of looking forward to enjoying our deck for the first time the heavens open up. And it's been raining ever since.

This Monday is a public holiday in BC.

Dammit! Monday will be beer and barbecue day, whatever the weather.

Monday, May 13, 2013

April seems so long ago

Yes, I made it through the A to Z. Admitted, it took a lot more of my time than I could really afford, and I didn't get around to visiting half as many blogs as I would have liked. I think I only finished the month out of sheer stubbornness, but I still managed to find some amazing new blogs out there.

One of the reasons I wasn't so into the A to Z is that Tiamat's Nest is slowly moving through the queue on Critique Circle. I've taken it as far as I can on my own, and it needs a thorough going-over by independent and critical eyes. This means I am also in mad critiquing mode myself, building new critiquing relationships with folks currently active, and earning the credits needed to keep a stream of chapter-sized submissions flowing.

While all that's going on, I am taking the first tentative steps researching the ins and outs of self-publishing for Ghosts of Innocence. I'm taking this slowly, because it will certainly involve some outlay and I want to work out how much it's realistic to expect. Once I start, I want to be able to follow through to completion.

There's that stubbornness again.

On top of that, of course, there's work and Real Life...but that's for another post.
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...