Tag Archives: critique partners

Seemingly Small Changes Can Add Up BIG Time

I’m polishing up a short story for the middle grade anti-bullying anthology (details found in this post here), and just got feedback from a writer friend of mine.

“First person, maybe?”

Yeah, first person, definitely. It took him to point it out, but as soon as I started reworking my 2,500 words, I knew he was dead right. And so I started revising with a vengeance.

Katy I peered into her my lunchbox…

By the time I finished, I must have had a thousand and one changes. It was tedious. And I missed a lot the first time around. I still probably have some third person where it should read first.

This isn’t a simple matter of find/replace. Story telling is too nuanced for that. It requires a reread of every sentence–nay, every word–to keep the style, voice and story cohesive. The change, while seemingly minute, was actually huge.

In writing, there are a thousand and one minute changes that all add up to lots o’ work. It’s called editing. And if you don’t have patience for it, you will never be a writer. Getting that rough draft on paper is the easy part. Polishing it is a challenge worth accepting.

You never know, it could make the difference between seeing your words in print or lining the bottom of the bird cage.

Other things that add up big time:

  • The writer who pointed out my POV mistake? Steven Carmen. His debut novel, Battery Brothers is set to release in March. Steve has been a critique partner of mine on several projects and I value his opinion almost as much as I look forward to holding his baseball novel in my hands.
  • Battery Brothers shares the same publisher as Whispering Minds, a YA novel that Steve also critiqued. Currently, author A.T. O’Connor has teamed up with four other authors for a romantic novel giveaway just in time for Valentine’s Day. Giveaway details here.
  • A.T. O’Connor and I both have short stories published in the Season Series by Elephant’s Bookshelf Press. The last one, Winter’s Regret, is due out any day!
  • Lastly, EBP has invested time and energy into a new anthology for middle grade readers. I alluded to it above and posted on it before, but in case you missed it, I am the acquisitions editor on the project and will be accepting short story submissions (2,500 words or less) for readers 7-11 on bullying to be told in the POV of the bully, the bullied or the bystander. Stories must have a clear resolution and must be emailed to me by February 15. So, what are you waiting for?


Context Means Everything: Weighing Feedback

The other morning my Dear Daughter was in desperate need of an outfit.  She’s tired of wearing the same old-same old for speech and wanted a pair of slacks instead of a skirt.  I dug through my closet and found a pair of (shrunken) dress pants.  She slid them on.

“Mom!” said she as she held the waistband out inches on each side.  “I can’t believe your hips are this big.”

Now, I could have been insulted–especially since I knew those pants fit a little more snugly after their heated run-in with the dryer and my hips’ happy reunion with the salsa jar.  I could have taken personal affront at her comment and chastised her for speaking rudely.

However, she wasn’t trying to be rude.  She was actually giving me a compliment.  Regardless, her cheeks flushed and she continued, “It’s just that they don’t look that big.”

In defense of her, they don’t–generally.  Because I also have broad shoulders.  So, when taken in as part of the “big picture”, my hips are proportionate to the rest of me.  It’s only when studied alone, via a tape measure or a skinny girl in too-big-of-pants, that my hips can be classified as…uhm, wide.  Solid child-bearing hips, they be.

FAST FACT: Anything can hurt when taken out of context.  Over-sensitive types can blow things out of proportion, while narrowly focused folks tend to hone in on one aspect of the big picture.  Both of these traits can make us fail to see the positive side of something that otherwise feels negative.

Seriously, if we really wanted to, we could turn even the most caring and helpful statement into a tragedy.

What am I talking about?

Critiques, feedback from professionals and rejection letters.

Over the years, I’ve watched a fair number of writers (myself included) react to critiques from writing groups, partners, betas or rejection letters.  More recently, I see the same thing in the speech kids I coach when they get their critiques back from judges after a round.

FAST FACT: People have a tendency to focus on the perceived negative.  The one point that makes them really consider themselves, their writing or their performance in a way they absolutely do not want to.

Then, they twist this feedback into something ugly and hurtful and demeaning.  They toss it out as worthless and hateful.  They stick it in the shredder and refuse to acknowledge its existence.  In essence, they let their emotions get the best of them and they lose the opportunity to really consider the merit behind the words.

FAST FACT: If we would calm down and let our initial reactions take a walk around the block, we would see the big picture instead of an isolated statement or two.  We would put comments into context, giving us a better understanding of what the beta reader, judge, agent, editor, parent, speech coach or Dear Daughter really meant.

We would pause for a moment when confronted with loose waistbands and realize that wide might not be a synonym for fat like we first thought.  And while I get that we don’t always have the benefit of flushed cheeks and further commentary to clarify a critiquer’s meaning, we still need to consider each individual statement within the context of our work, the rest of the critique and the critiquers themselves.

Are you like me, occasionally guilty of taking feedback out of context?  Of totally dismissing an idea out of hand because the critiquer just didn’t get it?  How does this affect your writing and editing?  How do you give space to critique-induced emotions, and how do you know when you’re ready to evaluate the big picture of a critique rather one or two seemingly negative comments?  Have you ever come back to a critique or feedback of any kind and realized–despite your initial reaction–the judgment was correct? 

Curious minds want to know.

PS. Is “critiquer” really not a word?  WordPress Spell Check doesn’t think so.

Tell Me How You Really Feel: Spam Critiques!

I just checked my spam filter and found the most hilarious comment of all times.

Several of these replies on this post are garbage, You should delete them.

Now if I were a sensitive soul, I could take great offense to this.  I would feel hurt for my supportive bloggers and potentially swear off writing altogether because somebody didn’t like the vein of the post or my dear fellow scribes’ perspectives initiated by my post.

But I kept my cool and weighed the value of this feedback.

Yep, you guessed it.  Writers, weigh the words of your critters against logic, your vision of your work and what you know of the business.  Don’t let one critter get you down and destroy your passion.  Worse yet, don’t let them sway you into deleting the garbage if there is no garbage to delete.

I’ve been around the beta block a time or two and am in several crit groups.  I love the feedback I get.  Sometimes I confuse my readers.  Sometimes I shock them.  Sometimes I bore them or make them roll on the floor from laughing so hard. 

Always I assess their comments and determine which of these things rings true for my manuscript.  I love honest criticism.  I love the part in the process where critters challenge my skills as a writer.  I don’t love destructive criticism that dictates changes based on another’s personal agenda.

Find my flaws, but don’t change my vision.  Strengthen my skills, but don’t change my style.  Fix my plot holes or weak characterization, but don’t force your ideals onto my work.

This is my novel.  This is my style, my voice and my vision.  If you don’t like it, say so and tell me why.  I won’t be offended, as I know full well, I can’t please everyone.  If you love it, let me know why so I can get a read on what works.

If it truly is garbage, let me know.  But by Jolly Green Giant, make sure we’re talking the same language.

Don’t crit me out of bitterness for you own shortcomings.  Don’t tell me my writing is unpublishable unless you are every agent and every editor at every company across the globe.  Your opinion is one in the midst of many. 

Tell me how you really feel and I’ll accept or reject your commentary based on how it applies to my writing.

But whatever you do, don’t spam me. 

Several of these replies on this post are garbage, You should delete them.

What amuses me most about this comment is that there are NO replies on said spammed post.  None.

What do you do with critiques that represent spam more than thoughtful commentary?

Theft Control Packaging for Manuscripts

Today is  my Middle Son’s birthday.  Because DH would be gone this evening, we celebrated this morning by opening his presents and singing Happy Birthday. 

Then we spent the next forty minutes untying, untwisting and unbinding the toys from their Anti-Theft Packaging.  As if some small child who wanted the Automic Tommy 20 Air Blaster Dart Gun (yes, the toy is as big as the name) could slide it from the box and hide it under their shirts without being caught.

Have you bought a Barbie lately?  Thank goodness, I haven’t.  Because back when DD was still young enough to play with them they were strapped and stapled into the box in such a way it took a well-educated adult half an hour to free her.  I can’t imagine how bad it is now. 

We live in an untrustworthy society.  Too many Barbies and Automic Blasters have been pilfered for the toy industry to risk any more losses. 

Writers also fear the loss of their words.  Sometimes this fear is crippling and keeps them from sharing their work with beta readers or critique buddies.  It even hinders them from submitting. 

For the most part, this fear is unfounded.  Many writers are too busy trying to write, edit and sell their own works to steal someone else’s work.  After all, we believe our ideas are pretty awesome, so why would we spend time trying to write, edit and submit an idea we didn’t even come up with?

As to agents and editors?  Never fear.  If you do your homework and submit to reputable agencies and publishers, this shouldn’t be a problem.  The unscrupulous don’t last long in any business.

Like most things in writing, the best advice comes from those who have been there.  I’ll provide a few tips to safegaurd your work, while still allowing you to free your writing from the package and get the valuable feedback you need to grow as a writer. 

If anyone has anything to add based on their experiences, please comment and I will add them to the list for other writers to reference.

Theft Control Packaging for Manuscripts

  1. Know your critique buddies.  Personally or via online.  Converse with them, share ideas, talk shop, discuss your mutual interests and make sure you click.  If your gut says, “I don’t know,” get out.  If you feel good about the relationship, move forward and exchange writing samples.  When this works, you can move on to the next level.
  2. Join a writer’s group or community.  There are some outstanding online sites such as Agent Query and the SCBWI. 
  3. Attend workshops or conferences and learn the trade inside and out.  Knowing how the writing/publishing gig really works can go a long way in soothing fears.
  4. Before submitting to a professional, check out Preditors and Editors, a site designed to help aspiring writers navigate the industry waters.  They make recommendations based on company/agency sales and committment.
  5. Always, always, always directly check out your potential agent or editor via their website, blog or other publication appearances.  As writers, we are responsible for keeping ourselves out of trouble.  A good agent or editor will be accessible.  
  6. Be extremely cautious about communicating with “professionals” who solicit you.  Very rarely are aspiring writers worthy of being hunted down.  In all likelihood, the email you got inviting you to send your MS was in response to a mailing list some scam artist purchased.  If an agent can verify references, that is another story.
  7. Know that our words are copywrited the second we pen them.  While some authors do submit to the copywrite office for a nominal fee, this is not necessary.  Now-a-days, a time and date stamp on word docs and emails can do virtually the same thing.  If you are feeling realling cautious, you can email your completed manuscripts to a trusted friend or rellie and have them keep your date stamp safe as proof that you wrote the project.
  8. Or, make a hard copy of the original and file away your edits as you go.  This also shows that you have worked on the project and what you did.
  9. Don’t just throw your writing up on your blog or website or various writer’s forums if you ever desire to publish it.  While I have a few fiction pieces under Short Fiction Sundays, I fully understand that this work has now been published.  IE, people have read it and have access to it.  It is no longer virgin material.  A lot of publishing companies don’t buy reprint rights and some may consider a blog as first rights.  If in doubt, send long pieces as an attachment to your online groups. 
  10. If you take, give in return.  Nothing will turn a crit relationship sour faster than taking advice and never giving any in return.   Bad relationships can cause undue damage if left unchecked.  Just be a good boyscout. 
  11. And lastly, remember that we cannot copywrite an idea.  We can only copywrite the exact words we use to define those ideas.  Even if someone snicks your idea, it is your words that make the story yours.  Someone trying to steal another writer’s work will have a hard time finishing a piece or editing it into anything usable. 

In general, learn the trade, engage in relationships that feel comfortable and that you can check out on some level.  If you ever feel something isn’t right, know that it probably isn’t worth finding out the hard way.

Best luck in keeping your manuscripts safe while allowing them to circulate in certain circles.