critique series #1

I spoke on critique this past weekend, so I thought I'd turn it into an article if anyone's interested.

Three years ago I had written three bad books in two years. By chance, I found RMFW and a local critique group (The Inklings). I submitted a chapter, which they proceeded to rip and restructure for me. But instead of being sad or upset, I was elated. For the first time, I realized my writing is not complete until it's been read. But mostly, I had found my tribe. Since that fateful day, they asked me to join the staff of ElectricSpec, and I've gained beta readers online, overseas, and other local readers. I've even been fortunate to receive advice from industry professionals.

But what is it about critique? Why is it so important?

Well, obviously it's a support system of people who know. They can commiserate and encourage. When I sold my first story, I told my critters before I even told my husband (he's not a writer). They might not be my family, but like I said, they're my tribe.

Regular critique provides deadlines. Deadlines are your friend. Working writers operate under deadline. Turning in subs keeps your butt in the chair and stops that endless revision loop. It also makes it easier to make the leap into professional submission.

Critique trains you to edit on command. This sounds like a pony trick, but I have yet to buy a story that I haven't edited. Pro writers don't balk at an editor actually editing, they expect it. Really. Your agent is going to say, "I love it. Now go fix these 500 things." And then your editor is going to say, "I'll buy this after you fix these things." And then the copy editor...well, you see my point.

To be an effective writer, you must be an effective critiquer. This is about knowing your craft. Of course there are pitfalls in giving critique, and they all stem from hurt feelings. If you take nothing else from this, write this down on a sticky and put it on your monitor: This doesn't work for me because... This forces the critiquer to not only take responsibility for what they're saying, but state why they feel the way they do. A good critiquer will always do this. I'm confused and awkward are also good phrases to use. Both are benign and indicate fixable problems.

Some issues stem from someone being condescending. In my experience, condescending writers are defensive, incompetent writers. So watch your tone. Remember: your opinion is only one person's opinion.

Beginning critters tend to focus on the negative. But we learn as much from what we do right. So find those gems and point them out. A handy method is the "sandwich" method, in which you sandwich constructive critique between two positives. Every piece has something right about it. A good critter will find it. And, of course, always focus on the writing.

Tomorrow, I'll talk about how to receive critique without blowing your top or bursting into tears, and what to do with it when you get it.

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