So Do You Really Want an Honest Critique?

November 1, 2011

The sun isn’t even up here in Los Angeles, but for some reason I am, and I’ve already had a great start to my day. Early morning cuddling with my hunky husband, Paul, then I opened my e-mail and found a critique of my first three chapters and synopsis. At the OCC RWA Birthday Bash meeting in October, I bought fifty raffle tickets and won two critiques by published authors that I adore and one from an agent. I sent off my chapters, and went back to work on my manuscript rewrites. I found the first critique in my e-mail this morning.

So you might assume that the critique told me what a wonderful writer I am, and that I’m going to sell millions of books. I did after all say that I had a great start to my day. Actually, the critique reinforced my own thoughts about my story. The biggest flaw being that although there is conflict, it’s easily resolved and weak.

When I finished my first draft, I reread the manuscript from beginning to end before starting rewrites. Since then, I’ve repeatedly told Paul that the conflict was fluff. Oh, I love my characters and the story, but the conflict…not so much. Luckily, since I sent off my work for critiques, I had the Epiphany at The Fantastic Café, and I’m hoping that the subplot that I’m developing resolves this issue.

Now believe me, I’ve been working on this book for months, and I’ve considered that in this time, I could have gone back to school and be close to getting my paralegal certificate and a real job. That isn’t an option for me. I’ve learned a lot about myself during this process, and I know this is something I have to do…until I do it right.

So to my critique-r…who thought she might have been mean: your critique was thoughtful and motivating. You treated me as a peer, and the issues that you pointed out reinforced my own ideas about the story. You gave me both areas to work on and enough positive feedback to keep me from trashing the whole story and starting from scratch! (Not to worry, I have too much invested in this to go that far anyway!) I felt like you took me seriously, and I couldn’t have asked for more.

Since I started this post, my mother has called for road conditions (she and my step dad are leaving Wyoming in a snow storm of course), the sun has risen, and I really need to make the bed, hop in the shower, and get back to work!

I would love to hear about critiques you have received or given. What you learned from them, what you agreed with or disagreed with and if they made a difference in your work. Well?


7 Responses to “So Do You Really Want an Honest Critique?”

  1. I guess I’ve only ever had one bad “critique”. I put it in quotes because I’m not sure you could call it that, even though that’s what it was supposed to be. And I don’t mean that all the others were praise — far from it. But in those, the comments were true and insightful, and best of all, helpful.

    This particular incident happened at a writers conference. I’d sent in the first three pages as instructed and took a seat in the packed little room with all the other hopefuls. The guest writer sat at the table in front and pulled the MSSs to her, one by one, offering critiques and tips. I waited with pen poised to jot down what was wrong with mine (I knew it was wrong, just not how to fix it). Finally she began to read mine out loud. She said the opening “stunk” — never start by someone “arriving” somewhere. Okay. The characters were unsympathetic — she described how, but somehow she’d decided that one was underage (he wasn’t) and the other was on the verge of criminal (huh?). Then before she’d finished reading, she threw my pages down and said, “This is awful — nobody would ever want to read this.”

    She picked up another and went on from there. Of course, I cried all the way home. Then I decided to work on the wrong impressions she got of my characters (in less than a page and a half). Another thing I did was read some of her books. I won’t say they were bad, but if I’d been just browsing, I would have put them back on the shelf. They weren’t my style and didn’t really fit the criteria I usually have for reading — easy, good people, an exciting or interesting plot. In short, I decided that having gotten panned by this person wasn’t so bad after all!

    I guess it’s all in who’s doing the “critiquing” and what their personal agenda is. Sounds like your person had the right agenda.

  2. Lara Daniels Says:

    “…your critique was thoughtful and motivating. You treated me as a peer…” I found that line particulary touching. I’ve recieved some very good critiques and by being good, I don’t mean my reviewer loved my work. I meant, they took my work seriously and gave me constructive feedback. We need more reviewers like that.

  3. Love this line, Tari: I know this is something I have to do…until I do it right.

    I think I’m going to write that on an index card and keep it beside my computer.


  4. taristhread Says:

    Genie- I didn’t read your manuscript, and couldn’t critique it, but I will critique what you said your ‘critiquer’ did. (Can I complicate that any more?) In my opinion what makes a “good “critique” is one that gives constructive feedback…it doesn’t have to gush about what a fabulous writer you are, it has to show you the things that aren’t working…and ways to fix them, as well as the things that aren’t working.

    Just because someone is a published writer, it doesn’t mean they have any business critiquing, and just because someone reads a lot and knows what they like doesn’t mean they know how to critique.

    Critiques aren’t meant to destroy our confidence, but to build our skills.

    I’m so sorry that you were treated so badly, but I’m glad to hear that you have such a healthy perspective and didn’t stop writing!!

  5. taristhread Says:

    Lara, we really do need more reviewers who take aspiring writers “seriously and give positive feedback”. What I hope is that those of us who experience painful critiques are sensitive enough to never do that to someone else….and when we experience good critiques, we use them to build our skills both as writer’s….and as ‘critiquers’ of the work of others!

  6. taristhread Says:

    Thank you Elley..hmm, maybe I should post it over my computer for days when I think about getting a ‘real job’.

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