And it’s 2 months down already. Can you believe it? Anyway! It’s been a while I wrote about ‘what are writing styles‘ and I won’t shy away from confessing that I’d totally forgotten about the follow-up post I’d promised to do. Nevertheless, here I am. Previously we discussed how it is important to have a writing style […]
We all know that nobody is born as a good writer. It is a constant process of becoming. And I do believe that the difference between good and bad writers it’s not about the skill or gift. It’s not even about the number of written or published pieces. The key word we are looking for […]
by Kate Colby So writing is your creative calling, your life’s purpose, your ultimate joy. Congratulations! You’re part of (in my totally unbiased opinion) one of the best groups of people in the world. You know it, I know it — and yet, your friends and family don’t. After all, what’s so special about being a writer? Literally […]
Here’s the list of 11things I’ve learned from blogging : #1. Don’t fear criticism:”You have to let people see what you wrote. It will never be perfect, but perfect is overrated. Perfect is boring.”-Tina Fey. #2.The ZeRO Clutter practice: There are a lot of useless words in a sentence which should be edited into simpler forms. […]
I think most aspiring writers start out with similar expectations, we’ll put together our work, maybe review and edit a few times, perhaps the agent or editor will suggest a few tweaks and from there we’ll have our work. No need to involve those other plebs.
Once we get few years under our belts (or at least learn more about the field) it becomes apparent that actually there is another step(s) to the process of getting better, almost always involving (unpaid) critique, whether from beta-readers or other arrangements. And in order to get such support often the favour will be expected to be returned.
Not to mention that critiquing other’s work is an excellent learning tool. Perhaps even a vital one.
Not a recommended response to negative feedback
However this post isn’t about the nitty gritty specifics of editing and critiquing, but how to do so without losing friends and infuriating people (or at least minimize the chances). I’m going to cover both giving and receiving critique as the two go hand-in-hand (or is that hand-to-hand as in combat?) mostly focused on giving however.
So in a vague but no particular order:
Get a prenup!
I think we’re all guilty of it. Shoving our WIP into the lap of a friend or family member, or shoving them in front of the PC, and asking ‘what do you think?’ I’ve done it, and had it done to me and I have to say I think it’s always a big mistake.
When handing out your work you don’t need to have a signed contract for what the arrangement is going to be, but it is a good idea to have some discussion about what each party expects. Writing forums seem littered with posts about folk handing their WIP to friends and family, only to be frustrated by vague positive statements, overtly negative feedback or simply not getting anything back at all! The problem is once you’ve handed someone your draft it’s fairly, if not totally, obnoxious to nag or demand action, however if this is something discussed beforehand you are at least increasing your chances of getting something helpful.
Side note: personally I prefer not to rely on friends and family for critique unless a. I know that the other person is a serious writer (in the sense they take it seriously not a judgement of skill or success) or b. we have an arrangement. It’s very awkward providing feedback on a person’s work that you have a relationship with and sometimes it’s best just to have boundaries.
Back to agreements. Again, not saying a written contract with strict clauses is needing, just some arrangement for how things are going to go I like to establish:
Realistically the critiquer should indicate a time-frame, but always bear in mind that people will tend to underestimate the task of critiquing, ESPECIALLY a novel length work, and may not consider this when they agree to read a work. My advice to to have an agreed time-frame from which the critiquer will provide their thoughts and how far through the work they got. Also bear in mind that finishing a novel is not necessarily as important as the feedback you give/get so don’ get hung up on that point
What feedback you’re after
I think this is really important, in fact probably the most important part of maintaining a good relationship with your critique partner. There is this kind of naive perspective out there that critiquing is just general feedback towards improving a work, when really feedback, just like editing and writing has all manner of layers to it. I think it’s when people give out their work looking for general impressions and get line by line of red pen that things get strained.
It can also make a huge difference to the critiquer in terms of doing a good job knowing what the writer is after. It’s very easy to assume that the job of critiquing is to thoroughly review a WIP to the best of one’s ability, but it’s important to consider what the writer wants.
Now some of you might read this and be thinking “What about the writer that needs a rude awakening, or is so terrible and doesn’t realize it, but just wants their ego stroked.” which actually brings me to another point:
Think about what you’re doing
I mentioned just above that our typical baseline as a critiquer is to think that we need to offer all we’ve got to try and improve a draft. Now don’t get me wrong if you have a great arrangement with a critique partner and this is the agreement and the goal is to give it your all GREAT. But most of the time there is little or no benefit to giving a writer feedback they are not prepared for. Of course it’s important to challenge each other, but it’s also important to realize that all writers are on a journey with their writing, and offering a full blown critique that the writer isn’t ready for is like walking around the block with someone giving 5-day tramping advice.
My point isn’t necessarily to go easy on people (especially if they want thorough critique) but to recognize that people are at different stages and your role isn’t to try and figure that stage but to help out with where they think they are at.
So if a terrible writer is shoving shit your way and you’re wondering what exactly is the best way to tell them, maybe rethink your role. Are you there is provide an absolute judgement on their work, to try and teach them a hard lesson about where their own work is at? Or is your role to provide feedback as requested and allow the writer to do with it what they will?
I liken it to music lessons. Good music teachers have an amazing ability to identify ‘where to next’ for their students. When you have a beginner musician, there will be a thousand things they aren’t getting right, that could be critiqued, but a good teacher will recognize what the next lesson is to continue to allow the student to learn. Now I’m not putting pressure on critiquers to do exactly the same, but just trying to make sense of a potentially tricky situation. It can be very difficult to look at a sub-par work and not tear shreds off the writer, but it’s important to consider what they are expecting and feeling responsible for the entire writing journey of that piece.
Method of delivery
Maybe this is more just my personal preference, but I hate verbal feedback. There is way too much pressure on the critiquer to soften feedback, to be nice, AND there is a tonne of potential for misunderstandings. Arranging with your partner how to present feedback can help maintain a good relationship. Providing feedback in writing allows the writer to consider their critique without any awkward silences, sugar-coats or the super-awkward defensiveness. Not that written feedback is a magic wand that removes that horrible defensiveness we all suffer when getting critiqued but it makes it easier.
Your own language, reinforcement-sandwiches, and presentation.
It’s ironic that the words used to provide feedback make as much difference as the words used in prose. I’m not a huge fan of the reinforcement (shit) sandwich approach but I do have a few preferences that I think help:
- The context sandwich – while not as positive a context sandwich ensures that negative feedback is couched alongside details that are less harsh. For example saying ‘with a few adjustments I think that the MC would be a very compelling character’ (hopefully with more specificity than that but I hope my point stands)
- While frowned upon in academic writing, liberal use of ‘I’ statements can help. So rather than saying ‘the MC was boring.’ try ‘I found the MC boring’ technically this softens the impact of the language but acknowledges that the statements are a matter of your perspective not a black and white judgement
- Be cautious offering solutions, try and focus on points for improvement and describing why you think they could be improved, trying to rewrite other’s work can raise hackles.
For a final few notes here are some tips for receiving critiques to keep your relationships cordial:
- Remember that whatever you get in the way of feedback you asked for it. For the love of God don’t be that person who shoved work at people then acts sarcastic or passive aggressive when the feedback is anything below complimentary
- Also remember that feedback isn’t personal, even it it makes you feel like a dunce, the truth is that’s your own insecurity talking. People don’t provide critique thinking ‘ha ha what a fool’ they are thinking ‘thank God there is something here I can help with’
- Finally always remember that receiving feedback is an extremely high compliment. People who don’t like you or your work won’t give detailed feedback they are the ones who avoid the topic after seeing your book, or give vague responses that don’t help. Don’t forget to thank and reciprocate when people provide a critique, often because it feels so horrible whether through blows to the self esteem, or through realization of more work to come, writers often forget to thank people for their hard work.
In conclusion, always remember that you are not your writing you are a writer who has produced some writing. Feedback is an important part of the learning journey towards better craft, not a battleground where you have to defend your work. Equally as a critiquer remember that a writer is on their own path, your job isn’t to be their literary bodyguard and protect against all threats, but to support your writer friend continue their journey forwards.
Thanks for reading – as always the point of these posts is to start conversations!
What sort of advice do you have around critiquing?
Any critiquing horror stories?
Would be great to hear from you 😀
Conventional wisdom will tell you not to start a story with too much life-endangering action, predominantly because at that stage the reader will not care about your characters.
This wisdom is true, however I stumbled across a realization putting down a barely readable book the other day that there are other more subtle forces in play regarding begins. Specifically I realized something about tension and resolution, that high tension demands the same level of focus on resolution. When big stakes are raised in a story, the reader’s psyche demands a drive to resolve that tension. Now we’re told over and over again to draw out resolution, to keep reader’s waiting and make the climax that much more satisfying. Again this is still correct however, handling story tensions requires a much more deft balance than I once assumed. To put it bluntly: readers need a damn good reason to be having their questions held off from being answered.
Now back to beginnings, throwing something too intense at the reader right off the bat, might be very (melo)dramatic however it sets up the story for failure. Imagine if Gollum attacked Frodo in the shire at the start of the Lord of the Rings, (forget the technical impossibility) it would have been very hard to introduce Merry, Pippin, Strider and so forth if the reader were busy being concerned that Frodo was going to get Gollumed in his sleep.
So this provides more reasoning for how early action in a story should be more about drawing a reader in, while introducing characters and concepts to prepare for the big tensions later on.
I read Barnes’ novel a few years ago as part of our book club’s goal to work through slightly more literary publications by reading through Booker Prize winners my (mildly naive in retrospect) review can be found here.
It was with some delight an interest that I stumbled across a movie poster this year of the film. I’m not usually one for thinking films, beyond blockbusters that put a bit of effort into their stories, BUT I was certainly willing to make the exception for this one.
So how was it?
Personally I found the film to be enjoyable, faithful and overall appropriately adapted for the screen. I see that other reviewers have not been kind to this film, but many appear to have disliked the source material, I guess when a film is faithful to a book its unlikely to win over those who disliked the written piece.
The film handled flashbacks well, as the original story dealt heavily with the past and recollections of, and this can often be bungled and boring in films, I though the movie balanced the ‘present’ with the past with skill.
There seemed to be more humour in the film than the book which I felt was an appropriate touch, if my recollection is correct overall the book was much more monotone, more myopic in its conclusions, especially around the MC Tony Webster, who again if my recollection is correct was more portrayed in the book as an ‘asshole-then-AND-now’ whereas the movie portrayed him as growing in wisdom and compassion in his older age and reconnecting with his family in a touching was. This brings me to one minor complaint, where I felt that ‘old’ Tony’s pushover status was laid on a little thick.
One final part I particularly appreciated was an emphasis on the ‘wave’. This scene in the book perplexed our book club for years as we tried to work out what sort of wave the girlfriend’s mother gave Tony. Not that movie adaptations dictate exactly how a book should be interpreted, but we all enjoyed seeing the wave visually (our theories ranged fro m a wave intended to be hidden from the rest of the family, to a sort of fanning of heated loins…)
Overall I really enjoyed the film, and thoroughly recommend it, along with Barnes’ book itself.
Ok this is amazing – a long read but very important
I imagine that quite a few people were upset by the title for this post, so let me explain what I mean, and please hear me out before you sharpen your pitchforks. The arguments used by all three of these groups, and indeed by science deniers more generally, are all fundamentally the same. In other words, the underlying logical structure is identical for the arguments used in support of all three of these positions. Thus, it is logically inconsistent to criticize one of these positions while embracing another.
You see, what I have observed over the past few years of blogging is that very few people like to think of themselves as “anti-science” or as a “science denier.” Those people certainly exist, and I do encounter them, but most of the people who visit my blog/page claim to love science…at least until it disagrees with their ideology. This puts them…
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Sign Up For The Newsletter | Click HERE for the complete library of Writing Tips The Waiting Game Rome wasn’t built in a day, you guys, and the plans weren’t drawn up that quickly either. Note how the header to this post says that you “must” wait before making any moves on your manuscript. Noted? […]
Amazing Post from a couple of years ago by Joanne Guidoccio
I’m thrilled to welcome Soul Mate author Julie Doherty to the Power of 10 series.
Confession time: I am not, and never have been, an insatiable reader. As a child, I loved Ingalls-Wilder’s LITTLE HOUSE series, and in my teens, I discovered the Brontës and Jane Austen. Our family had little money, though, to spend on books, and I rarely thought about using the school library for fun reading. The library was only a place to study, copy stuff verbatim out of encyclopedias, and ogle the smart boys.
I’ve been a storyteller my whole life, though, so when someone suggested I write a book, I thought, Why not? How hard can it be?
Um, it’s pretty hard, and it might surprise you (like it surprised me) to learn that you don’t just sit down and fluidly pen…
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