And now, I give the floor to Skye...
When Critiques Get Tough
I read Angela Quarles’s experience with critique groups, On Writing: Is my zipper down or do you just not like my pants?, and thought I’d chime in. I regularly participate in two online critique groups (where I exchange with 4-6 people each) and have one standalone critique partner. And that’s just line-edits/chapter-by-chapter critiques. I have a different set of people I use for beta reads. I’ve also purchased critiques from authors via charity auctions and have entered RWA contests.
Yeah. My skin is really, really thick.
But my writing is that much better for it. I really think that it took a village to write my book. I am beyond-words grateful to everyone has helped me make my books what they are, culling the chaff and making the great parts sing. And the important thing to note was there was no other way for me to find that information than through critique partners and beta readers.
No amount of reading blogs or writing books could have told me which parts of my book would be well received or not. I’ve always thought that reading a book is a meeting of the author and the reader. The writer brings her voice and imagination, but the reader has her own experiences that make the book unique for her. That’s why critiques and beta reads are so critical. You can’t do it alone, because you’ll only ever have one half of the puzzle.
I could talk for a while about my experiences and the things I’ve learned along the way, but I summed it up for you in a nice, neat ordered package. Here we go.
1. When you read a criticism or suggestion, it will either feel right or it won’t. If it doesn’t feel right for you, don’t take it, no matter how accomplished or confident the person may seem. Critique groups have taken some heat for their ability to suck the voice, the uniqueness out of writing. Sure, it adds polish, but at what cost? But it’s the author’s job to have a strong vision for her work. Sometimes that means cutting something that’s good but not great. And sometimes that means leaving something great in, even if it disturbs people. Especially if it disturbs people! We’re in this to move people, yes?
2. Your very best work, the jewels, are the things that people both love and hate in equal parts. This might seem wrong on first reading, but I think it fulfills the premise of number 1, in that it represents my vision for the piece. That is voice. Some people will get it and love it. Others won’t get it and will hate it. This is one of the main reasons why getting feedback from different people is so important.
3. If someone hates your work, don’t keep exchanging with them. I had to learn this one the hard way. Mostly I can take negative feedback well. I’ve had my work torn up before, all criss-crossed with red digital ink. But this person kept trying to change my voice. She’d suggest changes almost every other line, and each change, I just could not see how hers were any better. They were just different – her voice, not mine. Ultimately I had to accept that she wasn’t feeling my work and that I wasn’t weak or thin-skinned to stop accepting critiques that weren’t helping.
4. Skip open forums, like blog comments or the like, in favor of personal critique exchange. It’s just too darn easy for a troll to come through and blow your self-confidence to bits. And what’s more, they won’t even include any constructive criticism to do anything about it. Furthermore, who is this guy? Start with one of the options that I mentioned above.
5. Give back. Always be gracious to the people who took their time to critique your work. Usually I can find a seed of helpful feedback in even the most scathing feedback. Actually, every time. And, if nothing else, they’re toughening you up so that when you get in front of readers, you’ll feel all right. Every time a reader says they liked my work, I feel like a gift has been granted from some sort of God of writing. Maybe I would have felt that way regardless, but I think it helps to have already gotten the bad stuff out in the open. Hopefully I’ve fixed some of it, but even if there’s a weakness in the writing, I should already know about it by now. Trust me, with fifteen or more fellow writers having thoroughly critiqued my work by the time it gets to an editor, a reader would be hard-pressed to shock me.
Here’s an example of one of those love/hate lines from my Taekwondo erotic romance, Below the Belt (To learn more about this story, click here). In this scene, the hero and heroine have recently met and he’s just finished giving her an orgasm - what a gentleman ;) But the important part is the last line of the excerpt, where I got comment from pretty much everyone. Some loved it, some didn’t, but I definitely kept it.
“Who are you, really?” she whispered.
“I’m no one,” he murmured, his face buried in her silky soft hair. “No one special.” It was the truth. He’d grown up too poor and too stupid to be anyone. No matter how hard he fought, he was just another loser from Podunk, Nowhere.
“Oh yeah?” she challenged softly. “A two time national medalist and forerunner for the male heavyweight competition is nobody?”
Abe lifted his head.
“Yeah, I recognized you,” she said.
She didn’t understand. It wouldn’t be enough. Not any of it, not ever. His throat tight, he gave a short shake of his head.
“Oh, Abe,” she said. God, what was that look in her eyes? He wanted to look away from it, but he couldn’t. “You’re someone special. I see it.”
The line wouldn’t come – the one that would make this whole conversation a joke, instead of the truth. He always laughed it off, or fought it off, no matter what came.
Not this time.
So what do you think – does the excerpt work for you? What’s your experience been with participating in critique groups and handling the tough feedback?
Oh, and one commenter will receive a copy of Below the Belt, the sexy story of a black belt who dominates the mats only to fall hard for a woman.
~ Natalie ~
No Rules. No Formulas. Just Love.