Friday, July 17, 2015

Why Writers Need Critiques

A few weeks ago, I talked about why writers need writers. And then last week, I talked about critiques, and offered free ones through a contest (which you can still enter, the deadline is next Friday). Today, I’d like to take the time to draw these two things together.

Imagine you have a finished manuscript. It’s a good story, you think, and you want to try and publish it.
That’s great. Brilliant. Fantastic.

But how do you know what needs to be fixed first?
Well, you could go through and edit it. Easy enough. But is that enough? Will your own, biased eyes catch every plot hole, boring dialogue, poorly equipped minor villains, cliché epilogue, unengaging beginning, and every single passive verb?


So, maybe you get your mom to read it. Or your dad/cousin/best friend/boyfriend/dog from next door. They aren’t a writer, but they’ll give you their opinion, right?
Chances are your mother will give you a list of spelling errors and all the places you used a fragment. That’s great; now you don’t need a proof editor.
Your dad and boyfriend will appreciate your action scenes, and your dad will cry when the hero forgives his wayward father.
The dog next door won’t say much of anything. Naturally, it will bark excitedly and eat the paper, but it won’t give much feedback beyond a bark for more. Must be a good sign, right?

While readers who aren’t writers are great (for instance, my dad is always one of the first people I let read my manuscripts and he's ready to give his honest opinion), the best sort of help you can get is from other writers. They know what you’re going through, and they know what you’re looking for when you want a critique.

This term might scare you. It probably conjures up mental images like bleeding red ink, torn up manuscripts, and a black and white video of you huddling in a corner crying.
However, critiques don’t have to be scary. In fact, they can be fabulous. Whenever I read a critique of my work, I feel very excited and energized, even when the critique is saying something negative about my manuscript.

But what if you still feel terrified by the idea of showing your work to someone who knows what they’re talking about?
Well, let me give you a few tips for looking at a critique:

-This critique is a personal opinion. The critic of your work is not the all-powerful god figure of the writing world. This person is not the law, and even when their words come across as “you should NEVER DO THIS”, what they’re really saying is “I don’t think this works here, and I’ve never seen it work anywhere else.” If this is an experienced writer, then you should put a little more weight to their words. Always take opinions with a grain of salt. Do some research; see if other writers tend to agree with what they say.

-This critique is not attacking you. Often times, people will get defensive when they read a critique. I’ve seen some take a critique personally.
Don’t do this.
It makes the critic feel bad (sometimes, unless they have tough skin), and it’s an improper reaction.
When you offer something up for critique, the critic is assuming you want honest answers. They aren’t trying to attack you personally, but make your writing better. They’re there to help you. Let them. Please?

-This critique is useful. Every critique, even those praising you and nothing else, can be used to make your manuscripts better. Take the advice that helps, discard what does not.

Critiques are wonderful things. They can and will help you become a better writer, if you let them. Next week, I’ll talk about how you can critique other’s work, and why it’s helpful to you as well as to others.

And remember! Deadline for my short story contest is Friday, July 24th! It’s never too late to enter, and everyone wins!

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