Tip of the Day
May 30, 2022
“To free us from the expectations of others, to give us back to ourselves there lies the great, the singular power of self-respect. Without it, one eventually discovers the final turn of the screw: one runs away to find oneself and finds no one at home.” -Joan Didion
This week on Twitter, I read a number of tweets about critiquing. And how to respond to them.
So let's talk about all of it.
How do you normally feel after receiving a critique?
Do you feel fearful? Overwhelmed? Like you have been misunderstood? Like you are a terrible writer?
There have been times when we all feel disappointed that our stories aren't as good as we thought they were, but if being read doesn't INSPIRE us, if we don't feel excited to dig back in, well...we need to make some changes.
We also need to make changes if critiquing has become an exercise in Who Is The Smartest Person in this Room?
So, here are my "pillars" of critiquing. Maybe they'll be helpful. Maybe you can send me some things that have worked for your group:
First: a critique is a conversation.
That means: the writer should tell his trusted colleagues:
- What they loved writing
- What they are grappling with
- The why behind the story. Why it means so much to the writer.
No one can offer feedback without understanding what the writer wants to accomplish.
Are you ready to stretch? Reach? Groan? Embrace the power of play?
Second: Do not discount positive comments.
When a writer knows what they are doing well, they can do more of that. They can build on their strengths.
Positive feedback is not wasted time. It is not a cushion before "the real stuff."
Third: Can you structure your criticism as questions?
By asking questions instead of telling the writer where they missed the mark, you open the door to deeper discussion and brainstorming. All of us aren't just writers. We're readers. Find mentor texts that offer examples of what you hope the writer can accomplish. Discuss the places that drew you in and why other places didn't work for you, one reader.
A reminder: our goal (as readers) is to help the writer accomplish the story THEY want to tell. Our goal, as readers, should be to empower the writer to take new chances and see new possibilities. Our goal as writers is to open our minds and hearts to possibilities. We can't resist revision. A critique should offer us a way forward. But if you are anxious or not ready to hear critical questions, it is FINE to ask for "just the positives."
Here are some things to try BEFORE you send to your writer friends:
1) Tell your story TO someone. Telling your story aloud helps you work out some kinks.
2) Get the draft on paper. Don’t worry if it’s good; just finish it. Put the words on paper.
3) Don’t write with the goal of changing kids' lives. That can lead to heavy, irritating prose. Just share what delights or enrages or fascinates you. Focus on STORY. Embrace the child's eye.
4) Stop EXPLAINING. Readers love stories, and we hate having everything explained to us.
5) Ignore rules about marketing and trends. Instead, be inspired by other books! Think about what has worked for you AS A READER. Then apply what you love to your story.
6) Why are you writing this story? What does it mean to you? How has your life set you up to create this story? Mine YOUR backstory--not just your characters'.
7) Writing can be exhausting. Imposter syndrome happens to us all. So does writers block. It is easy to fall into the trap of feeling like your story does not matter. So find strategies to overcome those moments--to validate your work. Find ways to reward your progress. Also: take social media breaks.
Have a great writing week!
8) EAT DESSERT FIRST. Write what makes you happy!!!! When we are happy, we are more confident. When we are more confident, we take more chances. When we take chances, we find new scenes. Bottom line: it's a whole lot easier to hear what readers think about your manuscript when you have reached out of your comfort zone. When we are confident in ourselves and our group, we can hear more than the negatives from our critiques. When we are confident, we soar!
Vaccinations have never been more important. Please protect yourself and those in your community by getting the jabs as soon as you can.