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Today’s post was inspired by 4amWriter’s brilliant post on The Power of A Critique.
She got me thinking about my critiquing process, which has evolved out of my self-editing techniques with a heaping of tact.
Before I critique someone’s writing, I always ask what type of critique they want. A general big picture for flow, or nitty-gritty editing of sentence structure and word choices. Then I ask if there are any specific concerns the writer has like the voice/character development/tension/pacing etc. I want to make sure we are on the same page in terms of what they are looking for in a critique partner.
When I get pages from my critique partner, I print them out.
I take my red pen and try to read through all the pages in a couple sittings.
As I read, I make notes on anything that stops me or jars me as a reader. ANYTHING. Sometimes, I’m not sure what wasn’t working but I make a note that something wasn’t adding to my reading experience. I also note what worked in the story (strong opening sentences, great character development, strong voice, great imagery, etc)
On this first read, I try to employ the principles from Margie Lawson’s Deep Editing packet. She provides an actual checklist of everything you should be evaluating as you read.
Then I put the pages aside. In the back of my head, I’m thinking about everything–pacing, character development, flow, etc. But I don’t write anything down. For a day.
Then I come back to the pages the next day and add more notes and try to better articulate my concerns and possible changes to address those issues.
I do this until I have all the pages done.
Then I wait a day.
I open up the Word document and I begin typing in my comments in track changes.
I avoid words like “should.” I try to employ weaker language like “might.”
I do my best to state my concern and then suggest a couple possible fixes. Sometimes I don’t know how to solve my concern. Then I just state the concern and mention I’m not sure how best to address it.
I also make sure I’ve highlighted what is working well.
It can take me 6 hours to type in all my comments because I am re-reading the manuscript as I type in the comments.
The next day, I come back to my comments. I pretend they are about my own manuscript. Then I re-read only the comments. And I try to find anything that could possibly hurt the writer’s feelings and re-word it.
Lastly, I try to write a couple paragraph cover letter to summarize the major points of my feedback. I always use the sandwich method–positive comments, areas of improvement, positive comments.
How do you critique other people’s writing? Do you have a benchmark? A tried and true methodology? Do you give them your initial responses?
I’ve read that there are five stages to grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance.
I think these apply to the many forms of death we encounter in life. Not just the physical, but the emotional and psychological deaths. The death of one’s hopes, one’s beliefs, one’s dreams.
But today, I want to talk about the death of one’s perceptions. Specifically as they relate to a novel.
We are all told once we finish and polish our manuscript we should put it through critique groups and get feedback on it.
But most of us are not ready yet. And even when we are ready, it’s a painful process.
We think this manuscript is perfect. We’ve improved it as much as we can, so in our eyes it is.
Then the feedback comes. People telling us what is wrong, not working, confusing, what needs to be better developed, what should be cut.
And that is when the grieving process kicks in.
It’s the death of our initial perception of our work. Our belief that the book is ready to be published.
Every time I get feedback, I go through these stages. Even when I know the book is a draft and needs work. It’s still my best draft.
Denial: This is where I decide the other person’s opinion doesn’t matter. That they are wrong. This usually lasts 3-24 hours.
Anger: This is where I look at the feedback again and feel like they are picking on me. This is usually 4-12 hours.
Bargaining: This is where I think maybe this feedback has some validity. Okay, I’ll try some of these changes, but I still think half of them are dead wrong. 10-24 hours.
Depression: This is where I realize many of the comments are valid and I see how much work is in front of me. This can last a day to a week.
Acceptance: This is where I remind myself I want to write the best book I can. And this feedback will get me there. I start making the changes and I see how much they help. And I accept the death of my belief that the manuscript was good as I work to make it better.
How do you feel about feedback? How do you process it?
Amazon worked tirelessly last week and this weekend and has fixed the major glitches (missing emdashes, weird characters replacing quotation marks and italics, and missing apostrophes) in the quarterfinalists excerpts from the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award (ABNA) Contest!!!
There are still paragraphing and page break issues in the excerpt, but it is now quite readable.
My product description does not have my original paragraphing and the spacing is wrong in a spot or two, but other than that it is ready to be read.
So drumroll please….
To read my ABNA excerpt from The Six Train to Wisconsin, you click on the link and it will take you to my Amazon page. You have to download the excerpt to your Kindle. It says you click to buy it, but it’s $0.00 dollars.
Then you can read it on your Kindle. The product description on the Amazon page is my original pitch that got me through the first round of the contest. It’s the one I worked on at the Backspace Agent-Author Seminar in November and used at the WDC Pitch Slam in January.
This is the first time my writing is in a public forum. I’ve bitten my nails to nubs. Nerve-wracking and exciting. I never ever thought I would reach this point when I entered back in January. I’d really love to hear your thoughts. If you have time, please stop over to check out my excerpt. You can rate it and leave reviews on my Amazon page too.
There are 250 talented ABNA Quarterfinalists across many genres of adult fiction. I’m competing against 249 of them. There is a separate contest for YA fiction with another 250 amazing ABNA Quarterfinalists too. You can read their excerpts by clicking on the link and selecting which genre you want to look at along the top of the page.
If you don’t have a Kindle or a Kindle app, you can still check out my first five pages of The Six Train to Wisconsin on my website.
A long time ago, a lovely gal worked at a place that shall not be named. That place had policies but no procedures.
So the firm would put in writing that it would enforce it’s dresscode, but not actually explain how it defined dresscode or give examples of what was deemed appropriate and inappropriate.
The firm would state we will not violate laws. But not explain to the employees what the laws were, how they applied to the firm, and what the employees needed to do to make sure they followed the laws.
Policy without procedures is meaningless.
The same applies to writing.
We say show don’t tell. Great policy. But if we haven’t taken the time to explain what showing is and teach the person to identify what telling is, how in the world can anyone follow that policy?
What’s my point here?
Thanks for asking. Three things actually.
In order to teach self-editing, you have to pass on the procedures to writers. I’ve read books on self-editing that didn’t tell me how to replicate the process in my own work. Not very useful.
In order to be a great editor, you have to have not just understand policy but understand and execute procedures.
In order to give great feedback, you have to explain why the edit makes sense (mention the policy then explain the procedure behind the edit)
The SCBWI Winter Conference gave me serious insight into the job of an agent and editor. During the writer’s roundtable, 8 writers sat at a table with an editor or an agent.
Each writer had 12 minutes to circulate their 1.5 pages of writing, have everyone read it and give feedback.
Sounds cool, right? Except I’ve never processed 1.5 pages of writing in one quick read and articulated feedback instantly. My usual critique groups allow several days to read, mull, and give feedback.
The editors and agents had no problem instantly identifying issues and raising questions about each manuscript. They articulated in a way I never could under such time constraints.
That’s an incredible skill to have.
I had the opportunity to hear feedback from an incredible editor and from an insightful agent during the two rounds of critiquing. I also got 16 opinions from my fellow writers.
That’s pretty cool feedback. I met the amazing Kat Bender who is going to swap some pages with me since we both have a passion for YA, Victorian times and fantasy. Her writing reminded me of The Amaranth Enchantment by Julie Berry. Which you might remember as one of my favorite reads last year.
We spent two hours in our first roundtable, broke for a quick lunch and then did our second round of critiques. Again, I heard some great writing and some curiosity sparkling writing. After insta-critiquing another 8 people’s work, I was brain fritzed.
Couldn’t form sentences the rest of the night. My poor cousin thought I was drunk or heading toward a breakdown. My mind simply couldn’t do anymore.
I had to watch Friends and go to bed.
So agents and editors, I salute you. You do something that turned my brain to oatmeal. And you do it extremely well. Everyday. Thanks so much for helping this writer along on her path to publication.
Recently, a teacher from an online course offered to help me revise my draft of my second novel.
I asked what that entailed and he told me it would be me sending him 10,000 word packets of my novel for him to review and give feedback on. We exchanged a few emails on the topic, determining the date we would start this mentoring relationship.
I was super excited to have someone take an interest in my work.
Then I sent the first packet and received an email saying that there had been some confusion and we had not discussed the “mentoring fee.”
I was perplexed. I’ve never heard of a mentoring relationship conducted for monetary gain.
Mentoring, as far as I understand it, is usually a symbiotic relationship where the mentor passes on knowledge and gives guidance to the mentee and the mentee usually provides support to the mentor in his career endeavors. But there is no exchange of money.
In these rough economic times, I can understand someone charging a critique fee, but not a mentoring fee. I think this should all be done upfront. From the first interaction, it should be clear it isn’t a mentor relationship but a paid critique services interaction.
I opted to not pay the fee, which would have amounted to over $1000 for my novel.
He did apologize for not mentioning the fee earlier. I truly hope it was an oversight.
But it left me wondering if this happened to other people or if I did not properly understand what mentoring entailed.
From now on when a writer offers to look at my novel, should I ask how much? I wanted to pose the question to all of you because this was such an outlier in my experiences with the writing community.
Has anyone else had someone try to charge a fee for mentoring?