Friday, April 23, 2010

Assessing Critique

“No one has ever committed suicide while reading a good book, but many have tried while trying to write one.”

- Robert Byrne

I’m on spring break this week, because it always falls the week of Patriot’s Day on April 19th, which commemorates the battles at Lexington and Concord beginning the American Revolution. To my British readers, I’m sorry that my city is obsessed with this silly ol’ war. What were we fighting about anyway? To my teacher readers, I’ll be subbing and sharing my torturous days next week. Stay tuned!

Even though it’s break, I don’t have the oodles of time to write and edit my work that I was hoping for, due to my children being home and having their friends visit. Besides, I can’t just ignore them, which means interacting with them and taking them places, like to the park. Even with these constraints, I’ve been semi-productive.

In my last post, I wrote about thinking I’d polished The Disappearances sufficiently, only to find out I was out of my mind. As I also mentioned, Mary at KidLit offered to have people comment on her post to find beta readers. I’ve gotten several e-mails regarding this, and officially swapped first chapters with my first victim yesterday. Then Aubrie was kind enough to look through the first two chapters and gave me helpful suggestions, but also made me relieved that my sentences. weren’t. as. stilted. as. I'd. feared.

So, what have I been doing, besides letting other people read my work? I’ve been reading their work. Jackee and I have been trading chapters since January, but that’s on my manuscript, Indigo in the Know. I read her chapters yesterday, along with my new connection from KidLit, Anita. Now I’m going through Aubrie’s pages. To look at three different manuscripts in one day was thrilling because I got to read three different writing styles and genres. I’m repeating myself, but it’s worth saying that reading other people’s work makes me a better writer. It’s just too bad I’ve temporarily abandoned Shiver by Maggie Stiefvater because I’m halfway through it.

Later in the day, I received an e-mail from someone who found me through NESCBWI (New England chapter of SCBWI) because I was on an “interested in a critique group” list. This woman’s group meets at a bookstore right in Cambridge once a week. How convenient!

When the dust from all of these requests settles, I’ll have to figure out whom I mesh with and what will work best for me. As much as I appreciated the group I joined in January, their genres were too different from mine and they met too infrequently for me to make the progress I’m seeking.

Trusting my baby in other people’s hands is a big leap, so I need to trust them and respect their feedback. And while my manuscript feels like a baby, I need to take critique like a MAN.

For those of you considering a beta reader, exchange partner, or group, here are some helpful resources: (Note that they’re all within this last week, so critique seems to be on many writers’ minds.)

After Mary Kole set up the comments list, she wrote a second post giving advice about being good critique partner:

Jody, who has a book, The Preacher’s Bride coming out this fall, gives suggestions on how to handle critique and tells us how important our first ten pages really are:

Tawna has a list on the different stages of handling critique, which sounds suspiciously similar to the different stages of grief:

Even though I feel like I have many critique options right now, and can’t possibly do them all, especially if I want to accomplish anything on my own writing, I’m moving forward.


  1. What great links, and timely for me. THANK YOU.

    Happy weekend/spring break.

  2. Great links! And what we were fighting for was independence!! Yay!! But if only those early revolutionaries knew how we would be taxed today, by our OWN government, they would have jumped into the bay themselves and given up before they even started. Good thing they couldn't see into the future. Still, I'm grateful for their sacrifices because we became a free nation.

  3. Great post. Thank you very much. I'll be going through the same thing at some point in the near future, so I'm pretty sure this will help me a lot. :)

  4. Wow - I really admire your bravery... I feel like just writing my blog - putting it out there is a leap of faith - I can't imagine doing that with fiction... then again I don't write fiction... then again you never know. :)

  5. Good luck with finding the right critique group, I agree you need to find the right one.
    Enjoy your break.

  6. Great you are getting and giving critiques! One is so much easier than the other--isn't it?

  7. Great links and it sounds like you have quite a few great opportunities, now it's time to decide what route is best for you and run with it! Good Luck!

  8. Thanks for all the links, Theresa, and I hope you have a great spring break!

  9. Thanks for including me in your post! I hope my suggestions helped and I can't wait to see what you thought of my pages!

  10. Lola, I hope you have a happy weekend.

    KarenG, I think it was the taxation without representation that the colonists were up in arms about. As for the revolutionaries, first they'll have to get used to cars, planes, cell phones, and computers before they're upset with the taxation changes. Imagine how the world would look to us over 200 years into the future!

    Sarahjayne, I'm glad you found the post and links helpful.

    Halpey1, with your touching posts, I can see you writing a memoir someday.

  11. Brigid, thanks. I'm sad the break is almost over. I'll be back to being a slave to phone in three days.

    Bossy Betty, I like giving the critique as long as there's more positive than negative to say. But usually it beats getting the critique!

    Jen, thanks! Hopefully I won't try to take on too much.

    Julie, thank you for the nice wishes.

    Aubrie, I just got back from errands and plan to continue.

  12. Great links - thanks! How convenient that there's a group so close.

    I was really nervous my first time at a writers' group, reading aloud my MS - but it's really inspirational if you find the right group!

  13. It's wonderful when you have just the right reader, one who sees and communicates clearly, who is in sync with our story. It really shows how this solitary craft is so often a result of teamwork!

    Happy weekend ...

  14. Wow Theresa Milstein!!

    I'm so glad to read that things are afoot with your writing, particularly having all these super duper critiquing pals! I think you really could be your worst critique and so having others dispute and disprove your own fault finding is a boost!

    There really is something to be said for fresh eyes reading your MS and for good, considered and constructive criticism.

    Similarly it's great to be exposed to how other people write. I always find reading others' stories and poetry particularly in my writing course and here in blogland a real eye opener for me.

    Good luck with your critique group!! And happy spring break!

    Today is St George's day so lots of England flags flying! Apparently a dragon was slain in the process of creating this day.


    Take care

  15. Theresa, thanks for leaving a comment on my blog. I did go to your post on names and found it fascinating.

    My first name came from the middle one of my father. He was so universally hated by those who knew him that my mother did not want to give me his first. Such are the ways we receive names.

    My own middle name, Durand, my mother took from the French epic poem, THE SONG OF ROLAND. It is an Americanized version of Durandal, the sword of Charlemagne's greatest knight. Roland's pride led to the death of his best friend and those who depended upon him.

    My mother used to tell me the story over and over again, stressing that the welfare of our friends and those who depend upon us must come before our own pride. I must learn to be humble like all true warriors. Then, she would regale me with tales of the humble but strong Crazy Horse. You see, she was half-Lakota.

    Whew! I just wanted to let you know that I had taken your link to heart and read what you said. Good luck in your writing dreams and efforts. May you be published quickly, Roland

  16. Talli, I know what you mean about reading aloud. Each year, I attend the NESCBWI conference and go to the optional peer critique, where we read our piece aloud for five minutes, and then get a ten-minute peer critique. The first time, my cheeks were hot and red. So embarrassing.

    Joanne, I like your line, "It really shows how this solitary craft is so often a result of teamwork!" So true.

    Old Kitty, you are so right. I've learned that a good critique partner takes out the kinks and gives me more faith in my own work.

    I wish we had more holidays that had to do with dragon slaying!

    Roland, I enjoyed your post on names, and now I can see why you have a fascination with characters' names. Thanks for sharing your story.

    And thank you for the nice words.

  17. Wonderful info and links! Thanks for posting these, they will come in very, very handy.

    Enjoy your break as best you can! Have a fantastic weekend. :)

  18. Hey, my city's still obsessed with that silly ol' ship. All our places have their little quirks! :)

  19. B. Miller, I hope the links do come in handy. And I hope you and everyone else have a fantastic weekend too.

    Hampshire flyer, which silly ol' ship would that be? We have the beloved U.S.S Constitution in Charlestown, MA.

  20. I'm glad you have had a week off to be with your family and get some writing done. Sounds like you're really making progress and opening yourself up to even more progress by joining these groups. Good luck!

  21. Tiffany, it's been nice being off. All these critique opportunities came at a perfect time. Thanks!

  22. Hello! Gosh it sounds like you have been very productive to me, I am impressed! And I know what you mean about letting your baby story go out there into the world, I worry so much that it will be just dismissed out of turn. But reading and helping other people does make for a stronger writer, and if I ever do it I feel sort of invigorated with my own writing again. Happy weekend!

  23. It appears you've been most productive. Delighted for you!

    Many great links to check out. Thanks :)

  24. I'm not fiction writer, but it's interesting to read your posts on the writing process. It's like getting a little window where I can peer into this whole other world. I've always wondered how people manage to finish something as enormous as a novel. I guess that it takes all of the help that you can get.

  25. Thanks for the links! And good luck finding your perfect critique situation, sounds like you've got some great options.

  26. Jayne, thanks for the comment. Happy weekend to you too.

    Wendy, thank you! I hope you find the links helpful.

    Paul, I agree that it's hard to do it alone. I (of course) write the rough draft myself, but I need others to help me make it even better.

    Susan, thanks for the comment. I hope I find the perfect critique situation too.

  27. Good luck to you. I am getting so much insight into the writing process from your blog. Makes me want to try to write to get things published which has been a "dream" since childhood. Perhaps some day.

  28. Collaborating on the editing process and receiving tips from others is really exciting. You make it clear how writers often juggle family and work commitments as well as words.

  29. Choices, you should try. As the Coldplay song says, "If you never try, you'll never know..."

    Paul C, I like the idea of juggling words. It's so true.

  30. Your opening quote has to be one of the best I've read in a long time.

  31. India, I'm glad you like the quote. It made me laugh when I first read it.

  32. Theresa - what a great quote to start with, but what an even better last line:)

  33. Enjoy the time with your children while you can Theresa. They grow up so fast. Sounds like you have a full plate right now gf. Good luck with finding a fit for you in terms of critiquing.

  34. You won the $10 gift card in my contest - hooray! Please email me your address so I can get that in the mail. I think I just saw your name as a winner in another contest recently - you're on a roll! :)

  35. @ Theresa - answering you at my blog was probably the wrong place for it to make any sense to anyone else :) I was thinking of the Titanic, anyway.... It sailed from Southampton, although Belfast can claim its memory as well because the Titanic was built there. Either way, if I tell people abroad where I come from, it's usually the first thing they mention...

  36. Hampshireflyer, I forgot Titanic sailed from there. Can you believe that I've never seen the movie?