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Picture the following scenario with me, if you will. Two individuals are engaged in a deep conversation. One of the individuals becomes aggravated. Defensive. Begins making excuses. Questions the other’s authority. Pouts. And finally sulks away disgruntled.
Now, which of the following do you believe was the unhappy participant in the conversation?
- A) Toddler who hit his brother
- B) Teen who missed curfew
- C) Writer receiving a critique
If you chose C, you are correct.
Receiving a critique is sometimes difficult for those of us who call ourselves writers to endure, wouldn’t you agree? Especially for those of us in the beginning stages of our writer’s journey.
We’ve written the next best seller. Why is it so difficult for others to see that? We may have read several books on the craft of writing. We might have participated in an on-line discussion group, webinar, workshop or conference. We know what we are doing. If the so-called experts can’t see that, then who needs ‘em?
While I am guilty of thinking this way, may I suggest that it is NOT the correct attitude for us to have at any stage of our journey?
The first time I got the courage to actually submit my freshly written darling for a critique at a Society of Childrens Book Writers and Illustrators conference, I was disappointed I was not able to speak with my first choice editor of a major New York publishing house. Instead, a multi-published author in my genre had the privilege of reading my best seller.
She was kind in her critique and complimentary of my efforts, but when she told me my story, Mandee the Manatee, started off slow, I knew she didn’t know what she was talking about. Of course it starts off slow. Have you ever seen an actual manatee swim?
It did not take me long, though, to realize my critiquer was correct. Mandee the Manatee was not ready for publication. It sits in a drawer of my desk.
I followed that critique with a brand new novel, In the Valley of the Shadow of Death, for an appointment at the Colorado Christian Writers Conference with James Scott Bell. You know, the guy who’s written tons of best sellers and all those Writers Digest how-to-write books. Surely he’d know what he was doing and be able to recognize quality work when he saw it. Maybe even ask for a full to send to an editor he knew.
When Mr. Bell told me he found it difficult to read the dialogue I’d written in the appropriate dialect to reflect the area of Appalachia where my historical novel was set, I balked. What did that guy from California know about the way people in Appalachia speak?
Figuring out that maybe the dialect was a bit too difficult for the average reader, I did away with it, but left enough distinctive words to reflect the region. With that done, I submitted my baby to a super-star editor at another major New York publishing house during another SCBWI conference.
She was complementary. She loved my voice. She enjoyed reading the sample. By this time, I was ready to hand her the full manuscript I’d brought with me that was sitting on the floor board of my car. But . . . she felt it wasn’t edgy enough. Now, if I’d change my historical middle grade novel to a young adult vampire romance, she’d be more interested. This after telling me my title, In the Valley of the Shadow of Death, was too morbid. Seriously?
There have been other critiques and appointments. One editor at an American Christian Writers Conference even went so far as to take my one sheet, proposal, and three sample chapters of Valley back to her superiors, only to be told historicals weren’t selling in the children’s market.
Although I never enjoyed being told my writing really wasn’t where it needed to be, and I still don’t, with each and every critique I’ve improved. That is the point after all, is it not? To keep improving. To keep striving to make our writing the best it can be. To write as unto the LORD?
Will you be heading to the CCWC this May? If so, might I suggest you get those writing samples polished until they shine. Sign up for appointments and critiques. Believe the person sitting opposite you has your best interest at heart, even when their words hurt and sting. They want you to succeed. Really, they do. They are professionals who know what they are talking about. Trust them.
Here are a few things I’m learning through my mistakes which I’d like to share with you for this writing journey we’re on.
- Bite your tongue if you have to, but don’t argue.
- Don’t make excuses.
- Don’t question the critiquer’s judgment.
- During the appointment take notes whether you agree with what is being said, or not.
- Take a breath when you feel like your dreams are crashing around you.
- Take a walk and talk with God until you can get your feelings under control.
- Take your time once you return home to reassess your writing. Look at it with fresh eyes after letting it sit for a week or two.
- Reread your notes. It might surprise you how much wisdom that critiquer had after all.
Thanks, Sandy, for sharing your hard-won wisdom. Sandy weaves “words of encouragement and hope” on her Woven and Spun blog at http://www.sandykirbyquandt.com/.
Father, please give us teachable spirits. Help us – help me – not to fall in love with our words but to listen, to learn, and to seek You for the words we write.
Check out the list of critiquers and genres for the May 13-16 Colorado Christian Writers Conference (http://colorado.writehisanswer.com/paidcritiques). Meeting for 30 minutes with one or more of these professionals who will have read your manuscript pre-conference is a great opportunity to make your writing the best it can be.
Paid critiques will also be available at the July 29 – August 1 Greater Philly conference. I’m working to finalize the faculty and program and with the Lord’s help plan to open online registration April 1.