Are you thinking of asking a writer friend for help with something? Maybe you should think twice.
Tag Archives: Critique
by Lillian Csernica on August 23, 2016
Whether or not you’re involved in a writing group, there comes a time when one of your fellow writers will ask you to read his or her manuscript. If this person has already done you the favor of reading one of yours, you are more or less honor bound to return the kindness.
If you and your colleague are at a comparable level in your writing skills, this could turn out to be a very pleasant and profitable exchange of ideas and perspectives. This is the best case scenario, and the reason why I urge anyone seriously considering joining a writer’s group to bear in mind these potential issues.
Sooner or later, the moment will come when you are faced with the terrible prospect of reading a manuscript that is so bad that every page is absolute torture. No amount of cheery and euphemistic commentary can conceal the fact that this particular stack of paper besmirched with little black ink marks is really, really bad. Your eyes ache, your fingers are cramped from making copy editing marks, and you’re left with the unhappy knowledge that reading this mess has taken up hours of your life that you will never get back again.
What can we do to protect our sanity, our writing time, and the integrity of our relationships with colleagues while still sparing ourselves the ordeal of forcing ourselves to endure really bad writing?
Honesty There are some types of fiction that do not appeal to me, so I rarely read them. Regency romance. Westerns. Space opera. Really gruesome horror. Since I don’t read much in these genres, I’m not a very good judge of what works and what doesn’t according to the usual reader expectations. Therefore I can step aside with a clear conscience.
Time Life gets more and more crowded every day. Finding the time to do our own writing and editing can be difficult enough. Making time for additional critiquing may not be possible. If one has a standing commitment to a regular writing group, that’s one thing. That commitment must be honored. Outside of that, however, a judicious application of the word NO might be essential.
Referral If you know somebody in your circle of writing acquaintances who might be willing to take on the burden of this critique, present your appeal with full disclosure. If your colleague agrees, make the connection between the owner of the manuscript and the willing victim, give them your blessing, and exit stage left.
What do you think? Am I being reasonable here? Or am I being to harsh in declaring some manuscripts way too much of a not very good thing?
by Lillian Csernica on January 31, 2016
I’m still mulling over the pros and cons of writing reviews on Amazon, Goodreads, et al. While I was wandering around the Web today, I came across a blog that talks about how to get our books reviewed. There’s a lot of info here, and much food for thought.
I’m leaning toward not reviewing that book I mentioned in Part One. Given that there’s close to a dozen more books in the series, it’s not like my opinion is going to make much of a difference. I came across the first book on BookBub, where it’s offered for free as an enticement. If I did comment on the novel’s extensive flaws, maybe I would be doing some readers some good.
Yes? No? Give it up and go write my own stuff?
As always, I welcome your thoughts.
EDIT: I did write the review after all. Thank you to everyone who has been contributing to the discussion.
By Lillian Csernica on October 4, 2014
Have you ever noticed how often people ask questions that they really do not want the answers to? A more accurate phrasing of that thought might be, “Have you ever noticed how often people ask questions, and when they don’t get the responses they want, they get all upset?” Why do people do this to themselves? The majority of people are not telepathic. They cannot tell what kind of answer the inquirer really wants. It gets worse when the question itself has little or nothing to do with the response desired. Clear and direct communication is the best solution, but that can be terrifying for all kinds of reasons.
Why am I thinking about this right now? During my wild weekend at Convolution, I acted as moderator for one section of the writer’s workshop. I have not volunteered for a writer’s workshop in what must be at least fifteen years. The reason? There was a time when I was happy to volunteer. I was all for lending a hand to the hopefuls who were in the same position where I had once been. I regret to say my enthusiasm became dulled by the unfortunate realization that only once in a while did I meet a hopeful who knew enough about writing already to accept the comments professionals could provide and put those comments to good use. I’m not saying the hopefuls are supposed to do exactly what I and my fellow professional volunteers suggest. I am saying that some people have not brought their writing to the point where a professional critique is going to do them any real good. The hopefuls may A) not understand the comments, B) not know how to apply the comments, and/or C) reject the comments and cling to their mistakes (genuine, no-contest grammar errors, info dumps, etc.). After awhile I decided I’d much rather spend the three hours a workshop section takes up doing something else. I could be participating on panels, networking in the Green Room, attending panels of interest, or even just taking a nap in my hotel room.
So why do people pay good money to participate in a writer’s workshop when they are not going to take the best advantage of the professional critiques they will receive? It’s never pleasant to find out your story has problems, no matter how gently the information is phrased or what kind of positive spin is put on it. The fact is, your story is not working. That means you have to fix it, which means you have to give up something you thought was a good idea. Maybe several such somethings. Better to find out sooner than later, right? Better to have a professional say, “That will make this really hard to market,” or “I guessed the ending on Page Three.” Wouldn’t you want the problem pointed out so you have a chance to fix it before an editor sees it and rejects it for that very reason? It’s better to endure the small pain that accompanies a critique than the larger pain that comes from a rejection slip.
I once heard a workshop hopeful say, “I prefer descriptive critiques. I don’t like prescriptive critiques.” When you pay your money to participate in a writer’s workshop at a convention, you don’t know who your three professionals will be until you are assigned to a particular section and the manuscripts are handed out. You do not have the luxury of telling the professional volunteers how you want them to critique your manuscript. You have to take it on faith that professionals willing to donate their time and expertise to a writer’s workshop want to be helpful and supportive. A professional who volunteers just for the thrill of tearing apart manuscripts doesn’t belong there. Any qualified workshop coordinator will stop such a person at the door.
One would think that an attitude of polite, attentive respect would be de rigeur for both the hopefuls and the professionals. Cons can be stressful, so I keep before me the awareness of any anxious, awkward, self-conscious behavior on the part of the hopefuls. Can you imagine sitting down with a professional writer whose work you really admire and hearing that person’s opinion of your own work? (I remember the day I first met Terry Pratchett. Afterward I told my husband, “I can’t feel my feet.” He laughed and told me to breathe.) I like being moderator because that position enables me to call for a break or make a supportive comment or do whatever is appropriate to ease the tension. Ten years in retail burned into me the commitment to make sure I give people value for money. A writer’s workshop experience goes far beyond that. What a hopeful hears can validate or damage that person’s self-image as a writer.
By the same token, hopefuls would do well to make the most of the opportunity. I’ve seen people do some odd things in workshops. Once upon a time, it was what the hopeful did not do that puzzled me. She didn’t take any notes. None. Granted, the other five of us would be handing her our copies of her manuscript along with the one page of comments the workshop required. Anybody who’s been in a critique group knows the synergy of comments and ideas will result in new directions for various elements of the story. Perhaps that particular hopeful learns best through the auditory method. On the other hand, what is one of the most important rules of writing?
Never trust yourself to remember that great idea later. You won’t.
So I could not for the life of me understand why this hopeful didn’t have sense enough to write things down. As the three hours progressed, I began to see signs of the most self-defeating behavior any hopeful could bring to a writer’s workshop. She wasn’t really listening. She was already into multiple drafts of her story and had become attached to what she’d created. I suspect she was looking for validation. It must have come as an unpleasant surprise to her when she didn’t receive much of that. I could be wrong. I’m not telepathic either. Still, I do have to mention that as a professional volunteer, when I saw that she wasn’t taking any notes at all, that left me with a somewhat unfavorable impression. I’m saying this because I want to help future hopefuls realize that workshops are a great place to make professional connections. They are also a great place to alienate the very people who can help you make those connections.
It all boils down to this. Don’t ask the question if you don’t want the answer. Don’t waste your money and our time if you do not want to receive comments from professional writers in a convention workshop setting. Participation is limited. The seat you occupy might have gone to somebody who really would make the most of the opportunity.
by Lillian Csernica on April 8, 2013
G is for (Writers’) Group
If you’re thinking of joining a writer‘s group, ask yourself these questions:
Is the level of experience among the writers in the group close enough to mine for us to help each other, yet they’re far enough ahead of me so that I’ll be learning as I go?
Is this group committed to serious effort at production and improvement, or is it really just a social occasion? Worse, do any of the members try to turn every meeting into some kind of group therapy session?
Allow me to illustrate the different kinds of group dynamics you might encounter by describing three writer’s groups I’ve experienced:
Group #1: Ten members, some with novel sales, some with short story sales, some at the small press level. This was a good group for me. We were all working toward greater professional achievement, we used the Clarion method, and I learned a lot from the other writers. We had a few personality conflicts, but those didn’t become serious obstacles to the critique process.
Group #2: Just four of us, women writers who’d met through each other at SF conventions. We all have at least two types of writing in common, so we all bring something useful to each critique. We meet for the weekend when our schedules permit, talk shop, work on our stories, eat too much and stay up too late and enjoy the fact that we’ve become best friends. Thanks to each other’s help, we continue to make sales.
Group #3: Ten members, the emphasis on nonfiction and writing memoirs. What am I, the writer of fantasy and historical fiction, doing in this group? That’s a good question and a long story. I’m the youngest by at least ten years, but I have the most professional sales. While I defer to my elders, they defer to me about formal writing technique. In recent months the woman who organized this group has become very controlling and dictatorial. I really enjoy the people in this group, but my time could be better spent working at home. I now have to decide if the convenience and pleasure of meeting these people once a month is worth putting up with the control freak behavior of our Fearless Leader.
A writer’s group represents a serious investment of time and effort. Activate your social network for references, recommendations, and possible warnings. You want to find the group that will provide the best return on your investment according to your writing goals.
- Group Dynamics (scribblinginthestorageroom.wordpress.com)
- Avoid these 9 Critique Characters in your Writing group (neilsehmbhy.wordpress.com)
- Writing Groups: Yea or Nay? (ericjohnbaker.wordpress.com)