Sisterhood of the Traveling Blog–New Month, New Tour!


Woot! Welcome to February!!! Those of us who live in the northeast are breathing a sigh of relief that January is O-VER! How ’bout the rest of you?

Along with a new month is a new tour of the Traveling Blog Sisterhood. I’ve started this round off with the following question:

How do you approach critiquing someone’s manuscript? For instance, do you focus on one thing at a time, or do you “let ’em have it” all at once? And once it’s out there, do you ever regret sending off a critique because it moved the person in a direction you didn’t intend or anticipate?

Critiquing is as much an art as writing, IMHO. In fact, the more I grow as a writer, the more I grow as a critter. (Seriously, if I didn’t have to leave my house to go to the day job, I’d look more beastly with every passing day, LOL!)

Anyway

Look, we all know it’s hard work, putting strings of words together on hundreds of pages and making them seem cohesive. And it’s no lie that every single one of them comes from days, weeks, and months of painstaking decisions, blood, sweat, and tears! (Not to mention hair-pulling, caffeine-chugging, chocolate-eating, flailing-at-your-cat-while-she-watches-you-smash-your-computer…oh, I may have gotten ahead of myself. Ahem.)

Critiques. How do I go about them?

First, I keep the above in mind. No matter what the quality of the piece you’re critiquing, I think it is UBER-IMPORTANT to remember the person who wrote it went through a hell of a lot of crap to get it where it’s at. Yes, there’s a lot of joy, elation, and lurve going on too, but I still think it’s easier to get stuck in seeing only the negatives.

Second, I try to keep in mind the intended audience. Is the piece YA, adult, romance, sci-fi, etc? Am I well-versed in the genre? If not, I may point that out (either in comments dispersed through the piece or in my “cover” letter summary of strengths and weaknesses).

Third, I look for flow–this comes across to me in two parts: Plot and Pace. I’ve seen some marvellously written sentences, paragraphs, scenes, and chapters, but if they don’t advance the plot, have good pacing, develop characterization, or keep up the tension, I generally recommend nixing them. Sorry. But it makes the piece stronger.

Fourth, I check in with my feelings. Do I “connect” with the main character or feel distanced? Do I think the characters are being consistent to themselves in their thoughts, dialogue, and actions? Do I have trouble picturing them or keeping them straight? Do I understand their motives? If any of these are wonky, I point it out.

Fifth, I keep track of sentence structure. I can’t help but be a grammar nerd. I don’t think ALL sentences NEED to be PERFECT, but sentence structure, if wonky, can make a piece seem stilted, jumbled, jarring, and even slow. If my mind and eyes are “reading” two different things, then that’s a hint something went awry in the prose. I point that out. Having nice, tight sentences can also help pacing–a subtle, but powerful trick.

Sixth, I highlight what I like!!!! Seriously, it’s easy to get caught up in, “this and that and the other really needs work.” What about the great things about the story? What holds my interest? Is there a humorous moment that made me laugh out loud? How about a painfully beautiful, bittersweet interaction between characters, or a lovely scene description? Give the writer props for these things!

Now, this is not an exhaustive explanation of what I do when I crit someone’s work. Often, I listen to what the person is looking for in terms of feedback and tailor it to their requests. For instance, someone may not want a line edit to catch spelling and punctuation errors, so I don’t “bother” with that. Others just want to check in with the “tone” of a piece, so I focus on that.

Now, what happens when I send a critique?

I send a silent prayer off with it.

Why?

Because I know what it’s like to receive critiques. I know the hopes and fears and worries that accompany letting someone else look at my work. As much as I WANT–really WANT–the critter to tear and rip and hack apart my words, a little part of me also hopes they’ll come back and say, “It’s PERFECT! Query that sucker!” (I haven’t heard those words, yet, by the way…and I’m sort of realizing that may not happen because my work can ALWAYS be improved upon, but that’s a different post entirely and I’ve already gone on and on and on…)

One thing I can promise is my crits are intended to better the person’s work. On the other hand, I also know that each person must do what they will. What *I* think improves a piece, may, in fact, not. Or it may take the work in another direction entirely.

My biggest fear is the person taking a crit from me and deciding to quit writing. (That hasn’t happened, either, thank goodness!) What if I discourage them so much that they think it’s too hard to keep going? Demoralization is a toughie to overcome.

All I can say is that I’m thankful for the honest, sometimes tough to hear, crits I’ve recieved from others. Yeah, I’ve considered quitting after hearing them, but I haven’t thrown in the towel yet.

And I don’t plan to.

So, there’s my extremely long winded answer to a complicated question. For those of you who lasted through, whaddya think? How do you approach critiquing? What concerns to you have when you send a crit off to someone?

Check out Lydia’s response next week, Sarah’s on the third Wednesday, and Deb’s on the fourth.

Every Wednesday 

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10 comments on “Sisterhood of the Traveling Blog–New Month, New Tour!

  1. Ciara Knight says:

    This is sooo difficult. I use to score on the light side in contests, because I didn’t want to hurt anyone, but I had a talking to by a writing buddy. “Do you realize the people who have worked hard to improve are going to be in the same score range as a new writer?” Wow, I hadn’t thought of that. Judging and critiquing are so difficult. I think most writers genuinely want to help someone, but it is a delicate balance not to hurt them too much.

  2. Doris says:

    It has to be a challenge for both sides.

    Great post.

    Doris

  3. Sarah says:

    Wonderful post, Laura. You read how I critique last week, and I do think my style is too tough for some, but really helpful for others. I’ve been making more effort to verify that a writer actually wants a crit from me, the way I do it, before I agree. It’s much easier for me to do that than to constantly hold myself back when I have suggestions. And when I get critiqued, I want the beta to be honest with me. When I get crits that are one sentence, that doesn’t help me get better, and that’s the whole purpose of critique!

  4. Stephanie McGee says:

    If I critique someone’s work, I try to pinpoint the moments that work or don’t work. I’ll generally fix typos I see just so that they don’t find their way into subsequent drafts. (Because there will certainly be plenty of typos in future drafts.)

    I ask questions when I’m confused and put smilies when I laughed or cried. I am probably not the world’s best critiquer but I try.

    Thanks for the post! (And everything else!)

  5. Great post!

    > My biggest fear is the person taking a crit from me and deciding to quit writing.

    Given your guidelines, I suspect you shouldn’t worry about that. If the writer quits, it’s because s/he’s looking for an excuse to quit, not something you’ve said. Of course, maybe I’m just weird — I love hard crits. 🙂

  6. Lydia K says:

    Great post Laura. Your “critter” comment totally made me laugh! I’m not sure if I’ll have much to add for next week, LOL!

  7. Kerri Cuevas says:

    Great post Laura 🙂
    When I critique I give it my all and be as honset as I can. That doesn’t mean it’s all negative. I love to add coments where I laughed, and cried. I think we can learn from each other and a critique will improve our writing.

    Now if I had to critique the weather forecast that is a different story. If they say the S word again I’m moving to Florida!

  8. Abby Minard says:

    This is such a good view on critiquing. I always try to crit in the sandwich format- a negative between two positives. I try to remember to say what I like or write little encouraging comments. Great post!

  9. Critiques that I’ve received, although deflating to the ego, were enlightening. My camouflaged problems suddenly were recognizable, and therefore, fixable.

    I haven’t done any critiquing. I would hope to be as gentle but radical as those that found me at my stopping point and showed me where to go next.

    Thank you for sharing your critiquing methods and for causing me to think and express my thoughts. Blessings to you, Laura…

  10. Amie Borst says:

    srsly – are you my twin?

    we have a lot of the same techniques. plot, pace, wordsmithing, etc, etc….and it is definitely just as important to point out the positive stuff. i LOVE to let a writer know that their words made me LOL, or cry or smile or evoked an emotion. isn’t that what we’re ally after? to know someone shared in the emotions of our ms.

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