Saturday, April 21, 2007

What I learned at the conference or...

Gee, it's important to have great readers and a variety of them

As many of you know, I attended a writer's conference last Saturday. One of the main reasons I wanted to go was the free critique of your writing. Up to 1,500 words, critiqued by a professional in the writing business. How cool is that!!! I sent the first 1,500 words of my novel course novel. Now, yes it is a rough draft but my instructor said it was polished enough to send. Let me share my experience.

My critiquer was an local editor/English major. Very nice person. She caught me on my comma misuse. She explained why my two comma splices were wrong and showed where I needed to use commas or not to use them. She also pointed out a couple places that needed to be clarified. Very cool..and very helpful. All in all, I was very pleased with the critique. Nothing that struck me as major...little things that could be fixed.

With that good critique under my belt, I gave the first page in for the last workshop of the day. That would be a "dry" read of the page and then Kate Duffy, editor from Kensington and Molly Bolden, indy bookstore owner would give their opinions on that page. Scary sorta but not anything to worry about I thought.

During the day, I was chatting with a StoryCrafters member about my critique. She asked to read the pages between sessions. Sure, no problem. After she read them, we discussed comma usage, disagreed with my critiquer on a couple comma issues and talked about the items that could use clarification. She liked the pages, didn't have any issues with it. Again, I felt good about them and the upcoming dry read critique.

Finally, the long awaited last workshop. I had high hopes I'll admit. I knew Kate wasn't going to ask for pages right then and there but I expected a good comment or two. Boy was I in for a shock.

Not only don't I have a very good hook, I have started in the wrong place. Neither Molly or Kate was nasty or mean in their comments but I'm so glad they didn't know it was my piece...or anyone else.

So, what I really wanted to share with you is this. Readers are important. But we have to consider just who our readers are. We need a variety of reader, not just writers. If you can't get several readers...look at different areas of your piece.

Check for grammar, punctuation and such on one pass. Check for story flow and plot on another read through. Concentrate on your dialogue and tags on another pass. Don't try to take care of all the different story elements in one revision.

I had a 6 hour drive home. I sulked for at least 5 of them. Then I started to figure out where I could improve my start and improve my hook. They were right, it needs work. However, I'd not recommend this kind of "shock therapy" for everyone. It was darn tough...but it was exactly what I needed and wanted to hear.

So...when you have someone read and critique one of your pieces, thank them. Tell them how much you appreciate the great job they did. And critiquers...remember writers are counting on you. We need more than just a "this is great" or "I really like your story" comments. We need to know what works, what doesn't and if something just doesn't seem "right".



Cheryl said...

Great post Speck! I felt shocked when I started getting critiques of chapters from "The Sisterhood". Some came from here and others came from friends, but they pretty much said the same thing--show me, don't tell me; add more details about the setting; it's good, but it needs more.

We are lucky when we can find such readers who are willing to take the time to tell us what works, what doesn't. I thank my lucky stars for every one of them--no matter how much they pick apart my babies. Without loyal and honest readers, I would be lost...and never published.


Anonymous said...

Outstanding post Troll, outstanding!
I would have sulked too. I'm so tenderhearted I prolly would have cried some too. No shame in any of it. Rejection, or even tough critisism of our work is darn hard to take; nevertheless, if we want to ahieve our goal, we gotta learn to take it.
I, for one, don't ever want anyone to blow smoke up my arse when it comes to my work. I am serious about it. I expect the person crtiquing it to be serious as well.

Thanx again Speck, great post!


Laura said...

Good advice. I have a hard time sticking to one thing at a time when editing. I start out wanting to address grammar and the next thing I know I'm changing other things too.

I agree good critques and readers are golden! It toughen your skin and it helps you see what you've missed.