Monday, July 27, 2009

Give and You Shall Receive

By Ali Cross

In life, it never pays to be selfish and egocentric. The same goes for our writing careers. Every good writer relies on the help of others—to read, review, critique and offer suggestions for improvement. I’ve read books, and I’m sure you have too, that obviously did not enjoy this careful attention prior to publication and the book suffers for it.

A truly great novel typically becomes so because a group of people worked tirelessly to make it the best it could be.

However, your writing does not happen in a vacuum. If you expect others to help you perfect your work, then you must be prepared to give, not only to receive.

I belong to an online critique group and we have the rule that for every one piece of work you submit for evaluation, you commit to critique three more. So for every one of yours, you read three other submissions. This way, we avoid the lopsidedness that is bound to occur when you have prolific writers paired with less active ones.

It might seem like a big inconvenience to read others’ work when you’re focused on your own and you have a timetable that motivates you to complete your project. However, in critiquing others’ work, your own writing can only benefit.

Critiquing others’ work can be likened to an Olympic gymnast. The gymnast not only works tirelessly on her gymnastic skills, but she also does Pilates to improve core strength and balance. She takes ballet to improve grace and encourage long and appealing lines. These extra activities are not readily apparent when the gymnast is performing her routine, but they are invaluable to her overall talent and ability.

The same is true for your efforts as a critiquer—it will only make you a better writer.

Put aside your frustration or reluctance when a fellow writer asks you to critique their work. Not only will you likely benefit from the same favor on your behalf in the future, but your talent and skill will shine as a result.


Jenn Wilks said...

So true. Critiquing others' work has made me a better writer. I especially noticed it when critiquing a few picture books recently. It's a lot easier to see the problems in another person's writing than it is your own sometimes. And then you can take what you saw in their work and figure out how to make your own work better.

L.T. Elliot said...

Excellent post, Ali. I think critiquing can also help you to be objective. Like Jen said, it's easy to see the problems in someone else's writing--not so in our own. I think when we take a step back, help someone else out, and then go back to our own work, we not only have a fresh set of eyes but a clearer example on what needs to be done.

ali said...

Thanks so much for your insightful comments Jenn and Laura. You guys nailed it. Of course, both of you are my crit buddies so ... I know who's writing you're referring to when you talk about seeing all those mistakes, lol!

Keith Fisher said...

Yep and I am the biggest slacker in the world. in my critique group I wonder why the haven't tossed me out. I notice one or two things but the rest of them catch myriad other things. My problem is I get so caught up in the story that I don't notice errors. some critiqer I am,

Also my online group must think I'm lost somewhere. sorry guys I am lost. have een for over two years.

thanks for the pangs of regret Ali, you are the best

Terresa said...

Super points. I liked the gymnast analogy. WoW!

Nichole Giles said...

Great points, Ali. I know that I would never be the writer I am today without the give and take of all my critique groups.

I've learned so much from everyone else, that I can't imagine where I'd be without all the wonderful lessons we've shared.

Great blog.