Are you ever in the mood for a critique? Sometimes I am, especially in the early stages of a story. I'm part of an awesome online critique group, and I (generally) love their input--even when it's about how parts of the story don't work.
But I had a sharp reminder last night that there comes a point where you've received one too many critiques. I got one of those last night, though not from my usual critique group. It's a project I've been working on for forever. It's already been critiqued by a million (all right, that's an exaggeration but it seems like it) people--including two professional editors--and I'm finishing up the revision in preparation to resubmitting it to a publisher. I was looking for some overall impressions on how it worked.
I already know philosophically that many people aren't going to like our stories, so I don't know why this critiquer's comments came as a surprise. I've got a dear friend for whom this book is just not her style. Okay. That's fine. I guess I thought because I was so far down the path of this particular tale that it was okay.
I'm ready for this story to be done, so I can move on. I'm a firm believer in the idea that we have to write and write and write in order to get good.
But when are we good enough?
All I can say is 'beauty is in the eye of the beholder'. And it will never be absolutley perfect even after its published. But that's okay. You're human.
Not sure we ever hit good enough.
Sorry your friend shot you down. As you said, she wasn't your target reader, so don't stress it.
Yeah, Shelly, I get the subjective aspect of all this--on one level. I keep getting these reminders that I don't get it on another level. lol
Alex, yes target reader is important in critiques. I keep forgetting that no everyone reads as many genres as I do.
Hmm. I struggle with this as well. I think there's that point when, raw craft-wise, you're there. Your sentence structure and grammar and physical storytelling is sufficient and equal to some of those books being published.
It's those elusive pieces of craft that can make analyzing and utilizing critiques difficult after people stop pointing out typos and run-on sentences and misused commas. It's commentary like, "I don't think this scene belongs here," "I'm not connecting to your character," "I don't think your character would do that," and "there isn't a discernable voice," that can bring you to despair at times. "But I thought I was there!" comes to mind :) Hang in there, do your best, and don't settle until you're satisfied that you've written the story you set out to. Know that there are people out there who never finished the first Harry Potter book. It wasn't their thing and they didn't particularly like it. Puts things in perspective :)
Great observations, Jess. Yes, some of these comments are inherent to my main character. And I don't want to change her. I won't change her. But it does give me pause to think of way to better show that. Because, obviously, I didn't succeed in making that clear with this critiquer. =D
I think some mss (and I'm not saying your project is one) never get there and never will. (For instance, I don't think my current novel will ever "get there," but it's still good practice.
Either way, it's okay for us to have mss that "fail" as long as we push ourselves to rigorously screen them for what we can learn from them and how we can make the next ms better and easier to produce.
It's VERY hard to ever think of our works as "practice." I've certainly never done it while also realizing that much of what I've written is, in fact, just practice.
Criticism is hard, very, very hard. Personally I've gotten better at taking it while simultaneously seeking it out less, and less. I don't think crit groups are bad, I've belonged to some excellent ones, I just think it is equally important to develop our own critical eye towards our work.
Good enough is so hard to discern.
Good enough is when your publisher decides to publish your work. I guess.
In the meantime, please do not spend too much time second-guessing yourself. It can become a paralyzing experience. Which you don't need.
Sometimes I think that, even really far into rewrite after rewrite, a critique can come along and make you think, "Wow! How have I / everyone else not thought of that before now? That's EXACTLY what I needed to do!" But, after rewrite after rewrite, you can also get a critique that just lets you know, "Nope. That doesn't work. Changing that would be wrong." I think ones like that can actually help you to know that it's ready.
Heidi, I agree that everything we do is practice. I'm not sure I agree that everything we write will never make the light of day. I'm totally into alterations. =D
Rebecca, I remember attending my first writing conference and hearing successful, published authors talk about how horrible their critique group experiences had been. Made me all the more appreciative of the one I had.
Rob, paralyzing is a good term. For me the issue I had with this particular critique related to the very nature of my main character. Felt like I'd had the rug pulled right out from under me.
Peggy, yes! And I've had those. I just thought that perhaps after having gone this far and receiving so much input from others that I wouldn't have had someone offer the feedback she did. But, I guess the reality is that this is going to be the case regardless.
I'm sorry you experienced that type of critique. Sometimes friends opinions are the ones that hurt the most because we expect them to be nice to us. I've learned the hard way that your best critique comes from someone in the aquaintance level and from a writer that is equal in skill. The worst are ones from people who are uncomfortable with you being successful or jealous. They can be mean.
I saw your Tweet about this and I know exactly how you feel. I've had those critiques from time to time.
I think the best thing to do about it is to realize that you know your story and you are a mature enough writer NOT to take every piece of advice that comes your way. I've had more than one reader who just doesn't like a particular stylistic device in my book. That's fine. I know not everyone will like everything—but I happen to love this device. I've decided that unless this person is offering me at least 5 figures ( ;) ), I don't have to listen to a word they say.
And, hey, books are pretty much ALWAYS changed after they're acquired. What does that mean? They don't have to be perfect to sell!
This article from agent Rachelle Gardner really drove this home to me: http://www.rachellegardner.com/2011/07/the-editorial-letter/
Take heart, Donna!
Michelle, it really was what it critiqued rather than the nature of it. It went to the core of my character.
Jordan, "I don't have to listen to a word they say." I have to keep reminding myself of that. But, while being confident in my writing I also want to be humble enough to take suggestions and run with them where appropriate.
Fortunately, I got another critique the very next day that I was soothing AND helpful. I've decided I like those. =D
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