Monday, August 31, 2015

Should We Leave Critiquing Up To The Professionals?

 A Post By Jonathan


As mentioned in my last post, Eeek! Put Some Pages Up For Criteek! (now a reoccurring segment here at ATB so look for the next entry super soon!), I am currently in the editing phase of the novel writing process. Having never edited a book before, I've been seeking input from pretty much anyone I can find. Including you, dear reader.

Recently, I had the fortunate opportunity to have an author who has published several books through Random House (or the "Big House" as she calls it) review my first 25 pages. She said she does it sometimes, as a way of giving back. I was extremely grateful, but talk about eeek! The critque (or is that criteek?) was amazing, by far the most thorough I've ever received. But it was something she said during the process that really struck me. Now this is kind of controversial, so don't shoot the messenger...  *he says while ducking*

She said that she wasn't a fan of most critique groups, that they are essentially full of amateurs trying to teach other amateurs how to write, and that they can often do more harm than good. She said that it took her until about her fourth book, only after working with some of the best editors in the world three times before, to even begin to feel comfortable passing that knowledge along. She said that too often new writers assume that every other writer out there knows better than they do, and they'll blindly listen to anything they say, right or wrong, even when most of these people have never been published themselves.

Now I am not saying I agree with her. I know you don't need to be traditionally published to know how to give a proper critique or edit, but it definitely opened my eyes to be more selective when seeking writing advice. She just about keeled over when I told her that I used to just randomly post my work in forums on tons of different websites, taking to heart pretty much anything anyone had to say about my writing. In contrast, she learned to write before the existence of the internet. To hone her craft, she would just go to the library and mimic the books she read. Regardless of her thoughts on critique groups, that's damn good advice.

So what do you think, fellow writers? Should we leave critiquing up to the professionals? Should we all write in a cocoon, far away from the internet, and hire professional editors when we're finally ready to come out of hiding? Would love to hear your thoughts!

16 comments:

  1. It took me awhile to get comfortable enough with my own writing where I wasn't making changes with every critique I got. Because, it's true, not every critique is right for your story -- but it takes confidence to be able to recognize that. Some critiques are worth their weight in gold, but that also comes with building a relationship with the critiquer, I think. My critique partners are my trusted allies in this writing process, but I still put stuff up sometimes on forums for feedback b/c it's less personal and people who aren't used to reading my stuff will point out my quirks in 3 paragraphs or less, which is useful.

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    1. Agreed, Brenda. I think once you get to a point with your writing, you can be much more discerning in what advice you listen to. But when you're just starting out it's hard to know what advice to take. Confidence is key. Thanks!

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  2. I think writers need help, especially burgeoning writers. It's best to get a critique partner, someone you trust, to read your work and give honest feedback. I'd also employ beta readers to give you a sense of what is working and what isn't. But the tweaking doesn't stop until the editor gets her hands on it anyway. No one can write in a vaccum.

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  3. Great post, Jonathan. What works for me personally is a bit of everything. I use several beta readers for my editing phase. These beta readers are people I can trust to tell me the truth and who are in my target reading group. The process has progress and I know try to send it to a few select people first - those are the ones that typically have a lot to say. Then I send on to others after I make any changes and then I can follow-up with them on some specific points if they don't bring it up. In my last book I did have another author read and comment before I published and it was amazing advice. He just looked at it from a different lens than the reader. I use a professional for the copy editing. I prefer this rather than hiring one professional editor - not because I don't trust them but because I personally feel many opinions are better than just one. It's a product of living in the corporate environment for so long. I don't think there is one right answer for this process, as different people will prefer different things. I will agree that in all cases it's best to know/trust the people critiquing your work, and you have to know when to listen and when not to listen.

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    1. Thanks for the pointers, Carrie! Sounds like lots of eyes touch your work before it goes to print. I think I've got some catching up to do...

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  4. I think amateur critique groups are useful for writers just starting out to get preliminary feedback. That being said, all opinions should be taken with a grain of salt. It's a good way to get a snap reaction from a reader's POV. However, be wary of anyone making absolute statements...

    I also think writers can outgrow critique groups as they become more experienced.

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    1. Great points, Mary, Especially about absolutes... Beware the trolls from the clan know it all!

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  5. Personally I'd want to leave it to the professionals when possible. It's always great to get different opinions and viewpoints to refine your work but I would think twice before doing major changes if the person suggesting them isn't a professional. I'm a serious reading addict and I like to critique and edit but it feels a little presumptuous to me to tell a writer to change this or do that or get rid of those parts. But maybe that's just me. :)

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    1. Thanks, Tara! You're probably not the only one who feels that way. I think it's all about considering your source. Maybe as critiquers we should just make the "me" statements. This is how it read to me, I thought this, but others might feel differently... Like Mary said, I think you have to be wary of the absolutes. Sometimes I struggle with the fact that there are a hundred (possibly a million) different ways to write a novel. In the end, you have to find what works for you and not bend too much to what works for someone else.

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  6. I feel like I don't have much credit to say anything, as I'm not published and have never really worked with a professional. Yes, I went through a phase (thankfully, way behind me) when I bowed to every suggestion made, but thankfully, now, I know my own strengths and writing a lot better. I think, personally, it depends on how well you know yourself as a person and how your goals for your writing. I appreciate getting lots of different critiques, but I don't always change things. I feel it out, depending, I suppose you could say.

    Wonderful post, really made me think!

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    1. Thanks for stopping by, Anne Marie! Your humbleness already makes me think you'd be a good critiquer... Confidence seems to be a key theme here, and I think that's something that grows with time. I think that was the author's point. When we're just starting out we can too easily be shaken by bad advice, hurting our confidence and maybe giving up writing altogether. Appreciate you commenting!

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  7. I kind of agree, because I've had horrible luck in critique groups and getting CPs. I used to scrutinize over every little word they would say, and most of the time they were on the same level as me and just running with the "you need thick skin to be a writer", so they had not a single f*** to give about feelings. Many also might not know how not to try to police your style and want to impose theirs on your work. I'm very closed to the idea of letting just anyone see my work now.

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    1. Thanks, Deborah! Sounds like we've been frequenting some of the same joints;) Such a good point about people wanting to impose their styles on your work. I think I have actually been guilty of that a time or two in my own critiques (which is probably why I shouldn't be critiquing yet;). It's just like anything else. You wouldn't go to an amateur doctor for advice on your health so why go to an amateur for advice on your writing? I've been luck enough recently to find some experienced writers to look at my work (including some here at ATB). They have all had their own work professionally edited, so they know what kinds of things to look for. I wish you the best of luck in finding a good CP or critique group. I really wish there was a match.com for critique partners...

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  8. I'm of the opinion that any critique is better than no critique because everyone's opinion is valid. That being said, it's also a matter of considering the source and, as my many illustrious colleagues pointed out already, knowing when to ignore criticism. If someone pointed out that your MC was blond on page 3 and a redhead on page 17, that's a valid criticism. If they complain that they picture the MC as a redhead, well, you know, do with that what you will. And all that being said, I think the most important rule to remember is to never take any advice from Mary.

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    1. Thanks, Steve-o! No advice from Mary, huh? Well okay, I'll remember that.

      P.S. Blondes have more fun.

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