Monday, September 23, 2013

The Four Types of Critiquers

For almost three years, I've been a member of a fabulous YA and MG critique group. During this time, I've given and received innumerable critiques. I've celebrated group members' book deals, publications, agent signings, and writing awards. I've said goodbye to old group members and waved hello to new ones.

The list of lessons I've learned from my critique partners is about two miles long, but near the top of the list is the fact that there are four types of critiquers:

1.  The Nit-Pickers - These are the critiquers who notice the "their" you used when you meant "there." Who identify the fact that a sentence on p. 17 contradicts a sentence on p.2. Who make sure your work shines on a sentence level. Their critiques usually look something like this:

2.  The Big-Picture See-ers - Though these critiquers are often light on the in-line comments and tracked changes, their notes address the "big ticket" concerns: plot, character motivation, pacing, etc. These notes are especially helpful in the early stages of the drafting process, because they can keep you from straying too far down a wrong path, or staying on a decent path when a far superior path is just off to the left. Their critiques might look a little like this:

3.  The Call-You-on-Your-BS-ers - Let's be honest. These critiquers aren't always the easiest to work with. At best, they force you to read their notes from behind your hands. At worst, they make you want to quit writing forever. Difficult as they may be, I suggest you find one of these critiquers and hold on tight. Because guess what? It's better for a CP to call you on BS than an editor. It's better for you to find out what's wrong with your work when you can fix it, not when you've already sent it to your dream agent. Thick skin and all that. Like this:

(That's a relatively small BS-calling. I've ditched entire stories based on CP feedback, and later realized that they were absolutely right!)

4.  The Lovers - Ah, The Lovers. The critiquers who pepper your pages with smiley faces and "LOL"s and excessive punctuation in the form of !!!!!!!!!! The ones who make you keep going. Who boost your spirits. Who make you doubt yourself a little bit less. They typically give you gems like this:

While most critiquers fall into one of these categories, some are a mix. Some are Lovers with certain pages or chapters, and Nit-Pickers elsewhere. Some are Big-Picture See-ers with a hint of Call-You-On-Your-BS.

When possible, I suggest you surround yourself with all four types of critiquers. All are beneficial in different ways and in different phases of the writing process. 

If all four types don't come together naturally for you? Tell your CPs how they can help! Need a little more Big-Picture Seeing and a little less Nit-Picking? Or vice versa? Ask for it! And always, always ask your CPs to call you on your BS. You'll be a better writer for it.

Are you the person doing the critiquing? Think about what your CP needs most of all at his or her stage of the writing process. Not sure? Ask! And don't shy away from calling BS, but also don't be afraid to love. Those pages you're critiquing contain a little piece of your CP's heart and soul, and there's always something to love. 


Monday, September 16, 2013

Taboo Breaking

Over the past few years, I've discovered that there are certain taboo topics for writers.

Some of those topics are obvious, like querying and being on submission.

But some of those topics are less obvious, like admitting to certain books or authors you enjoy.

I've always been a Nicholas Sparks fan. During high school, too much "Hamlet" and "Macbeth" drove me away from reading entirely. (Talk about taboo topics...yes, I did just admit that I don't like Shakespeare.)

But in college, I picked up "The Notebook" and haven't been without a book since. Nicholas Sparks re-introduced me to the love of reading. I'd never been ashamed of that fact until I saw multiple writers badmouthing his work on multiple occasions. Taboo, at least if you're a fan.

Another taboo topic? The number of years you've been writing or the number of manuscripts you've written.

Taboo breaker alert: I recently finished writing my sixth manuscript. That's right. Six.

There are some writers who are naturally gifted. Who get it right on the first try. I am not one of those writers. I didn't get it right on the first or second or even third try. It was my fourth manuscript that got a book deal. And there's absolutely zero guarantee that my fifth or sixth manuscripts will follow suit.

There are probably a hundred blog posts out there saying you shouldn't talk about your "failed" manuscripts.

(By the way, have you ever told a non-writer how many manuscripts you've written? It usually goes something like this...
Me: "I'm a writer!"
Non-writer: "Really? How many books have you written?"
Me: "Six!"
Non-writer: "Cool! Can I buy them all at Barnes and Noble?"
Me: "That's not how it... It doesn't just... No.")

But you know what?

I'm proud of that number.

It means I'm not a quitter.

It proves I have the capacity to learn and grow. (That first manuscript was really bad, y'all.)

It shows I'm a writer regardless of whether or not I'm an author.

So, yeah. I have a shelf full of signed Nicholas Sparks books, CliffsNotes for "King Lear," and a stack of trunk novels.

Does anyone want to talk religion or politics?