The art of critique for writers and readers.

My original title was My First Blog. That sounds like the title for a 1950’s sci-fi movie. I married a blog! The blog with eight heads. Return of the Blog.  Or maybe it’s just a local dark beer. Nothin’ like throwin’ back a cold frothy blog at the end of a long day. OK, enough of this blog, let’s be serious.

Like we haven’t had enough serious stuff happening this week, what with royal marriages, beatifications, and evil smote (apparently, you can’t write smited)(And an uncalled for laugh would ensue if I wrote smitten, which would be correct, nonetheless.)

OK, so I won’t be serious with my first blog. And I won’t be silly, either. No one likes a silly person. I don’t know who said that, but someone must have or I wouldn’t have written it. For a split second, I was going to write about the idiocy of Facebook and their decision to archive everyone’s groups and start anew. But, nah, that’s too political, although I did write it down and will post it another day, or maybe just sneak it in as a side page.

I think blogs are like daydreams. Or musings. Only instead of letting the whimsies drift across our minds eye like so many dragon-clouds, we sit up and write them down within the haze of our radiant monitors. I was just thinking about how the people in my writing group give critiques. I’ve received a lot from these critiques and they’ve helped shape my writing. We have a free-form group, meaning that our members span the universe in age, style and subject matter. There are very few rules, other than to be polite. Actually, the few rules we did have seem to have dissipated as I can’t remember what they were.

What I was thinking about was the way in which people critique at the end of a reading. Each person, if they have something to read, has pretty much as long as they want if it’s under 20 minutes (someone said it used to be five–ha!). Many long readers believe they’ve only read half of the time they actually have and no amount of mechanical facts, ie a watch, can persuade them otherwise. But that’s neither here nor there, because, being a novelist, I have lots to read, so generally l put in a seemingly inflated time span at the beginning of my read so people aren’t shocked when it actually is that long.

What I find interesting, if not a bit sad, it that people in general tend to cite only the negative in reviews and critiques. I’ve come across many teachers and parents like this. I think it’s not a healthy way for people to learn. Our fearless group leader, who harkens back to the days when the ballpoint was modern technology, is a master at balancing negative with positive critiques. He’s almost sage-like in Solomanistic divination when a writer is being swamped by an overabundance of negativity. Even when I don’t agree with him, I always admire his insight and ability to pull this feat off. The ephemeral hot steam magically dissipates and good moods return, usually accompanied by laughter at what a strange and wonderful collection of misfits we are.

When I started in the group, I was very defensive and had excuses for every onslaught of negativity slung my way. Of course, not acknowledging a critique didn’t make it any less true, but it did render it helpless to me. As time went on and I came to trust these people and could see they had the best interests of the writer at heart, I shut up and listened. What a miracle! I was actually getting free advice. Of course not all of it was useful, and of course some people just didn’t understand what I was trying to say, but guess what? If the reader doesn’t get what you’re trying to say, they don’t usually write you an email and ask, they stop reading your book and make sure all their friends don’t waste their time either.

Most writers, I think, know that it’s much easier to see and hear faults in other people’s writing than to see it in our own. This is probably true in everyday life for everyone. I’m a helper bee. Sometimes I present my help even when not called for. This is annoying for most people. I’ve gotten better at stemming this natural curse of wanting to give my two cents where it’s not wanted or needed. So, it baffles me to no end when writers come to groups to read, yet take none of the advice offered. I don’t mean that they sift through the advice and use what is necessary, I mean they just don’t use any of it. So week after week, they make the same mistakes over and over, and they learn nothing. Since I was guilty of this very mistake, I implore writers who enter groups to really listen when comments are made. Revisit the areas in question that more than one person in ten brings to your attention. Invariably, you will find another way to say the same thing, only clearer, and probably better. Every week I find that the points brought up in my reading have made improvements to my overall story.

Now, this little commentary on writing groups may seem like I’ve left out the reader, because readers don’t generally get invited into writing groups. But wait, I say! This is the 21st Century, and everything about writing and readers and publishing has changed. For the first time in history, readers can connect directly with the most famous (and soon to be famous) writers of our times. Readers can interact with their favorite writers. They can visit their Web sites and blogs. They can leave comments! Believe me, writers read these things. They’re like reviews in the Sunday paper after an opening. Writers are compelled to read them. They have no choice. Egos are a powerful force. The thing is, opinions expressed properly will help a writer no matter where they are in their career. So, my point being, to get your critique across effectively (more bang for the buck, so to speak), is to balance the negative with the positive. I mean, wouldn’t it be cool when you read the next best seller by the author you sent a comment to, that there, in black and white (or cream), right on the written page, is your suggestion carried out. Sure, the author didn’t mention you by name (or maybe they did in the Acknowledgement), but you know and you can smile to yourself. Then go out have that latte and ice cream you’ve been putting off till the weekend.

That’s me finished with my very first blog. Since I’m a soon-to-be-famous writer, you can leave a comment or two and maybe see your suggestion carried out in my next best seller. I’m taking all the credit though, so shut up.

 

 

Stuart Land

I am a multi-genre novelist, screenwriter, and multi-medium sculptor. I have worked in the Fine Arts, and the Movie Industry.

7 Comments:

  1. I am doing volunteer writing workshops at our local library. If anyone wants to email me with their impressions of attending writing workshops, I could really use the help to make mine the best it can be, apachewriter@gmail.com Thanks!

  2. Great post. Look forward to reading more. A new follower.
    I blog about life and books on my blog but one day I may just sit down and write a memoir. Hope to see there (on the blog not in the memoir!) Donna
    http://mylife-in-stories.blogspot.com

  3. Oh, Stuart, my dear friend… you and I should talk. I’m a looooooong veteran of writing workshops. I can tell you exactly why people don’t take the advice of others. I can tell you exactly why people DO. I can tell you why people are rude, and I can tell you … the positive. I love the positive. If you can’t see what works, how can you see what doesn’t?

  4. Sorry, Stuart, for getting the name wrong. I mistake you as Tim because he shared it on FB and I automatically thought it was him, until after I post the comment. Please forgive me. The rest of the comments still stand. Great post!

    Junying/silly me!

  5. Tim, excellent piece and very sound advice to fellow writers. Astute observation and certainly giving me food for thought.

    Just don’t forget that I offered the very first feedback to your very first blog when you become famous! You are already famous among the people who know you anyway :-).

    Thanks for sharing!

  6. Nice first try. As a writer I definitely love comments on my blogs. Even if it is just a hi. I write at least four in my different mindsets.

Thanks for reading. I'm eager to hear what you have to say.