Tuesday, May 02, 2006


Not me. God. I had the extreme privilage of being able to coordinate some writing contests this year. Up until last year, I'd only been an entrant. Then close to the end of the year, I was asked to judge. Since then I've judged several and you know, I had no idea HOW HARD it is. You don't want to hurt anyone's feelings but you want to be honest. Correction, you HAVE to be honest...or it's not doing the entrant any good.

That said, I'm really, really glad I've gotten some really scathing contest remarks. It's kept me mindful as I've made comments. As I've been praying for the entrants in the contests, I felt like God's been teaching me stuff. Stuff about my writing. Stuff about my heart. Stuff about my own responses to critiques. They say you have to grow a tough skin in order to survive this industry. But I'm not sure how exactly that happens. Maybe a combination of things helps. Maybe we grow immune to harsness, and actually, I've come to crave harder critiques from people who are brutally honest and don't hold back. Whammo. They let me have it. But these are people close to me who KNOW writing. I crave positive comments less, whereas before, I thrived on them. Oh, I still love them, but I'm learning to love the hard stuff more. And I'm just now beginning to really appreciate some of the really hard stuff I heard in the very beginning of this road when I KNEW NOTHING of the craft of fiction. Didn't know there was an art to crafting stories. I guess I just assumed that if you managed to finish a book then someone would buy it. HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA.

In the beginning, those hard critiques made me cry, they made me mad at the person who was honest, because of course I thought they had to be wrong. How I wish I would have embraced those comments more instead of jerked back away from the sting. How I wish I would have thrown myself into what they were trying to get across instead of running as fast as I could. I so respect those people now and it's been interesting fielding comment concerns from the entrants I consider in my charge as coordinator. It brought back memories, and made me realize that I think God probably has alterior motives for each of us in this journey to publication. I think He's more concerned with the journey than the destination. I think contests and critiques are as much a test of our wills, our perseverance, our motives, and our hearts as they are a temperature check and gauge of where we are at this present time in the craft of writing.

I don't want this to be all about me. My ulterior motive for this convo is to get you guys talking. How do you deal with hearing hard things about your writing? How have you built your tough skin? What sort of critique do you find most helpful? The gentle easy ones which surround suggestions for change with positive comments...known as the sandwich method? Okay, talk away! I'm interested in knowing your thoughts on this.



Camy Tang said...

I'm like you, I appreciate the harder comments more because I really need to know what's wrong.

But also, as I grow in my writing craft, the truth is that I learn not to head-hop, and to show instead of tell, and to use action beats instead of dialogue tags, so I get less comments on things like that. Before, the page would be bleeding.

So I think it's a combination of not only appreciating the blunt truth more, but also that there's fewer comments these days so it's not so overwhelming for me as a writer.

Which, I guess, is kind of bad, because it really means I haven't really learned to accept criticism--I just have less of it than when I started writing.


Danica/Dream said...

DUDE!!! I can't read the post with the new background.

Julie said...

I'm just dying for a good critique! I'd like to know how you've managed to get help from people who KNOW writing.

Maybe I'm not ready for a really harsh critic, but I know I won't get anywhere without knowing what I'm doing wrong. It would also be helpful to know what I'm doing right! I think when we're new to something, we need to hear that. Once we know what our strengths are, it's not as important that other people notice them.

Pammer said...

I admit sometimes I just want someone to tell me that my writing is brilliant and they can't find any fault in it. Not that it has happened nor is it likely.

I try to take an honest look at the critique. I've had them where they want to change the whole shape of my wip. I've had those who didn't get me. I've had those who wanted to change my voice. You have to ask God for clarity to show you the comments that you can use to make your writing better.

I think that is an important thing, if one that is hardest to come by. You have to have a humble, teachable spirit. God will guide you if you listen to His voice. And, in the end, you have to remain faithful to the story He has written in your heart for you to tell.

I pray. And sometimes I go over them with a friend who can see better which comments hit the mark and which don't. You are my best buddy to do that with (thank you btw).

I am anxious to see how others deal with theirs. We learn from one another.


Danica/Dream said...

Hey, I can read it now!!

Great comments. I'm still at the thin-skinned phase, I think. It's hard. At times, I do appreciate comments, but sometimes, they're just plain dumb and wrong. Like the person who ripped my synopsis, saying I didn't know what I was doing-said synopsis was critted and approved as darn near perfect by a person who's written a book on how to write one. Yes, I'm still bitter. ;)

Julie said...

I second Danica on dumb criticisms! The one and only time that a pubbed author looked at my work, her comments were completely unhelpful. She chided me for head-hopping when I made exactly one POV switch. (It was only one scene.) Then she agreed that I stayed true to each character when I was in their POV.

Looking back, it was probably a bad place for a POV switch, clumsily handled. But instead of saying that, or saying "Something isn't quite working, and I'm not sure what," she gave me a criticism that had me worrying about a problem that wasn't there.

I know my writing isn't perfect. I know I need help. Where do you find the people who can give you good help and constructive comments, instead of leading you astray?

Julie (who is NOT a head-hopper!)

Mirtika said...

I am always disappointed if all I get back is, "Wow, that's great."

What good does that do me?

I give brutal critiques--meaning, I just totally speak my mind as to what I find not working.

And I want the same back. I have been writing without objective eyes for months, praying for a good critique. For a couple weeks, three other gals and I have been testing to see if we can make a group work for thta function. I let them know my expectation is total frankness of whatever they may see lacking. It's then up to me to decide how to proceed given the advice.

But I know that I need feedback at this stage. I've been an insular dabbler at writing. My first creative writing contest at age 11, I won. My first three contests for fiction chapters a few years ago, I won or placed. Now, some might think that means, "Well, you know what you're doing." NOT BY A LONG SHOT. I have tunnel vision. I know what's in my head as I write, but I need to know if it's coming through. And my style still can range wildly from the hyperintellectual and stilted, to the lyrical and clogged with metaphors. I need to find my authentic voice, which is probably somewhere in those extremes.

I consider myself a mid-level apprentice. I want to see my drafts ripped. If you think it sucks, I need to know why.

And even if it hurts, it's all about becoming BETTER. Growing muscles is painful. Dieting is painful. Having surgical procedures can be painful. Fasting and praying is strenuous.

Even judging contests is HARD. Like Squirly, I prayed over entries. I sometimes let them sit for days before reread them. If I'm going to give a horribly low score, I pray again, I read again, I give it another day, hoping maybe I'll be in the mood to see it more favorably. I don't like scoring rough or critiquing rough for the heck of it. But I won't give high scores just to be nice, either. Judging is not for people who can't make tough calls. Sometimes, judges sentence folks to death. Well, some manuscripts need to be called "dead," so they can be resurrected. :)

Last time I checked, nothing good came easily.

Writing...not for sissies.

Mir--trying not to be a sissy or a meanie, but just and helpful, and seeking the same. . .

Belinda P. said...

Hi Cheryl, I'm a friend of Michelle's and am on the FHL committee with you, Camy and Missy for the one day conference.

I agree critiquing and judging are hard. I have three entries right now to judge, but I"m blogging instead. I've already read the entries and now will go back and score them.
But I have learned a lot about being a writer from judging. A whole lot.
I've also had bad comments from judges. There was the judge who wrote blah-blah-blah- down the side of one of my pages. Do you think she was into it? (ha!)
Anyway, you're right, we need to embrace the comments we think are worthy, and sometimes even the ones we don't agree with.