Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Taking a right hook to the jaw

Over the years I've been writing, I've gotten my share of good and bad critiques. Most of the time, I can handle a critique without taking it personally. I'm partnered up some CPs who are awesome at giving feedback in a positive, easy-to-swallow way. And I know they are sincere in their desire to help me succeed, and that they won't be offended if I disagree with any particular suggestion.

But every now and then, a critique comes along, sneaks past my defenses, and comes much, much to close to home. As much as I try to be professional and not take critiques personally, yada yada yada, it can sting. Bad.

I got one like that this week. I turned in my thesis for grad school -- a romantic-thriller novel two and half years in the making -- after what felt like endless revisions and weeks cleaning up typos. I got the feedback this week.

I passed. I got some positive commentary on the book as a whole. And I got, of course, constructive criticism and suggestions. And what felt like nit-picky-comment after nit-picky comment.  Two full critiques on the full 400-page manuscript.

sting . . . sting . . . sting

Typos. Spacing errors. Garbled sentences. A plot point that doesn't make sense. A character's motivation that doesn't feel right. Dialog that feels stilted. The grammatical misunderstanding of blond vs. blonde. Chapter titles  not being true center. A timeline error in when the doctor arrives at the castle. A villain that feels one-dimensional.

sting . . . sting . . . sting

And in spite of the positive, encouraging words scattered throughout, it was hard to hear. It felt a bit like a right-hook to the jaw, and my head snapped back like that poor girl up there (20 bonus points to the first commenter who can identify the punch in the pictures!)

I've gone back and looked at the critiques again (after I iced my jaw). I've skipped the bad parts -- really, why read them again? -- and re-read the good parts. The encouraging words about how far I've come, and how well I can do with just a bit more effort on this manuscript.

And in a week or so -- okay, maybe a month or so -- I'll be able to read the bad parts, and see the wisdom and sense in their suggestions. I'll be able to see their criticism in the light of positive forward movement with this book.

How about you guys? Can you read critiques right away, or do you need a week (or month) for the sting to dissipate? Do you take them gracefully, or do you want to punch back? Are you the type to get feedback as you write, or only after it's perfect? What do you most appreciate from your critique partners?


2nd Chance said...

Oka-a-a-a-a-y, I just wrote a comment and it disappeared. Now, what did I say?

Oh. Stinging. Yup, it stings. My two star review...really...love this, love that...oh, but the cursing! Two stars. I was baffled, and pissed and then I just flat out started to laugh about it.

Now, Terrio has read my stuff and offered critique and I'd write back, "Oh...yeah!?" Then I worked to incorporate her suggestions, which were generally really simple. Because simple stings more than complex. Simple is something I should already know.


Contest comments stung like crazy. They hurt, they pissed me off, I read them once...then put them away somewhere safe. To never be seen again. I figure I got what I needed out of them, don't need to fixate on them anymore.

I'm going to enter the RITAs...and when I get those comments/scores back...I won't open them. I may send them to Terrio and ask her to open them for me... ;-)

2nd Chance said...

And no, Terrio...I'm not saying your comments are simple. Your comments are always logical, rational, and stuff I want to bang my head against a wall for missing.

Marnee Bailey said...

Whew. I'm wordy this morning, huh?


Marnee Bailey said...

I think it depends on the type of critique issue it is. There's the grammar stuff. I can shrug that off. I roll my eyes at myself, feeling silly for missing it, and fix. No biggie.

There's the historical nitpickiness, especially when they're wrong. I get that niggling of annoyance. I had someone suggest that in the 1800s that a poor couple wouldn't take their toddler or small child to a gin house with them. No one would be that irresponsible with their child.


I don't think they were always as good about finding responsible child care providers as our society is. But I took it out. I definitely didn't want a reader to stop because of that. Besides, historicals are fantasy, aren't they? Maybe they don't want to think about a hoard of small children running under foot while their parents get all inebriated.

There are people who want to switch every sentence around to reflect their voice. I usually ignore that stuff.

Always I try to decide what the critiquer's intention is. If it's genuine (and I think you can tell from the type of adjustments and the comments, most of the time, even if you don't like what they say), I respect that. Because genuine feedback, good or bad, is good feedback. But I've had some rough critiques where the critiquer seems to be comparing my stuff to theirs and wanting desperately to feel like they're better than me. Maybe they are, maybe they aren't, but I can't take critiques like that seriously because they aren't coming from an emotionally balanced and unbiased place. If the suggestions come from a place of ego, I usually just feel bad for the critiquer.

But the hardest to swallow (and the most useful to me) are usually the ones that I know are the most accurate, the most sincere, and the most difficult to fix. Questions about motivation or plot. Times when readers question my characters' likeability. Because I know it makes more work for me or might derail something I had planned entirely. Even set me back for a significant amount of time, making me wonder if this story will ever be finished, if it'll ever see the light of day. Or, the deepest fear, that maybe it SHOULDN'T see the light of day.

I'm like you; if I sit on it for a while, I can usually come back and reread and find something (even in the ego ridden critiques) that's useful. But those first stings? I'm not sure I'll ever get used to them. I've come to accept them, but I don't think I'll get used to them.

Donna said...

Hal, congrats for passing. And I'm sorry you got stung. It's hard not to take everything personally -- look how much of your heart and soul has been devoted to this the past few years. It matters to you, so naturally you're going to feel wounded when anything is pointed out as being less than perfect. *hug*

Marn, great comment. And I had to groan over the historical inaccuracy part. You're right about them taking their kids with them to the gin places. Their lives were a lot different than ours (which is one reason we like to READ historical stories!). I also agreed with this part:

There are people who want to switch every sentence around to reflect their voice.

This has happened to me the most often, which is why I don't have critique partners. LOL It happened recently with a beta reader, and while I understand the underlying intention was good, it bothered me. Voice is the writer's signature, and changing that erodes too much.

It's hard to find the right critique partner/beta reader. I've come across a couple recently that have been great, providing me with info I overlooked, as well as compliments that I need. :)

Marnee Bailey said...

I also meant to say in my past post but I was blah blah blahing....

Congratulations, Hal!! You must be so excited and relieved. I know that classes have kept you busy (as well as the rest of your life, LOL!). This is a huge accomplishment.


We're all very proud of you. An MFA on the boat. That's a lot of prestige for our little vessel.

hal said...

I'm here!! I'm home today with a sick little one (headed for the doctor in a couple minutes) so I'm not going to be as chatty as I'd like.

I'm glad to know that I'm not the only one who feels the sting, even when I know I *shouldn't* take it personally!

I'll respond in depth as soon as I get back - in the mean time, party on, pirates!

(and thanks for the congrats! I don't feel relieved yet, mostly because I'm still mired in other classes. Once graduation comes, it'll be on like donkey kong)

Bosun said...

Is that from Million Dollar Baby? (Back after reading the comments.)

Bosun said...

As always, I'm the only kid in the room waving her hand to answer the bonus question. *sigh*

HUGE Congrats, Hal. I remember getting to the end of the road to the degree and the weight that comes off is amazing. But then, I didn't walk away with an MFA. That is AWESOME!! (You might hold the record for most degrees of anyone I know. LOL!)

Marn - My grandfather took my mom to the bar all the time. In the 1940s! And the 50s. Sat that little toddler on the bar while he got tanked. Of course they did it a hundred years earlier! I'd have been stubborn and NOT taken that out. But then...I'm stubborn.

In the beginning, I was very sensitive to the sting. In the last year or so, I find my anticipation of the sting is worse than the actual sting. Which is true of most situations. I can talk myself into a frenzy and then the moment comes and it's "Oh. Not so bad."

But I'm with Marn on the big stuff. Motivation is my nemesis. I know my characters' motivations, but can't seem to get them on the page. Very frustrating when you know the change will require major work. I'm fine with anything I can tweak with a word change or adding a sentence here and there. When it's not that simple, I get all mopey.

Chance - Not positive, but I think the RITAs are just like the GH. I don't think you get comments back. But I could be wrong. (Happened before. Once. *g*)

And I'm not worried about my feedback being too simple. I'm worried that it stings! Does it really? Now I feel horrible...

Sin said...

Congrats on passing Hal!

Sin said...

Chanceroo, my favorite parts in a book are the swear words.

Hellion said...

I know the chick getting punched is Mila (whatever her last name is)--you know, Jackie from That 70s Show. But I don't know what it's from. Wait, was it from That 70s Show? *LOL* Wasn't there a scene where she's in the ring and ends up getting punched by...Ashton Kutcher because they were breaking up???

Hellion said...

Congratulations on passing! And considering the people involved, I'm sure they were being nitpicky in the extreme. (Seriously, if they're picking on your centering of your titles, they're DIGGING DEEP to find something to bitch about.)

I think some of the stings are that they're "obvious" things, things that you thought you fine-toothed (et al) and DID fine-tooth, and yet they found all these errors and you feel like you turned in a shitty first draft instead of a numerous last draft. But the fact is even after you publish the thing, there is still going to be typos--so I guess that is something we're all going to have to live with, right?

(What is the grammatical difference of blond and blonde? I thought "blonde" was for girls; "blond" was for boys...or over the pond, they use "blonde" but Americans exclusively use "blond".)

Also, I think some of the stuff they pick on are things that are true for commercial/genre writing. Villains are supposed to be more than one-dimensional, yet I think if you make them too sympathetic, you lose the close edge/tension you get from having such a cut-throat, no-bars-hold villain.


As for critiques on my stuff, I never recover. I think you're holding up admirably well. *LOL* If the critiques are too extensive on my stuff, I'll stick the book under the bed and start something new. Or just read for 2 years and not write at all. All in all, I think you're handling it very well!

hal said...

Ding, ding ding!!!!

Hellie gets 20 bonus points for identifying that it is, in fact, Mila Kunis, and it is an episode from That 70's Show. Yes, Jackie and Kelso were consulting the highest authority on relationships (Cosmo) to figure out why they cheated, and both realized that they weren't sorry.

Cue the "I'm NOT sorry!" with a massive right hook.

I had a good time watching the show in order to find that specific scene (here's the link if anyone is bored at work today! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HbU1_OL2mPE)

hal said...

chance said I was baffled, and pissed and then I just flat out started to laugh about it.

Excellent response! I do the same -- but I cry instead of laugh. I'm a crier, though. I can't help it. But you very succinctly summed up that rush of changing emotion when we get a critique that hurts.

And I think contest feedback is the worst - you have no idea who is really providing it (esp. first round comments), no idea what they were basing it off of, and no way to ask any sort of follow-up questions or explain anything. Gah!

Hellion said...

Actually I'd believe the baby in the bar thing. Easily. *LOL* Historically anyway. *LOL* Child Worship is more a modern sensibility than a historical one.

I'm totally guilty of trying to switch around sentences to "make them sound better"--though I do mean well. And Donna's right--it is messing with the writer's voice. Though then that leads me to wonder: do I not just like the writer's voice then? I mean, I don't read published novels and try to switch up sentences to make them sound better--I usually think, "WOW, I wish my stuff sounded that good." So I think there is a balance between "ruining someone's voice" and "trying to make it sound better"--like voice lessons. Like you, only better. *shrugs* But then having that done is probably the worst sting of all, since Voice is so basic.

Marn's comment is spot on. I think everyone is going to be here today and go, "I ditto Marn's comment." *LOL* Rock it, sister!

Bosun said...

Reminds me, I had a contest judge bitch that I hadn't centered "Chapter 1" and so on. Really? REALLY??

Hellion said...

Hellie gets 20 bonus points for identifying that it is, in fact, Mila Kunis, and it is an episode from That 70′s Show.

Good, I'm going to need those 20 points to make up for the fact I'm always tweaking someone's Voice and being a shitty critiquer. *LOL* And a shitty critiquee. Woohooo!

Do I have an unfair advantage since I own all the seasons? *LOL*

hal said...

Marn, you're full of wisdom this morning!

Because genuine feedback, good or bad, is good feedback. But I’ve had some rough critiques where the critiquer seems to be comparing my stuff to theirs and wanting desperately to feel like they’re better than me.

So, so true. I haven't had this happen in a long time, mostly because I've gotten better about who I trust to critique me. (you, mostly, lol). When we have to do large-group critiques at school, each person gets 3 or 4 minutes to critique you to your face, and sometimes it's BRUTAL. But everyone in the room can usually tell if they're being genuine and just not tactful, or if they're full of shit. I can usually ignore the full-of-shitters, but it can still sting, especially with everyone staring at you.

But the hardest to swallow (and the most useful to me) are usually the ones that I know are the most accurate, the most sincere, and the most difficult to fix.

Yes!! These are the kind that I have to set aside for a while, to let the sting die down and to digest the advice. It can take a loooong time to admit they're right (I think you're on to something here - it seems the bigger the renovations it requires, the longer it takes to digest their point!)

hal said...

I'm answering people out of order. But I'll get there, I promise.

Reminds me, I had a contest judge bitch that I hadn’t centered “Chapter 1″ and so on. Really? REALLY??

That would royally piss me off. It ticks me off when my professor does it, but he's allowed (mostly) because he's an English professor and grading me. A contest judge? Heeeeellllll no.

hal said...

All the seasons of That 70's Show??? Oh, I'm jealous!! I can watch that show over and over again -- everyone else in my house keeps asking if I"m tired of it yet, and for the love of god, would I just turn it off?


I love, and I don't care what they think.

Donna said...

Hal, did you see that Hyde got married recently? *sob* Well, it wasn't Hyde -- I can't see him married. LOL But the guy who played him.

I miss Hyde.

Bosun said...

My child became a recent addict of That 70's Show. I know she doesn't get all the jokes, and she has NO knowledge of the 70's, but she still laughs. LOL! I had to explain why they look "high" around the table.

hal said...

did you see that Hyde got married recently?

WHAT?!?!?! I heartily boo this.

hal said...

That's hilarious, Ter! She's going to find it funny on a whole new level once she catches up to the sex and drugs!

Donna said...

Hellion, I can kinda see what you mean about trying to improve a writer's voice.

BUT (yeah, it's a big one! LOL) -- look at how it stings to have grammar and punctuation and things like that changed in our stories. To have somebody change our voice, which is about as personal as it can get when it comes to writing. . .that is tough to take, because it's more of a preference on the part of the reader. It doesn't mean it needs to be changed, but you know how writers are -- we think we need to change everything that people mention! LOL

Bosun said...

Hal - You should have heard our conversation on BJ's the other day. Life with a preteen is never dull.

Bosun said...

That changing voice thing is why I too don't share much while I'm writing it. I hate doing those group crits things at conferences. Every time someone will say "You could do X and Y and change him to a this and her to a that and then they could...."

Sounds like a fine story. But it's not MY story. Usually an issue of runaway enthusiasm, but still annoying. LOL!

hal said...

No!!! Ohmigod, I'm so glad I have a boy.

hal said...

Sounds like a fine story. But it’s not MY story

That drives me nuts too. Well-meaning, but obnoxious (unless, of course, it's a brainstorming session)

hal said...

Chance - I forgot to say, that sucks about the 2 star review. Critiques are bad enough, but at least they're (relatively) private. Reviews are just out there, with no way to defend yourself. *Shudder*

Hellion said...

Oh, I agree Donna. It stings in the worst way--because it's like being asked to change your personality so you don't offend everyone. It's like a big Fuck You.

Hal understands what I'm talking about--usually when I'm doing it, it's because the sentence sounded awkward and I played with it. (It's my instinct to play with the structure). But the advice is: don't mess with it, just bitch about it. It's up to the writer to figure it out.

As the saying goes, "You can lead a horse to water, but you can't make him drink." I can explain what your problem is, but it's up to you to fix it.

Hellion said...

Every time someone will say “You could do X and Y and change him to a this and her to a that and then they could….”

This is true--though sometimes I enjoy this. SOMETIMES good comes out of a suggestion like this and it is better than my idea and does make it better.

I don't think we should be so against these things because we didn't think of it ourselves first. If it's a good idea and works, then do it.

hal said...

I this is where trust comes into play. It's always going to sting when it's something like Voice that someone is saying isn't good enough at that particular spot.

With someone we can trust, it can be looked at, as Hellie was saying, as "this doesn't work - think about it more" kind of comment, rather than a "rewrite it to exactly these words" type of comment.

Hellion said...

Chance, meant to say about the sucky review--they should obviously be taken with a grain of salt. I was reading a review for a favorite book of mine the other day, where the reader gave a 1 star or so review for the book because of all the grammatical errors and punctuation, et al...

And the reviewer used the word "alot"--and I decided then and there, that reviewer was a moron. How dare you critique a writer for grammar issues when you don't even know "a lot" is TWO WORDS.

They're just sad, frustrated little wanna-be writers, Chance. Ignore them like Nora does.

Bosun said...

My example actually happened to a friend who had part of her story written. The characters were established, including occupations. The other "brainstormers" wanted to changed everything, including occupations. I get this when you don't have a word on the page and you've asked for ideas, but when the story is going and established, respect what the writer has. These particular brainstormers were very pushy.

hal said...

Blond and Blonde (I'm not looking this back up, so I may have it backwards): As a noun, it's blonde for female, and blond for male, which goes back to the old French version when it had gender-specific spellings. As an adjective, it's always blond.

Which means that "The blonde walked across the room." and "The blond woman walked across the room." are both technically correct, but when you've got them on the same page, it looks like you don't know what the hell you're doing.

Bosun said...

I have that blond/blonde thing all over my WIP. I knew there were rules and planned to look them up during revisions. Thanks for the info! LOL!

hal said...

speaking of reactions to reviews - this is hands down the best thing I've read on the subject (and it's hilarious, and includes cartoon illustrations, so it's fun to read):


Donna said...

It stings in the worst way–because it’s like being asked to change your personality so you don’t offend everyone.

I was thinking this same thing! Voice IS the writer's personality, so changing it for the writer is like a love interest saying, "You're awesome, but if you got a boob job and dyed your hair black and quit being funny, you would be REALLY cool." LOL

I also think everyone can be a re-writer. But not everyone can be a writer. :)

Hellion said...

I also think everyone can be a re-writer. But not everyone can be a writer.

I think I get what you're saying for the purposes of this exercise, but I think this statement is backwards. Anyone can write a book, but the person who can REVISE a book they're written, that's a real writer.

Bosun said...

I totally vote for Chance to take the "interpretive dance" route for responding to reviews. LOL! She'd love it and we'd get a show on the ship. (Clothes on show. Just to be clear.)

Hellion said...

*ROTFL* OMG, I love the article already. So true. You can't change other people's experiences....

Hellion said...

I think she should do the macaroni one, myself. She can use glitter paint.

hal said...

Donna, that's awesome that you've found some readers recently who give a good mix of feedback and compliments. A well-placed, genuine comment can be just as restorative as a negative comment can be distructive.

hal said...

Sin - thank you! (and I love the curse words in novels too. Ironically, a cat fight just broke out last night in the forums for an online class I'm taking, about whether or not cursing is appropriate, in novels or in real life. Needless to say, I was on the pro-cursing side)

Irisheyes said...

First off, Congrat Hal!!! You passed, that has to feel great.

I think I'm more along the lines of Hellie. It has always been hard for me to take criticism. The funny thing is that I thought I was pretty cool about it until I met someone who really CAN take criticism and not let it affect them.

These days, so many things factor into whether someone's criticism bother me or not. Who is giving it? Do I know they have my best interest at heart? Are they being petty or just trying to make themselves look better? When I was younger you couldn't criticize anything I did without causing me to doubt myself on everything. Not so much anymore. (Getting older is fabulous for helping with that!)

And what I'm finding out is that the more important something is to me the harder it is to take criticism. Like I can take someone criticizing my housecleaning, gardening or cooking. I could care less. But to have someone criticize the way I mother my children, my relationship with my husband or my writing. That kind of stings. And that is because those things are important to me and I put who I am into them. So I suppose it feels real personal when someone has an opinion about any of it. On the other hand, if I feel confident and self assured about just about anything I'm doing then it is easier to handle the criticism.

Irisheyes said...

The whole blonde/blond thing is really funny cause I just used it the other day and paused before I typed it out, wondering which spelling to use. I wish I could remember where I used it cause now I want to go back and see if I used the right one.

Irisheyes said...

On, and Hal, I hope the little guy is feeling okay. Nothing worse than a sick kid! I'm trying desperately to keep both mind healthy through the holidays and it's getting really hard!

hal said...

Irish, I'm always amazed at how similarly we react to things. I am the same way with doubting myself when I'm criticized, and that's never more true than with writing.

We've been talking in a marketing/promotion class I'm taking about using an author persona to keep some distance between your true self (what you use to write) and your author self (what you put out there for others to review, purchase, criticize, etc). It's interesting - but I've never been good at distancing myself!

And thanks -- the little guy has a cold, but no ear infection, and his fever is gone. Yay!! Another day with a humidifier, and hopefully he'll be back to his cheery self

Irisheyes said...

Another thing that came to mind while I was thinking about this critiquing (?) thing is how important it probably is to find someone who get you! I think it is probably essential that you and Marn click.

I think about differing personalities a lot whenever dealing with people and this would be an area where you really need to know what the other person needs. That's why it is probably so hard to get criticism from random sources.

I know just from dealing with my kids that my daughter thrives on being told how to improve (writing, softball, relationships), whereas my son needs a little gentler handling. He does better with positive reinforcements. And come to think about it she is very self assured about most things in her life so the criticism doesn't knock her for a loop. My son on the other hand is always doubting himself so it is easier to lay him low with an unkind or misplaced remark.

hal said...

That's such an important thing to keep in mind - that everyone reacts differently to criticism, and needs to hear it in different ways. It definitely makes a big difference having someone you click with -- I've found the feedback from random sources to be the least useful.

(and I love that you approach your kids differently when it comes to their sensitivity. I had one of those mothers who heaped on the criticism, and then complained that I didn't handle it well. right!)

Bosun said...

Irish has made some great points. No one criticizes how I parent my child without walking away with a limp. I've run into this bullshit over and over again since she entered pre-school. I've lost count of how many people I've told off in one school or another.

Though Kiddo looks just like me, our personalities are polar opposites. She's way more sensitive and I've had to find my way around dealing with discussing her grade issues. She's an instant crier and goes on the defensive. Now we sit down and look at the gradebook together. I point out where she did good, which proves she CAN do well, and where she fell off the wagon, so to speak.

That seems to be working better. I can't imagine finding a crit partner I'd click as perfectly with as Marn & Hal clicked.

Bosun said...

Happy to hear your l'il pirate is feeling better. Should have asked about that sooner. Doh.

2nd Chance said...

Interpretive dance, huh? Can I use a lot of obscene gestures? Especially since she objected to all the curse words? Evidently, I bludgeoned her with them.

I love the word bludgeoned...

As for the rewriting and rearranging...I've had this done by numerous editors and sometimes I reject the suggestion. I mean, I'm writing pirates and sometimes they speak sideways. Othertimes? It's me and my Yoda voice and so I accept the change. I'm hoping it doesn't change perceptions of my voice...

You do have to think about who is critiquing and what they are saying, I do go for the first impression swipe and then never look at things again. If it hits me the first time, then it's meant to. If my first reaction is "what the hell are they smoking?" then I ignore it.

Congrats on the degree, period! That is awesome!

And it's funny, the stuff that slide right off a person... Tell me my shoes are ugly and who the fuck cares what you think. Tell me my husband is ugly and you're dead.

Janga said...

Hal, I think grad committees see nitpicking as their purpose. Sometimes I think they engage in payback as well, making students jump through all the hoops they had to jump through.

I had a friend who turned in his dissertation around the same time I turned mine in, and his theory was that if he deliberately left in some major errors, his committee would focus on the big problems with horror and neglect the nitpicking. I, OTOH, revised 1010 times (a slight exaggeration) before turning my dissertation in. My friend was right. His comments were all about structure and how he'd wandered from his thesis in chapter 3 and contradicted himself in chapter 5--all errors he had already corrected. My comments were about things like using too many em dashes, using "insight" when "discernment" would be more precise, and using 's rather than ' after a poet's name that ended in s. The main thing was that my dissertation was approved, and that pass is the main thing for you too. Super congratulations! And you can relax now: the worst is over. :)

I don't have a CP either. I don't think I'm particularly thin skinned. It's just that I prefer cleaning up my own mess. When a draft meets my criteria, then I'm ready to ask an outside reader to respond and to consider her/his suggestions.

I've been burned critiquing others too, so I'm really selective now about whom I will critique. My idea is that an honest response is a gift I can give the writer. I'm not brutal, and I always praise the things that merit praise. But I do point out that where plot, character, or prose gave me problems as a reader. After 30 years of reading student papers, I can't read a ms. and ignore major grammatical errors either. I think it's much easier to catch someone else's GUM errors and typos than it is to catch your own.

Hellion said...

I had a friend who turned in his dissertation around the same time I turned mine in, and his theory was that if he deliberately left in some major errors, his committee would focus on the big problems with horror and neglect the nitpicking. I, OTOH, revised 1010 times (a slight exaggeration) before turning my dissertation in. My friend was right. His comments were all about structure and how he’d wandered from his thesis in chapter 3 and contradicted himself in chapter 5–all errors he had already corrected. My comments were about things like using too many em dashes, using “insight” when “discernment” would be more precise, and using ‘s rather than ‘ after a poet’s name that ended in s.


hal said...

Janga - what an awesome story! I was just like you -- I worked SO hard to scrub out every error, when over it so many times, and one of my readers found 154 typos!!!!!!! Can you believe that? He counted! A few were flat-out errors that I'd simply missed (you're so right that it's easier to catch someone else's mistakes!) but some were things like the em dash, the title being off-center, an extra space between two words, a period not underlined when the sentence before it was, ad nauseum. one hundred fifty four!

Anyway, I think it's interesting that you bring up being burned by doing critiques. I've had that happen two -- when someone feels blindsided by your words and lashes out. That hurts too because it wasn't intentional, but you still feel bad, but you also realized you wasted all that time because they're not going to hear anything you said. . . we need a matchmaker type service for critiquers!

Irisheyes said...

we need a matchmaker type service for critiquers!

LOL! First you need for everyone to take a Myers-Briggs test!

Hellion said...

I love the Myers-Briggs test!!

Bosun said...

I've taken that test. I'm pretty sure it just comes up LONER. LOL!

I could never handle that kind of nitpicking. Not without setting shit on fire. LOL! You wrote a book as your thesis. If you send that book to a publisher, they're going to check all that nitpicky stuff. And as mentioned before, something is always going to slip through. This insistence on perfection makes me nuts.

Life isn't supposed to be perfect. How boring would that be?!

Marnee Bailey said...

we need a matchmaker type service for critiquers!

hahaha!! That's so true.

Hal, how's the little guy doing? Hope he's ok....

As to hurting someone's feelings, I hate doing that. I try really hard to say things as softly as I can, without beating around the bush. But since I don't really work that closely with anyone but Hal, I never know how it'll come across.

Part of the problem with getting critiques from people you don't really know or don't know as well (and giving them to those people) is that they don't know how you'll take the feedback and you don't know how they'll take it. You're just throwing your opinion out to the universe.

There are times during the course of the book where I need someone to be like, "JUST WRITE STOP THINKING!" and there are times where I need people to be like, "Whoa there. Maybe think about *insert thing here* for a second."

Sometimes I need to hear that something isn't great but it's not irredeemable. And sometimes I need to hear when things are irredeemable. But it differs day to day what I need. The real magic of a good critique partner is that they know when you need those things and deliver them, right on schedule.


Different stuff at different times. I think that's the difference between having a CP though, and getting a critique. A critique partner is just that, a partner. Doing a critique for someone, well, it's not really based on that kind of an emotional foundation.

Did that make sense?

Bosun said...

Sounds like a marriage, Marn.


2nd Chance said...

That would be interesting...so, critique from a good marriage or a bad marriage? ;-)

I can't believe someone would bother to count the number of nitpicky typos. I mean...sounds like something Sheldon would do from The Big Bang Theory... Anal to the max!

Hellion said...

There are times during the course of the book where I need someone to be like, “JUST WRITE STOP THINKING!” and there are times where I need people to be like, “Whoa there. Maybe think about *insert thing here* for a second.”

So basically you're saying you're a woman and you'd like someone to read your mind. *LOL*

But yeah, totally get it and would like that too. *LOL*

Hellion said...

There are lots of Sheldons in the world. It's why he's a popular character; everyone can name at least one.

But--to play Devil's Advocate--when your job is to grade these things and you read about 20 a year or semester, every year, all the time, there are just things you get burned out about. Just like "regular" editors. I'm sure it's why we want our draft to be the most perfect it is, even if it's "their job" to catch the errors. We don't want to be that person. You know, the one who has a bunch of comma splices or verbs that don't agree. There is plenty you know they'll be bitching about; you'd like them to admire your grammar. *LOL* It's like getting the bonus question on a test. EVERYONE should get the bonus question.

These people are burnt out. They probably come to the manuscript burned out. (Burnt or burned? I can't decide.) You just start picking on everything.

hal said...

Definitely a good point, Hellie. The amount of pages these professors have to read and critique every semester is daunting. I have no idea how they do it.

But editors, too, bring their own set of biases. I could tell when I hit on something that was a pet peeve of a reader, because they made a huge deal about it. Colons were a particular hot spot for one, the phrase "with every fiber of her being" sparked a paragraph about what a cliche the phrase is from the other reader.

But editors, too, have their hotspots. Too bad that we can't get a list of their personal dislikes ahead of time!

Hellion said...

Yes, but personal hot spots can vary from day to day. I don't like "it's" and "its" being misused; and I will correct it even if it's in a joke or a menu or someone's manuscript. Even if it happens only once. *LOL*

But somethings I'll comment on one day, the next time I see you do it, I'll decide it's not worth the effort to mention it. I told you; YOU clearly know better; you're just not going to do it.

I like "with every fiber of her being". I would have picked on a different cliche. *LOL* AND I have read books where the author is clearly trying to write something other than the cliche and it falls flat. I read it and think, "What the hell is she even trying to say? No person would ever think that. That's too hard!"

We're people. We're easy. We don't make up our own cliches; we use the ones available.

Marnee Bailey said...

Does sound like marriage, doesn't it?


P. Kirby said...

Congrats on passing!

I don't send my stuff out for critique until it's gone through at least one first revision. At that point, I'm really interested in contextual comments, especially regarding plot, my biggest weakness. I'm less interested in nitpicky stuff, because I have people (my mom and my husband) who are good at picking up typos, etc.

My worst critique wasn't much of a critique at all. It came when I ran a short story through Critters. Instead of pointing out what was wrong with the story, this person gave me a lecture. Basically, he thought my story was too light, without a strong theme. Valid points. But instead of dealing with those issues and expanding on them, he told me, in a condescending way, that I was a good writer, but I'd never get published if I kept writing this kind of stuff. He was quick to point out that he should know because he was a published writer with credits in Azimov's and other pro markets. I should have reported the critique--it violated the rules at Critters--but I decided to take the higher road.

Anyway, that critique really affected my writing and voice and not in a good way. It effectively shut me down for nearly a year.

Eventually, I was like, "Fuck you, Mr. Fancy Pants SF writer I've never fucking heard of and no, I don't read Azimov's because the shit in there is boring, so big whoop-tee-do about your pub creds."

But obviously, to this day, that critique stilll stings.

hal said...

Ouch! Any time a critiquer starts throwing out their own publishing credits, they've gone WAY off the deep end.

I think we all have that one that we never really get over -- I got one years ago where I was told my writing was "sophomoric and juvenile" I still have a voodoo doll made in his honor.

I love your reaction. Azimov's IS boring!

2nd Chance said...

Which is sad, because Asimov the writer, wasn't boring.

Had an interesting lunch discussion about this topic with the husband, and why some critiques sting and others don't for me. The problem with obsessing on critique comments is how it can force one into that writing by committe crap.

If I fix this, then they'll like it!
If I fix that, then they'll like it!
And this!
And that!
And this!
And that!

You can this-and-that your way out of pleasing anyone. I guess the thing is...some people will get it, will see motivation, will see character, will love the way you write something...and some people won't. You simply can't fix it enough to not have critical comments made.

Which is why I take most critical comments with a salt shaker in hand.

Bosun said...

I think the key is not to this-and-that your way out of pleasing yourself. Sometimes that's harder than ignoring the bad crits and comments. Standing your ground is HARD.

You've already proven that bozo wrong, Pat. Good for you!