Sunday, February 26, 2012
I hope someone reading this post is a high school or college student who's angry or disillusioned by a harsh review of a beloved composition. Maybe even a middle-aged new writer who has submitted a story to a publisher or a writing group like CritiqueCircle.com and been disappointed by a lack of enthusiastic response. It's always a shock to discover our words did not reach a reader as we intended.
Get help. Like other people devoted to their craft, writers all over the world willingly help each other. CritiqueCircle.com is a terrific (and free) mutual-help community. Members can also learn by seeing mistakes and problems in the writing of others.
Don't accept every critique as golden. There are as many different reading tastes as food preferences and varieties of dogs. Take a look at the writing style and reading habits of the person critiquing you (found on the site in CC member profiles). See what that person said about stories you also critiqued. Critiques on a story often vary widely--many readers sense something wrong but don't know what it is or how to fix it. Realize that the best they've told you may be that something doesn't quite work. Occasionally someone does not know how to give opinions in a kind or helpful manner, but I think those instances on Critique Circle are rare. Members on the site gain experience in critiquing. In most cases writers can find the reactions they need (though not always what they want), often by knowledgeable people.
Before you show your manuscript to someone else, give yourself a different perspective. Look at it in a different format. Widen the margins so the page looks like the page of a book. Don't rely on the grammar and spelling checker--PRINT a proof copy. Mistakes jump out--typos, unnecessary repetitions, poor transitions, and so on. To save paper, look at the document in your word processor's two-page view. This view allows you to see across paragraphs and pages and spot all kinds of weaknesses. (After I edit in normal screen view, I go to the two-page view and spend time tweaking. I love the two-page view.)
Finally, if you're going to show the manuscript to anyone--a friend or someone online--never say "I haven't had time to edit this but I just wanted to get your opinion." I hope you see the problem in that.