Monday, August 10, 2009

The Brutal Truth

I have discovered in my writing journey that one of the most valuable tools I have is a critique partner who is BRUTALLY honest with me. If something doesn't work or if something is overwritten or she just doesn't get it, she has no trouble at all telling me about it. We argue sometimes, not subtle bickering, but really full-blown discussions, until we have managed to work out whatever the problem is.

I have discovered that many young writers just can't take this sort of honesty. They refuse to listen to anyone else and stick to their vision of their work. Which can be a very good thing, unless your vision needs glasses! (and sometimes a seeing eye dog!)

For me, if something isn't working I want to know about it. Do I change everything just because my CP says so? Ask her and you will get a resounding "He** NO!" But I do listen and everything she says to me makes me think. And maybe that is the greatest gift someone can give you - the freedom to think.

There will be other relationships on every writer's journey with agents, editors and even critics. How much honesty do you want from those people as they come into your life? How much is too much honesty when it comes to your writing? And are you grounded enough in what you write to listen to a vastly differing opinion and still stay true to your voice?


Christine said...

I agree... I have heard my CP recount my *ahem* yelling at starbucks over a synopsis she critiqued.. I swear it was only loud talking LOL... but we are real with each other. All the same, it is important to know what is real and important to me/you/a writer as you go back into the WIP.

That is the trick... knowing when they are right and know when we are true to our stories. Takes time, maturity and confidence.

Karen Beeching said...

So true. It takes knowing yourself and knowing your writing to see feedback for what it is, good or bad. If you're not sure of your writing or your characters, it can all go so wrong.

I have good days and bad days with this. Most of the time though, I'm open to feedback. I think it's important that you trust the person who's giving it.

M.V.Freeman said...

I agree, truth in all its brutal honesty is the best--and initially I only want it from a select few.

Having someone address problems makes me think of why I want to keep something in...or getting rid of it. If I like my story well enough...I'll fight to keep things in.

I haven't had the opportunity yet to have an an honest critique from an Agent or Editor.

But truly...I need the truth-- its the only way you improve. I learned that quite painfully in art school when the group would gather around your painting...and tell you exactly what went wrong and right. I always wished I could have had a hit of whiskey before that...(Just kidding)

Sherry Werth said...

I agree with Karen. You have to trust the person giving the feedback. If someone tells you it's crap but can't explain why or where they thought you went wrong...well, take that feedback for what it's worth.
Sometimes you have to kiss a few frogs to find the right one. :D

Lynn Raye Harris said...

Listening is important. But you do have to be very sure that who you are listening to knows what they are talking about!

I don't really have a critique partner anymore. I have another writer who reads for me in a pinch, but my editor usually is the first reader. She's going to have things she wants me to change. I know that going in.

You are so right about young writers, newbie writers, being unable to take that criticism. That was me once as well.

But the truth is that you will be rewriting once you sell. It's rare to turn in a book that doesn't need revisions, at least in my line. Writers who've written over 50 books still get revisions. It's just the way it is.

Jeanie said...

Criticism is hard to take, but necessary to grow. I don't think you can write in a vacuum, not and be a successful writer. Yeah, it hurts, but if it's constructive then you should take a little time to sulk if you need it, and then step back and think about it. Most of the time, the other person has a good point that you should at least consider.

Here's where it gets tricky: you can't bend and twist with every person's criticism or you wind up losing your voice. Louisa can tell you I've struggled with this myself in the past. I am such a pleaser!

I'm not lucky enough to have a critique partner, but I've got a great writer's group, and a husband who chimes in with a 'that's stupid' every now and then. He reads a LOT, so I trust his instincts about what does and does not work. I also go to him for a 'what would a guy do' POV at times.

We all have to deal with criticism and rejection at times. There's always going to be somebody that doesn't like your work, no matter how good it is. But, hey, we've got each other, and ain't that great!

Louisa Cornell said...

Sorry it took me so long to get back to everyone. Some really great points here!

I think the important thing is to trust the person doing to critiquing AND to trust your own voice.


It is hard to know when to stick to your vision and when to tweek your vision.