Thursday, March 3, 2011


Okay, yesterday I read a lovely post that had a wonderful list of what all writer’s should know. I followed the link from twitter so I’ll hunt it down for you later. However, the #1 item of the list had me saying “Whoa!” and I’ll explain why.


Yep, this was the number one item on her list. At first I was in total disagreement. Then…then, I pondered on it and realized that in someways this wasn’t as bad of a rule as I thought.

This was driven even further home when I went to a writer’s group recently where another author was adamantly telling one author how she should finish her book. I mean WTHeck? Where does a writer that is in no way published have the right to tell another writer that they should seriously consider changing the ending of their book based on only reading the first 30pages of the manuscript. Sad thing was, my 13yr old author in training was at this meeting. She’d read the author’s book and heard what the author stated as the premise and ending of her book and felt that the other author was being just plain mean.

I stood up to the writer’s defense and stated to the other author that she shouldn’t make blanket statements about someone’s work after only reading the 1st 30 pages. Furthermore, it’s the author’s decision how to write their story.

Sadly, I had to agree.


Over the years as a writer I’ve explored it all. I’ve gone to writing class, critique sessions, online forums, had beta readers, temporary critique partners and truth be told it’s like finding gold when you find another writer or a beta reader that gives you honest feedback but RESPECTS the fact that it’s your story. Sometimes other authors want to make your book their story and only give advice on how they would write it.


When you put yourself out there while discovering yourself as an author, learn to TAKE THE GOOD and chuck away the bad. There is good to be had by having another writer review your stuff.

Pull out concrete mechanics issues.

Here’s a quick list of what to listen to.
- Grammar issues
- Plot holes
- Character Depth Issues
- Painted Scene Issues
- Inconsistency in the world you created
- Issues that are bought up by multiple readers that have in no way talked to one another. For some reason when you have many people together, they hop on the same bandwagon.


In short, I believe in general authors can help and do help other authors. But you as the author of your book need to own your story, and if another author rips your stuff apart outside of the areas of grammar, main plot, characterization or areas listed above, then throw their advice to the side.

I’ve been lucky to find great authors that have helped me carve a much better story. Truth be told, I’ve only had a few meanies and most of them I’ve met in online forums. Therefore, when dealing with online communities I’m very cautious and only exchange a few pages at a time to see where the relationship leads.


Do you use author critique groups? Do you disagree with the writer’s advice #1? I do, but do you? Have you dealt with a meanie? What did you do to get over it and keep writing?


Kelly Hashway said...

I love my critique group. We are very honest but also very respectful. We never rip each other apart, but we offer helpful suggestions and ask questions. My critique group is like my second family. I couldn't live without them.

Andy said...

I think anyone who says don't listen to writers is exaggerating a bit, to make a specific point. But in this case, I agree with the point completely.

I was part of a crit group that had a member like you describe, and it was an enormous frustration to me. I think--deep down--those folks who try to hijack your story are well intentioned, but if they can't let their own opinions/slants go, to let the writer create him/herself, they're really just serving their own needs.

For example, in the case of pointing out a plot problem, it's much more helpful to hear why things aren't working, versus: you should do this, and then this will happen, and it'll all be great! I have a beta reader now who strikes good balance. She might give examples of how the story could go differently, but they're just to elucidate character motivation or structural issues.

LM Preston said...

I really wish I could find a good one. Haven't yet, but I still have hope :-D

Maria Zannini said...

LOL. I could write a book on critique groups.

I started on OWW, eventually inviting specific people whose sharp observations I've admired.

We've been together about three years now. Unlike OWW, we read entire manuscripts. Each person brings something unique. Critting styles can range from biting to reserved, but it's all delivered with good intentions.

--Meanies are everywhere. Most of their drama is due to frustration and sometimes envy. I just walk away from them. They're not worth the trouble.

Anonymous said...

Yep. Advice-wise: Take what you feel you can use, discard the rest. And it seems there's always one who feels the need to "exert" his or her opinion, no matter how cruel.

Good post!


Shreyonti said...

It's true. Authors often try to bring other authors down. Sometimes, it may even be because of jealousy. In my country, where I write for one of the leading dailies of the city, I have to lie about my age to the editor (I've never met him face-to-face) because I'm just seventeen and a lot of people won't tolerate a seventeen year old getting published over older writers.

Catherine Stine said...

Sadly, I've run into that, in writing groups, on forums, even in my MFA classes. I have a long-standing writing group, and we would never let anyone in who is bullying or overly narrow-minded. This, learned by trial and error.

Kim Baccellia said...

I was in one group once where a fellow writer told me he felt like he'd smoked something strong everytime he read my submissions. I'm like, "Ok, whatever."

Seriously I also hate when people love to just rip apart a story. My former writing teacher taught us to use the Oreo method of critiquing--Positive, constructive criticism, then end with something positive.

Right now I'm in a really good on-line YA critique group.

Monica Zepeda said...

One of the best pieces of advice I got about critiques is "take the note, but not the fix." That is, listen to what the reader feels doesn't work, but don't feel obligated to take their suggestion on how to fix it.

Shallee said...

This is such a great post! I've just had a manuscript go through readers, and they were all SO helpful. But in the end, you have to remember it's your book. Sometimes you have to disregard something-- especially if it's given in a mean spirit.

Donna said...

I think I've been lucky in that I haven't come across anything like this. I've done well in terms of having others edit my work and not turning into their piece. Although, in hindsight, my writing professor in college did end up making me morph my horror short into a psychological short because he was a genre hater. Ultimately it was a better story so I can't complain but I guess he did try to make it his own.

I both agree and disagree. I'm not published but if I'm reading a manuscript and it's a 'rock fall, everyone dies' ending that hits me like getting slapped in the face by a fish, I think it's perfectly legitimate to mention the ending and how it should/could be changed. But that's only after reading the entire thing. I was brought up on the editing side knowing that you can only properly edit someone's work having read it at least twice all the way through. Once for the general idea of it and two to dive deeper into it. And then more if you feel it's necessary.

Judging the ending of someone's work having only read 30 pages in is ridiculous. If someone did that to me I wouldn't be able to take them seriously. And I'd probably be pretty vocal about that. "You didn't read my piece to the end. So how could you possibly form an educated opinion on how my book should end when you don't even know the context in which it's ending? Why, for a second, should I even consider the thought of taking your advice seriously right now?"

Tara Tyler said...

I would hope advising authors aren't trying to be mean, they are just poor advice-givers. On AW most people give great advice while a few will quote the piece and tear it apart bit by bit. I like the above @monika "take the note, not the fix." Sometimes you have to overlook nitpicking and "I would rather hear this" - that's personal preferences, not writing advice...thanks for sharing & good discussion! which is what writers should do!

Beverly Stowe McClure said...

I listen to what others say, especially if two or three point out the same thing, then I evaluate it to see if I agree. Sometimes I go with their advice. Sometimes I stay with my thoughts.

It's good to hear what others think, but there's no excuse for being rude or critical. You're right. It is your story. You have the final say.

Anonymous said...

I have never understood writers being cruel to other writers. I've been to a workshop where one person refused to read a poem I was workshopping because it was 'a stupid dead grandma poem.' Totally unconstructive for him and for me. If you don't believe another writer's advice is best for your story then don't take it. No one will force you, but remember we all need to help one another grow and develop.

Zac said...

I find that my writing process is super solitary. Now I'm trying to make friends with other writers and I have to admit that it's kind of hard. Even the friends I've had in college are hard to maintain critique groups with. Writing is an extension of ourselves so when we critique it can come off as very personal even though it's not meant to be mean.

Anonymous said...

I'm in a wonderful face to face group with many published writers. And they do say exactly what they feel about the work. They are tough and their crits leave a person weak at the knees. But the thing is... they usually disagree about a multitude of things, as they should, so the ultimate decision for change comes back to me and I'm left with a plethora of ideas/interpretations to choose from.
I don't want to be coddled. I want the respect that comes from colleagues taking the time to rip into my writing to help me improve it, knowing I can take it objectively. A new writer might run screaming from the room so this is not a good method for everyone.
The back patting and making friends comes apres crit session and usually involves a few stiff drinks.
I appreciate this method of working. Mind you, I've done a Clarion which is very intensely this method for 6 weeks with no way to escape. You're never the same post-Clarion.

Michelle said...

Thanks for addressing this issue.
I have struggled to find crit partners and opted for a couple of public forums - with devastating feedback - many were just plain nasty.
Now I have found a couple of crit partners and we are finding a great rhythm of help and encouragement.