Don’t ask for a critique unless you want your writing shredded

Writer’s need to develop rhino skin, it’s true. If you want to improve your writing, you will need other writers to critique it. Early and often, you should subject yourself to (constructive) criticism from writers you admire.

“Be careful what you wish for”

Recently, I paid to have a published author of urban fantasy critique my novel. I submitted a two-page synopsis of the novel and the first twenty pages several weeks before our meeting.

Then I took a class “The First Five Pages” and completely rewrote the beginning of my story. What was I thinking?

When I entered the business center a few minutes before my scheduled appointment, I already had an agent’s business card. She wanted the first fifty pages of the novel I had asked this author to critique.

That had to mean my manuscript was read, right? An agent loved the premise and main story and character arc. Time to move to the next level with my book. So, I was reading for whatever this other writer had to say about my manuscript. Right?

I handed Ms. Hughes my new beginning. She read it quickly and commended me on improving the story. She pointed out a few areas where my language might be confusing to my readers.

Top three pages - the other 18 look just as lovely
Top three pages – the other 18 look just as lovely

In front of her, she had the pages I had sent her. White margins no longer existed on the first three pages. Her comments were scrawled everywhere.

First, we discussed my synopsis and how it lacked the essential component of introducing the setting. In a fantasy novel, this is element cannot be overlooked.

“I almost stopped reading when I saw it was a destiny story,” she said. “These have been overdone.”

The context cleared. She read my manuscript with a bias against the premise from the outset. Of course, she realized by the end of the synopsis that this didn’t sound like a “girl must find her destiny” story.

We talked for thirty minutes. She pointed out areas where she was confused. More details need to be added prior.

“It needs more setup,” she said. Then turned to a page where she lined out several paragraphs of setup. “This information isn’t essential at this point. Add it in when she actually goes to the city.”

Too much detail. Not enough detail. Details in the wrong place.

In fact, there are only six sentences in the entire twenty-two pages that she commended. Am I sure I’ve selected the correct career path?

I agreed with 80 percent of what she said.  I was stunned by 20 percent. The fact that my writing style with metaphoric actions can be confusing to fantasy readers stopped me in my tracks. Am I writing in the correct genre? I had to wonder.

She suggested two resources – one for story structure (guess I didn’t have it down after following the advice and guidance of Brooks and Bell) and one for sentence structure. “Your sentence construction is really holding you back.”

At the end, she stated that taking a few classes on world building might be a good next step. “All fantasy writers struggle with this in the beginning.”

Do all of them have an agent’s request for pages of the manuscript lying flayed before them?

What had I gotten myself into? A world of revisions. Or the chance to walk away from this project because it was too far from ready to be read.

If the choice seems obvious to you, come back next Friday to see what other murderous (or manuscript-enhancing) things await this novel I keep touting about on this website and Facebook.

Will Daughter of Water get a second look from me – meaning more rewriting? Or will I choose to toss it in the trash and move on to the next great thing (of which I have 35,000 words currently written)?

5 thoughts on “Don’t ask for a critique unless you want your writing shredded

  1. Can’t wait, can’t wait, can’t wait!!! You’re one brave chick—both for going through it in the first place and for sharing your experience. You’re clearly a writer who’s in it for all writers, sharing what you’ve learned from your experience so others can learn through you. Very generous…no matter what you decide about your writing, that part of your personality will still be there.

    1. Thanks, Kelly. It didn’t feel brave but that’s what everyone says. I felt a little broken afterward. Wouldn’t a brave person be flexing and strutting afterward?
      I am not giving up writing, even if I do move to a different genre. Right now, I’m sticking with YA fantasy until I’ve been rejected 200 times, and then I’ll rethink that.

  2. First of all, congrats for putting yourself out there for criticism. That is the hardest part. I remember my first ‘critical’ review. It was horrible. I cried for hours. Then I got mad. Then I wanted to rip up my book and I did curse myself and tell myself I needed to find another hobby. My book stunk (or is it stank?) to make a long story short, I didn’t lose faith in my story or in myself and now, after multiple beta/critique readers later, my novel has been picked up by a publisher. I couldn’t have done any of it without some serious honesty and chopping and hacking from my beta/critique readers. Some of them were brutal. I loved and hated them for their honesty. There were many tears, many ripped pages, many deleted scenes, and lots of ‘darlings’ killed. I may have written the story but if it hadn’t been for those many sets of eyes and honest opinions about what worked and what didn’t, I wouldn’t be sitting here with a contract in my hands. Keep at it, Sharon. You’ve taken the biggest step and you’re handling the feedback with dignity and grace. I can’t wait to read what you’ve written, and I have no doubt a publisher will pick up your story soon. All fingers and toes are crossed for you. Only onward and upward from here.

    1. I am thrilled about your book, Jenny. However, I can honestly say I have never been sold out in this first book in my trilogy. It was the rebound book. I have a feeling that when I finally go back and finish the revisions started at the behest of Alex, Becky and Kristen (oh yes, there are two more brutal critiques still to come – after my beta readers were rather kind to me) it will be the story it should be and ready for a publisher’s eyes.
      I appreciate your support. It helps me keep my chin up.

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