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Posted July 13, 2011
TAKE IT LIKE A MAN
how to receive/give critiques and play well with others
I just recently received back three manuscript critiques from six different judges. Before slipping them from the envelope to see my scores, I'd already decided to take it like a man. Five of the judges were right on though they made a couple of strange comments - second guessing about the plot (they had no synopsis) and they weren't right about where the plot was going, so I could take the coveted corrections and overlook some of the comments. Trying to get some feedback from someone else besides my cat, I was fine with those five critiques. They had me placed in the top half of the scoring. They were helpful and I could figure out what wasn't quite working and fix whatever needed fixing. And I was pleased.
It was the sarcastic judge's comments that made my neck and shoulders tight and me want to grind my teeth that night. It's so easy to put the stinger in action when you're anonymous. And I personally tried to be careful and considerate when editing another's work and refrained from using sarcasm.
Writing is a rough game we're playing, something akin to kick boxing. We walk out to bow before our opponent (our best shot at a manuscript) and we sometimes get it kicked back before the bell goes off to start the fight. It's called rejection. And, I want to encourage other writers, not hinder their progress. Rejection in life is bad enough without sending in manuscripts to get more rejection on slips of paper we can nail to the wall so there's glaring proof of our failure. It's sort of like being in a heat storm with lots of wind kicking up and all of the tumbleweeds are honing in on you en masse at high speeds.
However, I still learned from some of the sarcastic judge's comments and tossed his/her other comments out. It's taken me a long time to grow that thick skin when it comes to rejection and critiques.
My most important lesson from the contest critiques was how to be kind when critiquing and to always give positive feedback along with correction. And to squelch the sarcasm, something I've never done to another writer because I don't want some mean girls critique group ripping into me. We rip...er...reap what we sow. I actually had one person say to me once, "If you could bring in just one good sentence." I couldn't figure that one out because I was regularly published and that person wasn't. Needless to say, I departed from that critique group with grace and dignity and while the gettin' was good. Writing has many slippery slopes but shouldn't have to be a torturous trail.
So when I stopped grinding my teeth and worked out the muscle spasms to look at the critique the next morning, I realized I'd learned more from the sarcastic judge than from the others all put together. I tried to give him/her the benefit of the doubt. Probably a really nice person. But maybe someone had written in red the same sarcasm on some of his/her own work and he/she was passing it along to make himself/herself feel better. I also overlooked the fact that this judge needed a really good dictionary or instructions on how to Google Wiki definitions. And if he/she was going to tell me a word was not appropriate for a sentence, I would have at least expected him/her to double check his/her vocabulary first before staining my paper with red. Also, the lines marked through the judges' mistakes could not be deleted I supposed, and therefore made for an untidy page my bloodshot eyes had to meander through. Okay, eyes don't meander, though I suppose if they were bloodshot they might do just about anything. Of course, I refrained from adding all of that in my thank you note! We must be nice to all judges anonymous or not. We certainly can't hurt their feelings. Basically, we must be nice. Period. And the world would be a better place.
All sarcasm and kidding aside, here are seven things I learned from my critiques which has helped me in critiquing and editing the work of others:
1) If there is no synopsis when critiquing, read through the entire manuscript and make notes (usually 10 pages for a contest critique) first and get an overall feel about the story line. That way I don't have to draw a line through suggestions I find are not relevant later on. If I have opened my mouth and inserted foot on paper, I can always add "Oops!" or "Sorry, my bad - what was I thinking?" or "Egads, I was just hit with a hot flash" or something to let a writer know I am human and not some sadistic writing space alien sent to torture a contestant.
2) If there is some phrase or sentence, or something I find clever or interesting, it's always nice to give a writer positive feedback as well; this might keep them writing at home instead of ending up in the morgue after their heart is literally literary-broken and their eyeballs soon to be gazing at the other side of the grass.
3) If I hate a protagonist, instead of saying that in red I might say "it would be nice to show the character's growth throughout the book so she will have some redeeming qualities" - not all real life humans start out sweet and cultured. Some characters start out like some real life humans - the unfortunate dregs of society - and become healed, refined, and lifted up by novel's end. Redeeming Love by Francine Rivers is an excellent book to read for someone who dislikes characters who are less than lovable. And not everyone likes characters who have no backbone or spunk. It takes all kinds to make the world go 'round. Writing in red, "I hate this character" is not helpful and could cause stalking with intent to commit aggravated mayhem. Those convicted of aggravated mayhem do not get the death penalty or life. They usually get out of jail. And they can come back and stalk again.
4) That if the score I have given as a sarcastic judge is way less than the nice professional judge, then the writer is probably on track, and I - a sarcastic judge - probably like the book idea so much I'm going to swipe it and self-publish it before the writer has a chance to get-'er-done so I can be the one to rake in all the dough. Okay, I'm being sarcastic here. My sarcastic judge was probably in a foul mood when critiquing my manuscript because his/her teenagers were fighting on the way out the door to school and mooning them did absolutely no good in distracting them. (I tried this once and my teen girls laughed the entire way to school and the eldest refrained from shanking the youngest's gymn shorts in front of the entire school that day for a change. Note: All they saw was my big girl panties - I was trying to lighten things and keep them from having a wreck while driving to school.)
5) When in doubt, wait before penning a sarcastic remark like, "Really? Tears don't come from chins! Oh, well, I guess they could run down a face and drip off that way." A tear is a tear, whether or not it's coming from the eye area or it has managed to slip down the cheek to drip from the chin. It only makes me look like a newbie at critiquing/editing/judging if I say things before thinking them through. I must temper remarks like the double-edged sword they can be until I've mulled things over. If it doesn't fit - I could make a note - something like, "Perhaps it could be better said this way..."
6) And I've learned to always send a thank you note to my editor/critique person/judge. The writing world is small.
7) When I do read something that is wonderful and I wish I'd written it, I should give the writer an attaboy. The writer earned it. And then I can feel good about trying to make my own writing better.
In summation, take a critique like a man, and give a kind helpful critique. You never know when someone you've dissed might become the editor of a coveted magazine or publishing house where you'd like to be published.
Happy editing/critiquing/revising trails and watch out for those flying tumbleweeds - if they do come at you like flying monkeys, remember to take it like a man!
"Do to others as you would have them do to you." Luke 6:31 (NIV)
And if you've ever been in a mean critique group or had a sarcastic critique judge, I'd love to hear your story! Email me at email@example.com and I'll post it on my blog with a link back to your blog or website if you have one. And I promise to give you an attaboy/girl!
Robert Layton Edwards wrote: "Since I hire readers, I've been wallpapering my office with those sarcastic manuscript critiques. I use a quilting pattern to artistically work in the rejection slips too--a picture of a WWI bi-plane going down in flames is starting to take shape."
Okay, Robert - now that's innovative. When the artwork gets farther along, you must send me a photo!
Robert Layton Edwards wrote: "(All right; that might not have been a totally serious comment.)"
photo credit - Robi Tumbleweeds and Lemonade
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