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Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Valuing Critiques

Hi, I'm Heather Boyd, Lady Wicked, and I'm addicted to the regency era. I had the idea that I should introduce myself at the start of my first blog but now I read the above, I sound like I have more than a few problems. No need to bother you, I'll keep them to myself in favour of today's topic.

Every author needs feedback. We want occasional (ok, this can vary) validation that our writing is worth reading and at times, a set of fresh eyes to help show us our work in progress from new angles.

Feedback can be great, good, or occasionally awful, but it's how you react that determines whether the experience is useful. No one likes criticism but if everyone who read your work found nothing to suggest, no lines that jarred, or punctuation to correct, you would not grow as a writer. You’d wasted time, and time is a valuable commodity.

I joined our online critique group just over a year ago and I’m a little geographically removed from the other members. Ok, its more than a little, I’m in Australia and my American crit partners laugh at my Aussie expressions but I know that without their friendship and support, I probably wouldn’t still be writing.

Good critique partnerships must consider the feelings of the others. Honest feedback, served up tactfully, and with explanations, is an incredible gift that a writer can use, or as we often remark, lose. Acting on feedback is totally optional.

I’ve had three memorable occasions where the advice I received made me react.
The first was feedback on the first story I’d ever shared. Very tactfully, one crit partner wondered what the conflict was between my hero and heroine. I remember being upset – I actually walked away from the computer. It took me a day to read the feedback again and eventually I worked out what she meant, and learned how to fix it. Like lots of newbie writers – I’d made my characters life perfect. I’ve since learned to create chaos.

The second was from a writer I really admire. A scene revealed my heroine’s knowledge of the hero’s bisexual nature. I shocked my friend with the past actions of the hero. Simply because of the negative reaction I perceived, I immediately changed the situation to be less confronting. That might not have been the correct thing to do and with the story still in edits, I may just change it back.

The third piece of advice I ignored. A story had an assault scene and when I wrote the first draft, I skipped over the detail. A critique partner suggested I should write it instead of glossing over. I ignored her suggestion for six months, telling myself that I didn’t want to write violence. When I did write that scene, the story was better for it, and it supported the growing romance between the hero and heroine.

My point, and I do have one somewhere, is to take any advice you get with a grain of salt. Look at it, dismiss it if you want, but also stay true to your own vision for the story. If someone suggested, “this is nice but it needs more sex and a vampire”, it wouldn’t be the best choice if you were aiming for the sweet market. Are there many vampires in sweet romance? Not to my knowledge (and I'm totally ignoring Twilight).

There was a fantastic article in the November 09 Romance Writers Report about writing on the dark side by Larissa Ione. While I don’t write gritty pieces, the point that really came across to me was that I shouldn’t hold back. I shouldn’t try to be the next Julia Quinn or whoever is most popular in my sub-genre. I should just be me – with maybe a little more attention to the mechanics of good writing.

It is very easy to allow others to sway you but you must retain your own voice and authenticity. The limit of your story is only your imagination. Get the real story out of your head, share it with others, but don’t compromise on your originality.

Embrace it and get back to writing.


  1. Excellent advise and I couldn't agree more. Great post!

  2. Excellent advice and it so ties in to our conversation about the rules of writing or lack thereof. Sometimes, one needs to ignore the rules of writing and just write the story. Sometimes breaking the rules can be a good thing. I totally agree Heather and you've said it so eloquently. Kudo's

  3. Great blog, Heather. Way back when I first joined our crit group (and I was among the original members) there was another author who hated everything about me. She hated my voice, my rakish hero, and my story. At first I was really bothered by her criticism, but everyone else in the group loved me. That's when I realized that not everyone will love your writing. If you can please most people, well, that's not too bad.

    It got to the point that I knew if this particular author didn't have paragraphs of why my hero was such a scoundrel, I hadn't done my job right. If she ever started liking me, I was in trouble. ;)

    All kidding aside, having trust and respect for your critique partners is important. Knowing that they want you to succeed, not just to tear your work apart is imtportant.

  4. Thanks Amy, Melissa & Lydia for your comments - and it is important to know the people you share your work with want you to succeed. I know I'm so proud of our group members as they achieve publication.

    I really worry if a critique has little to say because I still have a great deal to learn, and my early drafts of a WIP are far from perfect. The same works in reverse too - if a passage jars, then I mark it for the author I'm critting. Its up to them to use my suggestions or lose it!

  5. Very poignant advice, my lovely crit partner. Oddly enough, I was thinking about the writer's arc as I drove 125 miles today. I had no idea what you were blogging about. You must have sent your Aussie vibes through the airwaves. I was thinking of blogging about it next week, but will you think I'm copying you now? That's okay. it will be in my own voice. :)

  6. Very good advice, Heather. I had to learn the hard way how to keep my own voice while taking and discarding advice from others. It took me over editing then going back and re-writing scenes just to get them back to what felt true to me. I'm not saying I have not gotten a lot of good advice that has really helped me grow as a writer, but I am saying you have to know your voice and what works for you. I love nothing more than a critiue that someone gives me that teaches me something new or gives me an ah-ha moment, but I have also come to learn that some advic is simply personal opinion that may or may not work for me.

  7. Samantha - its getting a little scary between us. LOL. We have way too much in common as it is.

    Julie - I always love getting a readers emotional response too. Knowing the reader laughed or cried at the point they were supposed to is so helpful.

  8. Heather I really enjoyed your blog. You were right on so many levels. Critiquing is hard whether giving or recieving. I'd love to get your opinion on a first line of mine on one of your Critique Fridays.

    Cassie P