Saturday, February 4, 2012

Someone Bled on My Paper - Cindy Sproles

I sat across the table from a young woman at Greater Philadelphia Writers Conference. Eyes red and tissue waded tight in her palm, I listened as she told me how a critique group shredded her work. I dread these moments, especially with new writers because there is justice on both sides of the table. Still it saddens me when I see new writers broken from the criticism of their peers.

My first conference I experienced the same thing. I'd worked hard on children's story only to have it sliced, diced and bled upon. I sat in my room pouring over the pages, beating myself up when I realized, "Hey, I'm new at this. I'm learning." How was I to grow as a writer if every remark someone made sent me into tail spins?

That day I set some personal parameters into place and I've shared them over and over. Here's my rules on handling critiques and critique groups.

1)     Don' t marry your words - The greatest lesson I learned was not to marry my words. There are always better words, tighter words, cleaner words and my willingness to look beyond my own window of   thought allowed me to not only grow as a writer but to refine my work.
2)     It's not personal - Critiques are not personal. They're not meant to be accusing, make you feel stupid or tear you down. When you sit in the hot seat remember those who look at your work are not judging you, they're trying to help you hone the craft. Learn to look outside your 50 cent piece size of work to find a dollar-size chunk of great information.
3)     Writing is subjective - What appeals to one, will not to the next. A sentence may read   awkward to one but fine to another. It's important to take into account what others suggest then let your heart tell you what advice is best for you and your style of writing. Imagine taking everyone's advice at once...nothing would make sense.
4)     Find a critique group that fits - Critique groups can be wonderful and then not. When you look for a critique search for a group with varied skill sets. By that I mean, look for groups with writers a step above you and below you. This allows you to continue to learn and grooms you to teach. If you are in a group where members are all the same level, the value of the critique will lessen.
5)      Practice the Golden Rule - Do to others as you would have them do for you. Be kind. Even poor writers deserve the opportunity to be lifted up a notch. When you critique, look for good qualities as well as those things which need to be addressed. Offer a gentle and loving hand to others. Ultimately, you will find great reward in what you do for others.
6)     If you dish it out...take it - For some it's easier to dish out the criticism rather than take it.  If you are unable to handle this type of help then don't offer to help others. The reason is simple: Attitude. If your attitude is not in check you're not effective or gentle to others.
7)     Your work is probably not bad - Our first inclination upon seeing a page covered in is red is, "I'm not a good writer." Here's the hard part...Let go of the pity party and knuckle down to working out the bugs.
8)     Take things in stride - In a good critique a writer will get tons of feedback. Look through, pick and choose what fits your style of writing and then start to tweak.
9)     Study your critique - The rule of thumb is a writer will begin to repeat the same mistakes after page two. Study the comments you receive and look for a pattern. If you're seeing the same things over and over, you have your first clue there's an area you need to work on.
10) Be thankful - Within the realms of Christian writing you will find more authors willing to share their knowledge than any other place. Be a willing soul. Listen, learn then turn to someone else and offer the same kind of help. There's room for us all. 

Follow these few rules on critiques and you'll walk away a happier writer. Remember, critiques are meant to help you move your work forward. Keep an open mind.