Critiques – No Pain, No Gain

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by Cindy Sproles Conference season has arrived and I’ve spent the last two weeks working through manuscripts sent by conferees. Many editors  choose not to do critiques simply because of time constraints. I have my own time issues but that doesn’t stop me from doing critiques. Yes, it’s cumbersome. Yes, it takes time (lots of time). Yes, I’ll offend someone. But is it worth it? You bet. I look at critiques as a No Pain, No Gain sorta thing. When I spend time gleaning through others work, I learn myself. I’m forced to refer to the Chicago Manual of Style and research. I’ve been known to pull out my own work that was critiqued and revisit issues I can use to help others. My desk is piled high with self-editing books, plotting books, and file folders filled with information. When I do a critique, I want the writer to learn. There’s pain involved for me as the critiquer, as well as for the person whose work is under the gun.  I have rewrites of the rewrites of the critiques I do, just to assure I am clear, kind and encouraging when I place that critiqued manuscript back into the hands of the writer. It’s important to lift those we strive to teach rather than shred them (and I’ve had some critiques on my own work that brought me to tears.) Eddie Jones and I attended a conference in Myrtle Beach, SC a few years ago. We served as moderators for a “first page critique class”. Eddie and I stood at the back of the room as the first pages of writers manuscripts were flashed on the wall and publicly torn to pieces. The anticipation of having something nice said about their work was quickly dashed to the ground, stomped and tossed out the double doors onto the beach. Three publishers appeared to make it a challenge to see who could slash and hack the most. I felt terrible for those whose names were shining on the screen — their hours of work trounced and their dreams shattered. When the class ended, Eddie stepped to the front of the room in an effort to break the tension. “We’ll have a counselor provided just outside the door for those who need help after the public thrashing.” Critiques are hard. Our work is on the line. Our favorite sentences are on trial. But it’s important to understand nothing comes easy. Manuscripts have to be worked and reworked in order to make them the best they can be. The hardest critique I’ve done was a manuscript from a college level teacher, who…get this…had a BA in English. I read his credentials and assumed I’d being reading the perfect work when in fact, it was the worst written manuscript I’ve ever seen. My challenge was finding the balance between hard and loving for this work. Ultimately, his attitude when we sit to discuss the work will set the pace. Will he fight through the pain to gain a better grasp of the work at hand? When you choose to go for a critique you can expect the following: *The mechanics of your writing to be questioned. *Suggestions to strengthen sentence structure and readability *Sections of your favorite words to be “deleted” *Guidance on how to make your work more presentable so publishers will take note Don’t be offended by the offer of good, solid help. A critique is not personal. The information is not an attack on you as a writer, rather it’s an effort to help you bring the best work you can to the table. Should you invest in a paid critique at a conference? By all means. It’s an investment in your career. Where else will you get this type of one-on-one help and guidance? Remember to remain true to your personal voice in writing but take heed to the suggestions that might just cause you a little pain. Work through the pain, improve, and before you know it…you’ll gain success.