Surviving the Critique

I’ve been attending meetings of a local writing organization since February and I really appreciate their professional approach to critiquing material. You submit a short story or a portion of a novel-in-progress, and two members volunteer to critique the work for the next meeting. At the next meeting you read for up to ten minutes, and then the two volunteers give their impression of the material you’ve submitted to them. They are each given a few minutes to express their concerns, and then it’s opened up to the floor for other members to comment on what they’ve heard.

The critique considers both the material you’ve written, and how well you deliver the material. Since as a writer you may be asked to do public readings, this is an excellent opportunity to discover whether you speak too fast, you don’t speak loud enough, or you  slur your words. You might also discover (especially in science fiction and fantasy) that the names of your characters are very difficult to pronounce.

For the last meeting I submitted a portion of a science fiction novel, and naively assumed that the individuals critiquing the material would be impressed with my excellent writing. I was wrong. It was brutal. The individuals critiquing my material said there were distracting spelling and grammar errors, my action scenes were poorly structured, and I changed point-of-view too frequently.

Fortunately, that was exactly what I wanted to hear. I didn’t want anyone pulling punches to avoid hurting my feelings, I wanted the truth. If you’re serious about becoming a published author, you need to discover where your weaknesses are. Sending poorly written material to an agent or editor will result in a rejection, often with no explanation other than, “it’s not what we’re looking for at this time.”

You don’t need to worry about what other writers think about your material, because  you make the final decision. You should consider their opinions, but you are responsible for the end product. It can be very embarrassing to have other writers point out your mistakes, but that isn’t a bad thing. Whether it’s a story you’ve published online or a public reading, you have to accept criticism. Joining a group of writers and having them review your work is an excellent way to prepare for negative comments. If someone doesn’t like what you’ve written, just keep writing, you’ll eventually find readers who  appreciate your voice, your passion.

Copyright © 2018 by J. Paul Cooper



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