Writing Tip #15-Critique Levels

I love writing. I love teaching. I love teaching writing. I love listening to writers talk about their manuscripts. I love problem solving with writers. I love the delicacy and boldness of writing. These tips are things I’ve learned over the years that have held me in good stead and kept me going through the hard dry times. I hope they help you.

And hey, they are only a minute long. Click here.

Critiques are critical to every writers’ development. But there are many levels of critiques. And it’s important for you the writer to know which level of critique you need. Level One is when you share your first words and ideas with your trusted and most supportive peers. This is the no criticism level. This is the ‘never see the light of day’ level. This is when the writer needs to hear, “Tell me more.” Level Two is the Inquiry level. This level is when the writer is looking at point of view, setting, character development. This is when the writer needs to hear from their critiquers: I love this story but I’m confused here or I’m having trouble believing this choice. I think this is the time the writer and critiquers can talk about what the story is about and whose story is it. Level three is the polishing level. This is when the writer is looking at shapes of chapters, logic flaws, theme, tone. It is the nitpick level. This is when the writer wants to hear critiques that will make their manuscript shine from commas to word choice to character arcs.

 

Thinking Out Loud-Searching To Be Offended

This is what happened: I was at a wedding. I was minding my own business when a guest came up to me and said, “I can’t believe it. The bride didn’t include her father in the ceremony. We drove all this way and she didn’t include her own father in the ceremony.”

I didn’t say anything. I think the thought bubble over my head read: “Not my monkey. Not my circus.” Later, though, I thought about the bride, her father, this guest and their relationship. (I have known all of them for a long time.) I thought about how this guest could have had a myriad of responses to the bride’s choice. The one they chose was to be offended. I’m sure the guest didn’t see it that way. Their role was the protector of the wounded party. They were the thoughtful caring one and the bride was the thoughtless, uncaring one. They had a right to be offended. Right?

Actually, no. Not right.

To be sure, there have been some splinter deep wounds among this threesome for a while and they have let them fester. It was one of those situations in which a conversation with sentences like “When you did X, it made me feel Y” would have been labyrinth of dead ends and wrong turns. I’m sure you know those conversations. Probably been in a few of them.

But here was a wedding. The beginning of a new chapter. The bride made choices about who and what would make her feel special. It was her day. She could have included certain people in the ceremony to make them feel better but she didn’t. Her choice, however shortsighted, gives us choices: Do we raise a glass and wish them the best? Do we look at our behavior and try to understand how we participated in the bride’s decision? Do we find a time to talk and apologize for any hurt we may have caused so that we can salvage the relationship? Do we raise a glass, wish them well and accept the limitations of this now changed relationship? Or do we search to be offended?

So often, we reach for the offended outrage.

And doesn’t it feel fantastic? When we’re offended, we don’t have to look at our behavior.  We don’t have to acknowledge that every relationship is a system and our choices corrupt the system as much as the other person’s choices. When we are offended and outraged, we feel right. And isn’t that what we’re going for: to be right?

Actually, no. Not at all.

When people search to be offended, they’re slathering resentment and righteousness on top of their anger. It makes an apology practically impossible. It makes finding common ground insurmountable. Some days, like today, I wonder if humanity is destined for righteous turf wars. Other days, maybe tomorrow, I am amazed by our human ability to listen, understand and turn anger into action. I don’t want a world sanitized of anger. Not at all. Anger can spark so much good trouble. But searching to be offended is wasted time.

Writing Tip #14-Critiques-What do you do about conflicting critiques?

I love writing. I love teaching. I love teaching writing. I love listening to writers talk about their manuscripts. I love problem solving with writers. I love the delicacy and boldness of writing. These tips are things I’ve learned over the years that have held me in good stead and kept me going through the hard dry times. I hope they help you.

And hey, they are only a minute long. Click here.

Or here:

Often my students will ask me: ‘what do I do when I receive conflicting critiques about a character or a scene in my manuscript?’ I tell them it’s usually because they haven’t made a strong enough choice. Your readers are a barometer of how well you are telling your story so if you are getting wildly mixed feedback about a character or a scene or a chapter, I would bet it is because something isn’t logical or you haven’t committed fully and deeply to that scene. The reader is not convinced of your story in that section. Critiques are not meant for you to win the approval of the critiquer. They are meant for you to deepen your authority in the manuscript.

 

Housekeeping & A Small Bit of Thinking Out Loud

Sometimes, it’s time to clean house. Sometimes, you need a vacation. Sometimes, you need to hit pause.

I set myself a challenge this year. I wanted to do regular blog posts, rotating between Writing Tips and Thinking Out Loud. I did pretty well. But I need to pause for minute and video some more tips, draft some more thinking, get ready for my YA Fiction class at ACC this fall and you know, do general housekeeping. So I’ll be back on September 14 and each Tuesday thereafter.

Wear your mask. It’s easy. It’s effective. And it is not your right to get someone you love (or hate) sick. Yeah, ’nuff said.

Are You Teaching This Fall?

Yup!

On Tuesday, August 24 at 6pm, I will begin teaching a synchronous online class at Austin Community College. Beginning Creative Writing: Introduction to Young Adult Fiction. (Synchronous online means we meet online every Tuesday 6-840pm, live and in person.) I taught this class last year for the first time and it was fantastic. Even though it is a beginning class, all levels are welcome. I tailor the content to meet each student where they are. Some students had projects in hand. Some were facing the blank page. It didn’t matter. We all dug in and explored craft, together, cheering one another on and going to deeper into story. Last year, Jenny Ziegler, Kathi Appelt, Donna Janell Bowman, Meredith Davis and Sean Petrie visited the class. This year, there will be other guest surprises. Join us. There is still room.

Here are the registration links:
For continuing Education students: Click here
For Credit Students: Click here   (Scroll down to the Synchronous Digital courses)
Additional registration info for credit students: Click here