We work hard at our writing. And if we keep working, there’s a good chance we will get better at it. But there’s also the chance of not being objective about something that doesn’t work – perhaps because it is great writing, technically, but maybe doesn’t contribute to the story line or doesn’t add enough page-turning suspense.
That’s where an objective perspective is useful.
Through the years, when I haven’t had time to belong to a “live” critique group, I’ve turned to the on-line options. Some time back I talked about YouWriteOn.com as an option for getting reviews from a wide range of readers, including from other countries. It’s not always easy to take, and each review is just one reader’s opinion. But reviews become more meaningful when several people comment on your submission with similar recommendations. When that kind of pattern develops, you do yourself a favor to pay attention and edit accordingly. Then put it back out there to see if you’ve responded to what they said.
Sometimes, when I want more than just peer reviews, I turn to on-line writing courses. I particularly like the Advanced Novel course at Writers Digest University. I’ve had a few instructors there, and only one not-so-great experience. An advantage to this approach is that you get the professional instructive feedback AND critiques by classmates. Part of the course expectation is that you review the submissions the others in the class post, and they will review yours. In the best of circumstances, with 6-8 classmates, you get the instructor’s professional take plus the perspectives of your reader/colleagues.
Of course, that assumes that all classmates step up to the plate and do their share.
It doesn’t always happen that way. In my current class there are 6 students, and for the first class submission I only received 3 critiques, although I critiqued every posting. That’s a little frustrating. Reading and critiquing around 40 pages for each classmate is time consuming, and sometimes particularly challenging if they write in a genre you actively dislike. But you have to step back away from your personal preferences and read for flow and characterization, and tension, and setting, and so on. You might not like the story line, but you very well may appreciate the writing style and have something to contribute.
In the case of the critiques I did receive – the instructor plus the 3 classmates – there were similarities in comments that I couldn’t ignore. They forced me to face the fact that the entire first chapter contributed nothing, at that stage of the novel. The material may be worth including later, but as the opening chapter it did little to grab the reader’s interest and commitment to reading on. Had I not been open to the pattern of their responses, I very well may have retained an opening chapter that, when submitted to an agent or publisher, would result in a form response: “sorry, not for us.”
As I continue developing The Transition, a much more challenging story than my past work, I can see the value of taking advantage of the peer and professional critique options out there. If you haven’t tried that route, I’d encourage you to consider it.
Meanwhile, consider checking out what I already have on the market. Note that although published “Indy” style, both books were professionally edited and critiqued multiple times before they manifested as print and electronic book options:
Autumn Colors may be purchased for Kindle or in paperback at Amazon, Nook at Barnes & Noble, OR ordered through any bookstore, OR signed copies through my website: www.dawnlajeunesse.com.
In Her Mother’s Shoes is available in paperback as above, plus formatted for Kindle, Nook ($2.99!) and through the Apple iPad bookstore.
I followed you here after reading a comment you left on my blog awhile back. Transition sound like it may be for you what my second picture book is to me. A waste of time. After reading your last post about the presidential conventions I started wondering about you and found you have not published another blog post since then. Did the elections shake you up? Are you still writing it?
I’m going to follow your blog so I can find out what happened. Good luck in all you do, OK? 🙂
Hi – I was a bit lax in posts (and all writing) in 2013 and 2014 due to some personal crises, but tried to jump back in with both feet in late 2014. If you have read any of my recent postings, you’ll see that your prediction about Transitions turned out to be exactly what you predicted – a waste of time. After reeling (both emotionally and financially) from the professional critique I purchased, I finally came to the same conclusion. I’m still hoping to recover some of the material included in the book, but I so wish I paid more attention to our comment back in 2012! Maybe I’d have another women’s fiction (which seems to be what I do best) completed. Ah, well, sometimes we take more time to learn hard lessons. Couldn’t resist letting your know your impressions were correct:-).
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So sorry you’ve had such a hard time.. Good luck getting back in the swing of things.
How nice of you to comment and wonder what happened! The simple truth is life has gotten in the way of my love of writing, including my blog entries, and my poor website hasn’t been touched in months. I tried to keep too many balls in the air at once and one by one they started dropping. Can’t blame it on the elections – although I wish everyone would get over who won and focus on doing what needs to be done to keep our country secure and financially sound. Right now I am in the middle of a protracted move, trying to juggle that around my full time job, an eldery mother-in-law, and life. Wasn’t it MacArthur who said “I shall return.”? I shall – but it may not be until after the holidays. Although your comment may be just the nudge I needed to let some aspects of writing rise to the surface again!
Thanks for asking!