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Fond memories

Saturday, October 21, 2006
I was slowly getting back to my bloghopping today and noticed that my buddy Vanessa Jaye had written a post about Critique Partners. Her opening graphic was the Wicked Witch of the West.

She listed several of her cp's and then I found this:

And there's a reason why Sela is known as the Snarkalicious Diva over on Romance Divas. The lady pulls no punches with her crits. You'll get work back and be cruising along reading her comments/corrections, then suddenly there's this big blotch of red on your page, no, it's not the color of the font she used. It's your blood. She's just gutted you, and your flimsy assed, not-buying-it-for-a-minute-characterization, with her rapier wit/tongue. Don't even bother trying to backspace at this point to find out where you went wrong, your hands will be too slippery from gathering your intestines back into your body. ;-)

I'm so proud! Seriously. This is a badge of honor. I was in a great crit group a year or so ago and whenever it was my turn to crit, the victim of the week stocked up on bandages, pillows and suits of armor.

But I think sometimes people wonder why I don't crit more. This is why. More than once I've been paired up with fairly new writers. Never again. I made one of them cry. It was horrible. She said my crit came at the end of an already bad day, but I still feel guilty.

I don't intend to be mean. Ever. I'm really not a mean person. I just seem to have been born without the tact gene. I calls 'em as I sees 'em and other than those poor newbies who are probably still licking their wounds, it takes a fairly experienced writer -- a very secure writer -- to be able to hack my crits. I'm not saying I'm the end-all, be-all of critters, either. It's just difficult sometimes to make people understand that I am not the cp a lot of people want.

I'm part of a crit group now and I've been really hesitant to do crits, not to mention wicked lazy. I haven't submitted anything in months and I sure as heck haven't done any crits, which is pathetic of me. But from what I've seen, I should be able to be useful whenever I get around to critting. I just really need to participate more. Shame on me.

Anyway, I was just so tickled to see Jaye's post. Made my day.

And now we're off to explore St Louis some more!
10/21/2006 09:42:00 AM : : Sela Carsen : : 19 Comments


Yeah, I'm the same way. I crit very intensely, and even when I'm trying to be polite ("You might change this" instead of something more blunt), new writers don't usually take it well.

Maybe it's just me, but the VAST majority of newbies I've seen posting stuff for crit don't want a crit. They want to be fawned over and told how good it is. Certainly, not all are this way, but I think that a writer who is truly serious about their craft will get the hell over themselves and take the crit for what it's worth instead of angstfesting over how they're going to quit writing because they're soooo worthless.

Yes. I quit critting newbies after someone pulled THAT one on me.

By Blogger Nonny, at 10:31 AM  

That is a badge of honor! Honesty is hard to come by and harder to take. If you want to improve, there's no avoiding it. I appreciate all the crits I've received and even moreso the honesty attached to them. Congrats on the accolade!

By Blogger Diana Castilleja, at 11:00 AM  

"...too slippery from gathering your intestines back into your body..."
Oh! Oh! What a great line!

It is important for a writer to know what they've done right as well as what they've done wrong though.

By Blogger Bernita, at 11:13 AM  

As a new writer, I joined a yahoo group of other newbies, and they occasionally shared crits. I never joined in that part of the group, nor did I ask for one. I don't have a lot of free time, and what I have is needed for writing.
However, once I was e-pubbed, a couple decided they wanted crits.
One was a disaster.
I was really VERY NICE--spelling, punctuation, grammar, with the occasional "you might consider developing this more", or "this needs clarifying", "this part is great!" etc.
But following this crit, one girl informed me she was giving up writing.
I felt AWFUL. For a minute.

Didn't take me long to figure she was using me as an excuse to avoid doing the work she needed to do to develop.
She didn't quit, btw. She still posts an occasional few paragraphs for the group.
Her mommy is now her crit partner. (I kid you not).
And I only crit for one-two people tops now, people who are really interested in bettering their writing.

By Anonymous raine, at 1:36 PM  

Yeah. Tact.
Don't know how I lasted conducting writing workshops.
I didn't entirely avoid asking one student if she "really belonged with us."
She replied, in a teacher-evaluation form, "I don't like this

By Blogger ivan, at 2:51 PM  

Sela, the honour was all mine, in having a honest, thorough cp like yourself.

Plus I'm not without my own brand of evilness. ;-)

If I notice 5 things wrong with a submission, I won't say: poor baby, I'll only point out 3 of them. Don't want to overwhelm the writer. I'll point out 6 problems. The five I saw, and the 1 that might possibly develope when s/he tries to fix the other ones. lol.

If anyone's seen my long-assed, rambling posts, then they have a fair inkling as to how painful a process receiving a crit from me might be. ;-)

By Blogger Jaye, at 4:12 PM  

It takes a while for a lot of writers to get the real point of cps it seems. But once they do, and they learn to accept the crits, they get a lot more out of it!

Having fun in St. Louis? Go Cards!

By Blogger April, at 12:16 AM  

I think I'm honest in crits but I do try to say at least one big positive thing every time. I worry that people who get the contest entries I've judged back will think I've slashed them--but it's better to have honest feedback. If I don't know the person well, I'll suggest two or three different ways of fixing the same thing, so they feel (maybe) a bit more empowered. If I know her, I'll just say, "This isn't working and this is why." I'm meaner with people I know.

I do (paid) crits for the RNA, and anonymous judging, and I'm hoping to do crits for a literary consultancy soon, but I rarely do crits for unpublished writers outside my immediate circle of friends any more. I've had several people disregard my advice completely, without even a thank-you, and I don't have time to waste on people I can't help.

By Anonymous Julie Cohen, at 4:00 AM  

Ah, how the devil works!
One is so tempted to do crits on the crits. How I hate the cant word empowered.

By Blogger ivan, at 7:26 AM  

I've never returned a crit without as much praise as I could possibly give. It would be just as dishonest to return a completely negative crit as it would to give someone a falsely bubbly one.

One of the things I've learned is to tailor the crit to the level of writing I encounter. If -- as is the case with my crit group and other cp's -- the level of writing is very, very high, I don't mind being my blunt, direct self. It's easier to get into the craft of writing with those folks. But with beginners, I find I tend to give more big picture critiques, rather than the bloodbath I once gave to someone who wasn't ready for it. Lesson learned.

By Blogger Sela Carsen, at 8:54 AM  

I use non-writers to read and critique. They aren't writing obsessed, and enjoy reading my whole work.

By Blogger S William, at 12:49 PM  

I don't mind having non-writers read a final draft just to catch small errors, but I need writers for thorough critiques. Non-writers won't catch things like messy POV or bad transitions. They also have a tendency to try to steer a story a completely different direction, muddying the waters.

By Blogger Sela Carsen, at 12:57 PM  

*just waving*

By Blogger Anna Lucia, at 5:30 PM  

Good point. Nope I've never returned a crit without praise. But i normally put/summarize the bulk of the praise at the very beginning of the crit, or in the reply email (crit is attachement).

When i do crits, I'm specifically looking for what's not working. That's my focus. That's what *you* (general 'you') want to know so that you can fix it and make your work that much better. It'll also assure you that I was taking this very seriously, paying attention, and not 'skimming' your work. Compliments are great, but what'er you gonna do with them?

Compliments increase confidence, very important to know what you're doing right, so you can keep on doing it. But *real* growth as a writer comes from tackling our weaknesses.

By Blogger Jaye, at 8:33 PM  

Came across the strangest experience at my old warm alma mater. I took a three-year writing-related course. The idea was to build writers.There were full publishing facilites, and that spoiled us for the cruel world of real publishing.
But even here, awkwardness and ineptitude was generally weeded out in the freshman year. Bit of an ego-involved cruel world here as well. Hard-edge journalism is not
touchy-feely or warm and fuzzy, and neither is serious fiction.
So I feel if they beat the crap out of me for a while and published only ten per cent of what I produced(" if he's no good, he'll embarass the institution"), why should I be the Judas goat and encourage inept writing?

Jaye is right. Compliments are great, but what are you going to dowith them?
Like a correspondent above, I am constantly charmed when a blogger produces something godawful and eighteen sycophants will tell her how great it is,just to stay in the game. And where is the Judas goat leading them if she is lost and unpublished herself?
I guess I've become a crotchety old man. Maybe the Toronto Star--who keeps firing me, hiring me and firing me again...hiring me, maybe the heavily-edited Toronto Star has slammed me once too often.
But the Star has a blog...Wonderful place to shine...
But now they're harassing the blog administrator.
Ah cruel world.
Why lie to people who can't write?
It's a kind of dishonesty.
Unless, I suppose, you're in the therapy business.
And that's monkey business.

....end of crotchety rant.

By Blogger ivan, at 1:16 PM  

Oh, dang, Bernita beat me to it with the great lines: "...too slippery from gathering your intestines back into your body..."

Love it, and Sela, any time you want to critique my work, you're on just let me know. I need someone to be blunt and honest.

By Anonymous Alexandra, at 10:16 AM  

I'd love a crit partner that will rip apart my stuff. :)

By Blogger Sasha White, at 3:00 PM  

Sometimes I wish people had a label on their foreheads as to what kind of crit. they want. Many just want fluffy pats on the back (which drives me nuts). Others want the stark honest truth. I'd rather do the latter, but sometimes I'm guilty of the former if I feel like I'm crushing them beneath my steely boot.

By Anonymous Michelle, at 8:34 AM  

I've thoguht about picking up a new CP but I"m not sure I'm up to it right now.

SEla...I'm like you. I don't intend to be mean either but I don't normally crit for newbies anymore. Though I did recently and luckily she trusted me enough to not hand me my ass and tell me to take a walk LOL

By Blogger Amie Stuart, at 3:33 PM  

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