How to Ignore Critique

How to Ignore Critique

The timer buzzed but Susan completed her final note before setting down her pen.

The critique group leader looked up and surveyed the five people surrounding her dining room table. “Who’d like to go first?”

Susan held up her pen. “I’ll go.”

“Okay, thanks.”

Susan glanced down at her notes on Harold-the-newcomer’s first submission to the group.

“First of all, ” She looked up at Harold. “I like the tension you’ve established in this scene. I can really feel the conflict between these two characters. So, good job.”

Harold nodded and grinned. “Thank you.”

“Near the bottom of the first page, in the sixth paragraph.” Susan tapped her finger on the paper. “See where it says, ‘He felt the sun beating down on his back’? Do you think you could rewrite that to eliminate the word ‘felt’? If you can, I think it might help your readers experience a deeper point of view.”

Harold’s brows pinched together. He said nothing as he dropped his gaze to his own copy of the story.

After an awkward pause, Susan turned the page and found her next note. “Here in the middle of the second page, you do a good job describing how the trash is all cleaned up today, but then you point out that it was spilled across the yard yesterday. The reader already knows this, though, because you wrote about the spilled trash just two scenes prior to this one, right? I think you can get away with just the description of how clean it is today and leave out the rest. The reader will pick up on the significance of the change.”

She looked around. Others were nodding.

Harold’s lips pinched and he didn’t look up.

Susan stifled a sigh as she skimmed through the rest of her notes. “Regarding the last line on the second page. With the way you structured this sentence, I’m not sure what you are referring to when you say, ‘Those things didn’t matter anymore.’ Perhaps, if you-”

Harold jumped to his feet. “I don’t know what there is not to get. My other group got it just fine.” He snatched back the copies of his story from those around the table. “They thought it was great. You must not have read it carefully.” He jerked Susan’s copy from her hands and jammed the papers into his backpack. “Maybe if you didn’t use this stupid timer,” He knocked over the wind-up timer.  “You could appreciate great writing when you saw it.”

Everyone gasped.

Harold stormed out of the house, slamming the front door behind him.


 

Don’t be a Harold. Just don’t.

You should never dismiss constructive critique out-of-hand. It’s even worse to take it as a personal offense. If someone has taken time out of their day to read your work and provide feedback, the least you can do is listen calmly and with an open mind.

But what should you do when the person critiquing you is wrong? 

Well, first of all, stop and consider that they might be right. Seriously. We don’t know what we don’t know. Sometimes what that person is saying doesn’t make sense to you, not because they are wrong, but because they haven’t explained it in a way that you can understand. Ask follow-up, clarifying questions. Make sure you thoroughly understand what they are trying to say. Then, if you have thought it over rationally, and still don’t think they are correct in their assessment or suggestion … shut up. Just smile and thank them for their time and effort in critiquing your work. Then walk away and put their notes in a file somewhere.

Don’t delete or throw the critique out right away. 

Why? In my experience, even those critiques you initially assess as incorrect can sometimes prove to have a grain of truth six months down the line when you learn something new; or you can suddenly encounter a second person saying the same thing as the first person, but they are explaining it in a way that changes your perspective on it. Having two or more people provide you with the same or similar critical note means it is time to sit up and pay attention. Maybe they are both wrong. Maybe not. Either way, it will be much easier to reassess things if you can look at both critiques side by side.

So when should you throw out critiques?

If the critique is something objectively wrong such as telling you that you can’t capitalize the word “son” even when using it as a proper noun, unless you are referring to Jesus . . . double check your preferred style manual, then throw it out. Grammar is grammar (for the most part).

If the critique is subjective, – such as how much you describe something – you should first consider everything you have learned about the writing craft and the conventions of your genre. Then consider whether you are hearing it from two or more sources or if it is a solitary opinion. Then, if you, as the author, still want it to stay the way it is … that’s why you are the author.

The thing a lot of new writers forget is that when everything is said and done, writing is an art form. Art is subjective. Trust me. I have received directly opposing critiques from equally reputable sources. They can’t both be right.

When it comes down to it, it’s your name on that title page, not theirs. Until and unless you sign a contract granting someone else control of your art, it is up to you to decide what best represents your intentions as the artist. Own that.

Don’t be a Harold.

Do have the confidence to (respectfully) ignore a critique that changes your art into theirs. 

Have Confidence

P.S. I’ve come a long way in my thinking on this issue. Take a peek back at my first reaction to the revelation that I am an artist.

Let’s Chat!

Have you met a ‘Harold’? How do you handle critiques (writing-related or not) that you don’t agree with?

TWEETABLES

Don’t be a Harold. Do have the confidence to (respectfully) ignore a critique that changes your art into theirs. (CLICK TO TWEET)

Having two or more people provide you with the same or similar critical note means it is time to sit up and pay attention.  (CLICK TO TWEET)

You should never dismiss constructive critique out-of-hand. It’s even worse to take it as a personal offense. (CLICK TO TWEET)

Don’t be a Harold. (CLICK TO TWEET)

I May Kill You

Blog Post - I may kill you

Like today’s title? Well, it’s true. I may kill you. Or at least part of you. In the very least, if I know you well enough to know your flaws, there is a very good chance I may steal them, magnify them, mix them in with someone else’s struggles, and make you part of my next antagonist (or any character, really, since they all have flaws). Whom I may or may not kill off in my next book. Consider yourself warned.

If you think that truth is frightening, you should probably stop reading now, because the even scarier truth is that all of my villains contain at least a small part of me. In order to write any character well, I have to be able to relate to them on some level. I have to understand their psyche, what motivates them, and why they feel and do what they do. This means that some part of who I am now or who I once was at some point in my life is very likely to be reflected in some part of each of my characters . . . including the philanderers, thieves, con-artists, and murderers.

So… who still wants to be my friend?

Please do not annoy the writer Mug photo
Today’s blog post was inspired by this photo of Elena Dillon’s mug which she shared on Twitter. (used here with permission) Elena writes teenage romance full of sass, suspense and swoon. For those interested: there is infrequent mild cursing in a couple of her books, but they are otherwise clean. Elena is a Christian and says her books have a faith basis but don’t meet CBA standards. You can learn more about Elena and her books HERE.

 

First Line Friday – 12.15.17

first-line-friday-3

Welcome to a very special First Line Friday! Each Friday I pick a book and share the first line with you. In return, I hope you’ll share with me a first line from whatever book you have at hand!

What makes this week so special? Well, I had mentioned in a post last month that one of my manuscripts was a finalist in the the Historical Romance category in the American Christian Fiction Writer’s First Impressions Contest, along with manuscripts by Dawne Beckel  & Savanna Kaiser. (If anyone knows of a better link to Dawne, please let me know! You can bet I’ll be following along with their careers and looking forward to their first published novels.)

So . . . I just found out that my manuscript has WON ! Aaaaaaahhhhhhhh! (Be grateful you weren’t here after I concluded my conversation with the person who called to inform me. My children have lost a bit of hearing, poor dears.)

I wish I knew how to convey in writing how stunned and honored I am. A bit ironic that I have no words, I suppose, but it’s true. I’m a bit speechless. Mostly, though, I am grateful. So incredibly grateful for the encouragement and the honor. I’m also deeply grateful for those who have sacrificed their time and efforts helping me to improve my craft. (I would list them here, but that could take all day to read and well, you know who you are. I couldn’t do what I do without you!)

 

As my way of paying forward the kindnesses shown to me, I’ll be celebrating this win with a very special giveaway open only to my Kathleen’s Readers’ Club members, so if you haven’t already joined, now is the time to do so! For those who are already members, keep an eye on your inbox this week for an extra special email.

The list of previous winners of the First Impressions Contest in this genre includes:

Abigail Wilson

Deb Garland (who apparently won 2 years in a row!)

Betty Woods

I’ll be keeping my eye out for books published by these ladies.

Now, on to the business of the day.

In keeping with the theme of new authors, I thought I’d share the first line from the prologue of Beneath the Heavens, Lindsey Barlow‘s debut novel which just released in October of this year.

Beneath the Heavens cover image

New Hampshire 1891

Esther looked down at the letter for what must have been the hundredth time.

This book was randomly stumbled upon while I was googling one day and is now on my TBR. I started reading the prologue and found myself all the way in and starting the first chapter before I knew what had happened.

about-the-book-2

A heart guarded, a secret revealed, a love discovered – When the beautiful and coddled Abigail Silvers is sent from her parents’ lush Texas ranch to the untamed wilds of Tall Pine, Colorado, her mother is hoping that Abigail will learn independence and self-reliance. What Abigail finds among the Colorado mountain people is a community built on hard work, faith, and family––she also finds the handsome Pastor Will who, much to her dismay, seems only to have eyes for Esther, the community’s midwife hiding from a dark past. Fiercely protective of her young son Michael, Esther’s determined not to let anyone ­close enough to hurt them––even if that means sacrificing true love. But when the Texas Ranger Joseph Silver, Abigail’s brother, shows up, Esther’s past is unearthed and her heart is exposed. Abigail and Joseph’s brash Texas manners rattle the people of Tall Pine, but ultimately the brother and sister may be an answer to prayer the townspeople didn’t know they needed.

Now it’s your turn to grab the book nearest to you and leave a comment with the first (or your favorite) line!

Then head over to Hoarding Books to see who else is participating:

ACFW First Impressions 2017 FINALIST!

Exciting News

Every year American Christian Fiction Writers holds the First Impressions contest for unpublished writers. For the first time, this year I decided to enter one of my manuscripts and I am over the moon to announce that I am one of three finalists in the historical romance category!

I wish I could do a vlog so you could see just how excited I am, but I have a cold with a sore throat and you all don’t deserve the torture that is my voice right now.

Suffice to say, this:  I got the call yesterday afternoon as I was leaving my children’s dentist’s office (walking to our van) and the second I hung up the phone I was doing such a big happy dance my kids busted up laughing and said I was bouncing our van. This, despite having been on the verge of falling asleep in the lobby minutes before. Nothing like awesome news to brighten an otherwise miserable day and bring energy to the virus weary.

I also want to add a big congratulations to all my fellow finalists, especially those in the Historical Romance category:

Dawne Beckel  & Savanna Kaiser

You can read the names of the finalists in each category HERE.

The winners of the 2017 First Impressions contest will be announced on December 15th.

Did You Know? – When Girls Become Women

Did You Know Chalk Board w Rustic Wood Frame & Daisy

“[Researchers] found that in 1860, the average age of the onset of puberty in girls was 16.6 years. In 1920, it was 14.6; in 1950, 13.1; 1980, 12.5; and in 2010, it had dropped to 10.5. Similar sets of figures have been reported for boys, albeit with a delay of around a year.” – McKie, Robin. “Onset of puberty in girls has fallen by five years since 1920.” TheGuardian.com. 20 Oct. 2012. Web. 9 Sept. 2017

Additionally, studies have shown that malnutrition can cause a delay in the age of puberty onset.

Why am I sharing this? Well, because it directly affects my novel set in the gold rush era of Northern California.

I never directly state my heroine’s age in the novel. However, events near the beginning of the book are (more or less) triggered by visible signs of puberty in my heroine. This necessarily dictates her approximate age for the rest of the book. (Take the approximate age of puberty, use the current chapter date to calculate the time elapsed since she reached puberty in the first chapter and you have her approximate age).

In initial critiques, I got a lot of pushback that my heroine was too young because readers were associating her physical changes with the ages at which girls experience those changes today. Most people, it seems, are unaware (or don’t make the connection) that girls of the past were so much older when these changes occurred for them.  Nor were they aware that the poverty-induced malnutrition my heroine suffered might have delayed the onset of her puberty.

It’s amazing how such small pieces of information can dramatically change our perspective on a story.

#nowyouknow 😉

5 Tips for Writing the Perfect Book Synopsis

5 Tips for Writing the Perfect Book Synopsis by Kathleen Denly
(How it can feel trying to cram your masterpiece into 2 pages or less.)

In preparation for my attendance of the Asheville Christian Writers Conference 2017, I have been polishing my book synopsis for my WWM manuscript. In order to create the best possible synopsis I have read many, many articles and it occurred to me this information might be helpful to others as well. So this week I am sharing with you 5 of the most helpful articles I found on writing the perfect book synopsis along with some of my favorites bits of advice from each:

Back to Basics: Writing a Novel Synopsis by Jane Friedman

“A good rule of thumb for determining what stays and what goes: If the ending wouldn’t make sense without the character or plot point being mentioned, then it belongs in the synopsis. If the character or plot point comes up repeatedly throughout the story, and increases the tension or complication each time, then it definitely belongs.”

Your Guide To An Effective Novel Synopsis by 

“There are no hard and fast rules about the synopsis. In fact, there’s conflicting advice about the typical length of a synopsis. Most editors and agents agree, though: The shorter, the better.”

6 Steps for Writing a Book Synopsis by Marissa Meyer

“The first paragraph of the synopsis should give the same basic information you convey through the book’s first chapter: where and when does this story take place, who is the protagonist, and what problem are they facing right off the bat?”

How to Write a Synopsis of Your Novel by Glen C. Strathy

“The biggest mistake most people make when they try to write a synopsis for the first time is to create a bare bones plot summary … It is the emotional twists and turns that make a novel or a hockey game appealing.”

Novel Synopsis: How to Write a Synopsis for your Novel by Graeme Shimmin

“Another trick is to get a friend and sit down with a voice recorder. Then tell them the plot of your novel. Listen to the questions they ask. Transcribe the conversation and pick out the best bits. You might find that your story flows more naturally in a conversation.”

Back In The Saddle Again

Back In The Saddle Image

I know. My title is beyond cliche, but it’s too apropos not to use. After months of research, outlining, and backstory writing, I have at last begun the first draft of my next novel. It feels so good I could almost sing that corny song aloud. (Although, I’d be stuck repeating the chorus because that’s all I can remember, but that’s beside the point.)

My new novel starts with a bang so exciting I wish I could share it with you, but alas, it would not be wise. Despite my detailed planning, I know there will be many changes and surprises along this writing journey, just as there have been with my past works, and I would not wish to either promise you what may not end up making it through the final draft, nor spoil the surprise if it does. However, whatever surprises may lie in store for me as the author, I can promise you this story will hold adventure, danger, a little humor, perhaps some heartbreak, and, of course, love. So suffice it to say, this book will not put you to sleep.

Can you feel my excitement?