Friday, 16 November 2012

Critically Yours?

 It's one week until my very first S.C.B.W.I conference and mixed in with the excitement there are a certain amount of nerves kicking in. Doing anything for the first time always makes me a little nervous and meeting so many new people is also making me anxious - what if no one likes me?? !- but conference also means crits and that's where the nerves really kick in.

 I have had some experience of critiquing since I began writing just as all the books suggest. I had a report done by a literary consultant on my first book, ( my m.s looked like the victim of murder there was so much red scrawled across it !) I joined an online crit group through SCBWI and then moved on earlier this year to my very first face to face group which I helped to set up.

 I know how useful good crits can be, I know that they can help you move your writing on and I'm very grateful for the help I've had but at the same time they can still be hard. Nobody really likes to hear negative comments about their babies, however justified, however useful.

 I'm booked in for two sessions at the conference, the Friday night crit done in small groups with other authors and a fifteen minute crit with an agent or editor.
 Now, although I have anxiety about hearing feedback on my work - what if they hate it?? - I find myself more worried about giving my comments to the others in my group. Giving constructive criticism is a real art form and I'm not sure if I've mastered it.

 I had a tutor once who had the most remarkable gift for giving feedback. Even if you had done terribly, by the time she was finished talking you felt amazing, confident and ready to fix whatever problems you needed to. Part of her skill came from the fact that she was very experienced and spoke from a knowledgeable place and I sometimes feel I'm far too much of a beginner to be offering anyone advice. Of course I know what I like, I think I can determine good writing and that I understand a little about the craft but do I know enough to be criticising anyone? I don't know.

 And I want to do a good job, I want to feel that my comments might make a difference, might show a way forward or inspire someone to improve but I also want to be honest. I think tough, honest feedback is what can make the real difference to a writer but I don't know if I'm perceptive enough to analyze someone's work the way it should be. I've read other peoples comments and I'm often amazed at how perfectly they've summed up the problems. All I seem to do is offer my very subjective opinion and I'm not sure that's enough.

 Perhaps it's something I'll learn to do as time goes on, or perhaps I'll just never be good at editing other peoples work, perhaps that is a gift that can't be learned? Or perhaps it's something that should be left for professionals? Do editors and agents offer the best possible critiques? Of course their comments are still subjective but they also come with experience, training and  market knowledge. Is that what we really need or can other writers offer us the same help? Does it depend on the writer?

 I must admit some of the best and most useful feedback has come from agents and editors who seemed to see through to the very heart of my story and show me the way forward. But at the same time I love my critique group, the support and friendship and feedback have been invaluable.
 So perhaps we need both?
 Perhaps my sessions will give me the perfect balance I need?
And perhaps, even if my comments aren't perfect they may be helpful and they will of course be offered with my respect, understanding and support.

 What do you think? Crit groups or Publishing professionals? Have you had great or terrible feedback from one or the other? I'd love to hear - please comment below and for anyone going to the conference ...
please like me!!! ;)


  1. Any feedback is good but I find that professional feedback can sometimes be frustrating for two reasons: firstly they have a publishing agenda and are always reading your work with that in mind (this matters less with professional critique services who have a wider aganda but it is still there), secondly they have not (usually) worked in your shoes and I may not realise how important their comments are to you - this doesn't apply to editors who are also writers! A critique group will give you balanced, unbiased views and if you're lucky enough to have a high standard of critiquers their advice is usually AWESOME.They should never be unkind and should never, ever tell you they hate your work, if that happens come see me and I'll rap some knuckles ;o)

    1. Thanks Katherine, you're right of course, the comments from professionals hold a huge amount of importance to us and they could impact negatively or on occasion be unhelpful or even wrong.
      I'm hopeful my crit group at conference will be lovely but thanks for the back up!! :)