Friday, May 2, 2008

The Art of Critiquing

Tip of the Day: Try to go to at least one writing conference a year. I usually come back inspired and motivated to get to work on something new, and anything that does that is well worth the time and money, I think.

I'm going to be speaking at the Oregon SCBWI conference coming up in a couple of weeks. Along with that responsibility, I also get the fun job of critiquing some manuscripts and spending fifteen minutes with each author to go over my notes with them.

I have to admit, it's an odd thing for me to be on the other side of the desk. I have been to many conferences and have received valuable critiques from both editors and authors. I know what it feels like to be in that spot. Most likely a couple of people will be disappointed they didn't get paired with an editor. I understand that. Often times one of the goals of going to a conference is to make a connection with an editor. Knowing there will be some disappointment makes me want to make my critiques even more helpful.

Still, it's hard to know where these people are on their journey. Have they have had a critique before? Do they REALLY want to know what I think? Will there be hurt feelings if I tell them? Will there be hurt feelings if I don't?

I have been critiquing other people's manuscripts for a long time, through a critique group or on the fly, as a writer friend needs one. I know how important it is to give the positive feedback as well as the constructive criticism. And really, there are always good things that can be found. But it's the other part, the constructive criticism, that can be difficult. The last thing I want to do is have someone fall down the stairs of despair, and have him/her give up on the dream of having a book published because of something I say!

So, I'm treading carefully as I type up my notes for each manuscript, trying to word each suggestion in a tone that says "I want to help you!" I hope they know that really is what I'm trying to do. I also hope they know that when you get a critique, you take what rings true with you, and leave the rest behind. I mean, I'm just one person with one opinion. Ask the person next to me about your story, and you'd probably get a different opinion, and totally different suggestions.

Anyway, I think it's going to be a fun day. And I hope I have seven people who leave the table when we're done chatting and think, "I'm so glad I did that."

Have you ever had a conference critique? If so, how did it go?

~Lisa, Miss Pinch Me I'm Pubbed


Kate Fall said...

Oh, neat, Lisa. This sounds like it will be a great experience. I've never had a conference critique before and I'd probably go into one shaking with a nervous attack and unable to process everything said to me. I wouldn't be surprised if people bring recorders. I did get a mentor critique at Chautauqua and I learned TONS from it, once I calmed down.

amuse me said...

Both of my daughters are teachers and they believe, very firmly, in the "sandwich" theory when giving criticism. Find something good to say about the work, talk about what might be wrong and how it can be fixed, and then compliment again. I know it works great when they use it on me!

Ghost Girl (aka, Mary Ann) said...

Have fun, Lisa! I've had a few--one so-so, and one fabulous! Meryl is right...that's how I always handled commenting on my students' writing. But don't take it personally if someone gets a little teary at your comments. Writing is such a deeply personal thing, yet we hang it out there on the line for everyone to see. As writers, we need to be able to accept that people have their own opinions and that we may actually need to work on some things. It doesn't mean we're a failure if our ms isn't perfect--it means we are writers!

DeenaML said...

I've done just one conference critique -- and when I found out I was with LAURIE HALSE ANDERSON, I about died. But I managed to get through my 15 mins with grace -- and I learned so much from her in that time!

Honestly, while many ppl DO want to hook up with the agents and eds, I want to be with the writers. I understand them, and feel like they understand me, and to me THEY are the CELEBRITIES! :)

Hopefully all 7 of your meetings will go well and all will realize how LUCKY they are to have you read their ms!

Emily Marshall said...

Have fun and good luck, Lisa. I like the suggestions to lead with good, list some things that need improving and end on the good.

I would hope most people going to a conference are open to improving their work, or they wouldn't be there. But I have no idea how it would go in the actual critique session.

I'm sure you will do wonderful. You seem like the sweetness/nicest person online and I don't think anyone could take anything you said as being mean.

Kristina Springer said...

Good luck! And that is just how my editor writes me notes too-- starts with good, then what needs fixing, then ends with good. Have fun!

Lisa Schroeder said...

Since the sandwich method is so well-known, I always wonder if people will think, as they read my notes - yep, there's the obligatory bread at the top and bottom. :) I mean, I actually did that the last time I read my editor's letter. But I also don't think there's any better way to do it, so it'll be sandwiches all around!!