As I mature (slowly) as a writer, the most important qualification I look for in a critiquer/reader is the courage to be honest. And when I say honest, I mean someone who will make me cry and send me into the fetal position.
I DON’T WANT TO HEAR WHAT’S RIGHT, I WANT TO HEAR WHAT SUCKS. WHAT BLOWS. WHAT BEGS TO BE DELETED. WHAT DESTROYS THE BOOK. BIG STUFF. IMPORTANT STUFF.
I don’t care about commas. Periods. Capitalization. Spelling. Grammar. Spacing. Pagination. I taught writing in grad school. We all make typos. I can fix those with a painful day of spell/grammar/style check in Microsoft Word. Find/replace is my friend.
Instead, tell me what page you were on when you shut the book, when you went for a snack, when you fell asleep. I need information, like what irritates you about my protagonist. Really — how bad do you want to smack her upside her red-haired head? Hold that thought, write that page down. Call me. Seriously. Call me. And tell me straight up, like it is.
You don’t have to be an expert in writing, although that’s a huge bonus. You need to be the one who is way past the use of “company manners.” I’m looking for exclamation points after a capital N.O. I want OMG YOU CANNOT. I want PLEASE DON’T. I want WHAT WERE YOU THINKING.
Then, after you’ve pummeled me with those, you can tell me, “Way to go kiddo. You took it like a champ, you rode that horse until it dropped. And you did it. Good job.” Then, and only then.
Now, you all know… I love Eric 🙂
And he’s a fantastic person to talk to about plot twists, to logic check my scenarios for me. But he loves everything I write. He begs me not to delete things. I have to prove to him I saved the old draft before he will stop hovering when I thin a manuscript out. The morning I cut 32 pages out of Conceding Grace, I got up at 3:00 a.m. to scratch my dreamed ideas down, then at 4:00 a.m. I slashed with a machete through the pages. By the time he was up at 6:30 a.m., I was done, without having to fight him off as I hit the delete key. You know what he said when he read the re-write? ” Wow, this really is better.”
He also has a certain identification issue with my protagonist’s love interest. Imagine that, huh? Every time I make “Nick” do something that isn’t “Francois the perfect husband” behavior, Eric frets. Will people think he treats me this way? Um, 1) no and 2) if the book bites, no one will ever read it anyway, so what does it matter????
I’m not picking on Eric. He’s easy to smile with, so I’m letting him exemplify the issue: too much praise will kill a story before it’s born. I’m shouting out to all my writer friends. Expect me to brutalize your manuscript next time you ask me to critique, and you had better brutalize mine right back. Whether you agree with my crit opinions or not, the days of tippytoeing around the point are over for me. I don’t have time to write badly. Do you? What is more important to you as a writer: your feelings, or your writing?
A huge thanks to Nikki Loftin for critiquing me bloody on Grace. Honorable mention goes to Nancy Clements. And a “most improved” statue goes to Heidi Dorey. Thanks to all of you who rallied when I said, “something sucks, tell me what it is,” and didn’t say, “oh no, it’s perfect.” I love you guys.
p.s. I’ve been on a 3-day break from fiction writing as of the time of this post. I’m so caught up on housework and business-writing that I’m passing myself running in circles. Stop the madness.
p.p.s. After this post, no one will ever want me to critique for them again, I fear. If you’re thinking about it and are worried, ask Nancy — if she’s still upright.