Nathan Bransford, Author


Friday, August 7, 2009

Guest Blog Week: Critiquing Critiques

By: Rick Daley

Rick's blogs:
The Public Query Slushpile
My Daley Rant

Writing a novel is a lonely task. Sure, our characters keep us company, but after numerous readings and revisions they transform into red-headed step-children and we want them to leave us alone. That’s when it’s time to ship them off to boarding school, where they are subject to the critiques of our friends and family. Not all of them graduate.

As writers, we yearn for feedback. Aside from the chosen few who produce flawless prose on the first draft (and can’t ever fathom why the query for their masterpiece was rejected by those ungrateful agents), we understand that hearing the honest opinions of readers is crucial to perfecting our work. However, opening our souls to criticism can be daunting…

Giving a Critique

I recommend the sandwich approach, where you start with a positive point, give an honest opinion of what doesn’t work for you (may be multiple points), and then end with another positive point or words of encouragement. I’ve found that the sandwich approach helps put recipients at ease (especially if they are hungry). It makes people more receptive to constructive criticism and keeps them from getting overly defensive. If you are taking the time to provide the feedback, you should want the person to actually do something with it.

Be careful if you re-write something as an example, especially in a query critique. A short clause or sentence is one thing, but if you start re-writing paragraphs you are providing more than advice – you are providing voice.

What Not to Do When Giving a Critique
- Don’t be overly apologetic or you will undermine your own opinions.
- Don’t hunt for things just because you feel you have to suggest something. Sometimes the work we review is really good. However…
- Don’t limit your feedback to praise just because you are afraid to hurt someone’s feelings. Paula Abdul has cornered that market.
- Don’t be a ruthless jerk. Simon Cowell has cornered that market.

Receiving a Critique
Rule # 1: Don’t pout if you hear something negative. Remember that you asked for the feedback in the first place.

Rule # 2: Wait until all the feedback is in before you seriously contemplate your changes.

Rule # 3: Seriously contemplate your changes. Take time. Work through it. You never microwave a roast. Slow cooking always turns out better. (NOTE: what’s with all the food references?)

Rule # 4: Look for common threads in the feedback and start there. The advice of the many outweighs the advice of the few.

Rule # 5: Re-write. If someone provides a re-write as an example, don’t just copy it. Try to understand why they suggested those changes. Otherwise you may dilute your own voice and you miss the opportunity to learn something.

Rule # 6: Ask for clarification if you don’t understand something. (NOTE: Please remember that this is in regard to critiques, not form rejections. Agents are not critique partners. No matter how much we want them to be.)

Rule # 7: Thank the people who took the time to offer their feedback, and pay it forward by offering a critique to someone else.






121 comments:

ryan field said...

Great post, Rick. I especially liked the "Sandwich Approach." This is why I love your blog so much. (And I'm not the Paul Abdul type, trust me :)

Ink said...

I'm afraid you'll have to edit, Rick. I didn't see profanity laced tirade anywhere in that list. Very disappointing.

RW said...

All great advice. Another tip I give to my freshman comp students when they are workshopping each other's essays . . . You may tend to clam up when something about the essay doesn't feel right because you feel like you have to diagnose the problem exactly and offer specific strategies to fix it, and you may not know how to do that. So you get shy and say nothing, and that's not helpful. So, your job is just to flag anything that makes you as a reader pause. "I was confused here. I didn't understand this. I had to read this twice." In other words, let me be the teacher. Let the author be responsible for fixing their own work. You just respond as a reader.

I tell something similar to people reading my work who may not feel like expert commentators. Just put a check mark next to anything that doesn't feel right. If I know it's a problem for readers, I can be responsible for figuring out what the problem is and how to fix it.

Vipul said...

Excellent post, Rick. Giving and receiving criticism is always difficult on either side, but crucial to the process. We all hope to be discovered as geniuses by talent alone, but there's really no such thing. Thanks for all the work with Public Query Slushpile. Now I'm off to get a roast beef sandwich...

Dearth of Reason said...

Rick, that's a fine nugget. Thanks for coming up with it. As you suggest, the usefulness I enjoyed from critiques improved dramatically when I dropped the broadsword and learned to listen, just as you describe. Their quality is in direct correlation to one's openness to hear criticism.

Thanks, Rick.

Michelle said...

Great advice! I like what you said about not rewriting when giving a critique. I may suggest a few stronger words from time to time, but let the author choose which word suits best. Or I might simply say, "awkward wording." I want to offer my opinion, not ghost write the piece!

I also like the common threads bit. It's easy to ignore one opinion you disagree with. It's much harder to ignore the same advice if you hear it four times.

Alan Orloff said...

Delicious post, Rick.

I like the sandwich approach. Make it a double-decker, if you need to, by "spacing" the more critical comments with another slice of praise.

Chuck H. said...

For some reason I was expecting LOTR references. Oh well. Excellent post, good advice.

Word Ver: reholys Rehabed saints?

Laurel said...

Go, Rick!

The common threads approach is really useful to me...if something bothers most of your beta readers and it's the same something then it's a good bet it needs work.

Have you (meaning anyone reading, not just Rick) had something bother you that no one else disliked? Would you recommend pointing it out and asking specifically about it? It's hard to tell when you are too close...

N. Gemini Sasson said...

This is a very helpful post and I must say I wish I'd sought critiques on my work years ago. Giving critiques has taught me to think harder about what does or doesn't work in writing (at least for me). Getting them regularly and in volume has taught me to be more objective about feedback. Both have helped my improve my work and ultimately, I hope, that of others, as well. Thanks for sharing!

Regina Milton said...

Great post! I will now use said advice to critique said advice:

- very informative post, funny as well
- could have used more food references Rick, definite lack of food refs
- awesome rules that we should all refer to

Dara said...

I am printing this off for my critique group :) They're pretty good but I know a few who may want to follow rules 2 and 3 in the receiving section (myself included!)

Amanda J. said...

Great post. Thanks, Rick! :)

M. Dunham said...

Wonderful post. I belong to a critique group and we follow all of those guidelines ourselves. The number of people who don't know how to remain professional in a critique surprises me, but then again, it's a learned tool that you have to understand how to use.

bethanyintexas said...

Good post! Thanks for the advice. By the way, roasts are yummy. Like the food references. But you forgot to quote Julia Child. Good points and I do like the sandwich approach, too.

Bane of Anubis said...

Ricky D -- nice points and more props for your efforts over at
TPQSP
...

I think, at some point, it's also important to know thyself... this could help you choose your critters whose strengths might be your weaknesses and help you corroborate problem areas that you, the writer, believe exist within the story (or realize that you don't suck as bad as you thought you did in that problem area)...

For example, I'm not particularly good at writing extended descriptions (though, based on some previous discussions, I'd guess someone like Bryan might be), so if he critted a piece of mine and came to some description I'd labored over for hours (where most of y'all might have taken minutes) and didn't have any issues with it, I'd get a wee boost of confidence in that lesser ability; yet, were he to rip it apart, I'd probably take it in better stride b/c I know it's one of my weaknesses.

Rick Daley said...

I am writing this comment while I eat my sandwich for lunch (there's your additional food reference Regina ;-)

Trading LOTR references for American Idol references is not a fair trade. Gollum.

It seems the market for limiting your feedback to praise just because you are afraid to hurt someone's feelings is open again, as Paula Abdul is not coming back to American Idol. But remember: there can be only one.

Ink: I can't &^$%ing believe I forgot that. What total &*^*&%$.

I've learned a lot about my own writing by giving critiques. If you critique someone else's work and then go to critique your own, it helps change your perspective from that of the creator to that of the critic. That can be a very difficult task.

And in case you are wondering, yes, the advice of the many / advice of the few was inspired by Star Trek II: the Wrath of Kahn.

Neil said...

Great post, Rick (and good blogs, too - how'd I miss those? Hmmm...)

Anyway, to help fill in part of the void that I know is left in all of us due to lack of a "this week in publishing" post, have a gander at this: media defend salinger "sequel"

I'd love to know what side y'all are coming down on with this debate... Personally I think the book should be published in the US and people should make up their own minds, as they have been doing elsewhere in the world. I also think now is the time for Salinger to unleash one of the massive stack of new works on us that he's supposedly been keeping under his bed!

Laura Martone said...

Oh, Rick, this is a terrific post! I'm so happy that you wrote something so helpful - with a spark of your comic genius, too! (Although I share Chuck's dismay about the dearth of LOTR references... though food IS a Hobbit's favorite thing!)

It's funny - when Nathan announced this second guest-blogging contest, this was the exact topic that I was considering for a possible entry (as I'm knee-deep in the beta-reading phase of my novel), but I'm so glad that you did it in instead. As creator of the wonderful Public Query Slushpile, you have a distinct, firsthand perspective about critiquing others' work and being critiqued in return. And much of this advice I've already applied to my own process, but I still have a lot to learn!

Thank you for all that you do for us work-in-progress novelists. I really do appreciate it... and I urge anyone who hasn't yet gone to the PQS to do so... now!

--Laura

P.S. Thanks, Nathan, for picking this post - it's such helpful advice for someone in the thick of the beta-reading phase!

Maryann Miller said...

Excellent points, Rick. Thanks so much for posting this.

To answer Laurel's question, I have had something bother me in someone's story that didn't bother anyone else. I still spoke up and left it to the author to decide whether to ignore my comment or act on it.

Kristan said...

I think this should be printed and distributed in every writing class and writing group... Thank you!

Thermocline said...

Sometimes I find it hard to know what to do with the kind of outlying comments you mentioned. Staying focused on the advice of the many was a great way to put your suggestion.

T. Anne said...

Rick, A valuable post. LOL about Simon cornering the market! And quite frankly I'm shocked about that whole pouting thing. I thought that was par for course and I was getting so good at it.

Kristi said...

This is great - as a relatively new writer (well, fiction anyway), I have learned by far the most about writing from my critique group. I think the "goodness of fit" is important with this just as with the agent/author relationship. I'm a very direct person and wanted a group that gave me honest, tough feedback - no Paula Abdul comments. The nice thing is that when they do praise you, you know you've earned it. If you have a Simon or Paula group, I would suggest politely excusing yourself and find a better fit. Thanks and Happy Friday!

Reesha said...

I went through college critiquing other people's work and always felt at a loss for how I was supposed to do it. If I found something that needed changing, I didn't want to say it because they'd immediately jump down my throat, but if I didn't find anything, they'd accuse me of being lazy and not really looking hard enough.

Sometimes it's a no win situation. But I'm very glad to have read this post. I am blessed with a cousin who also loves to write and who gives and receives feedback in an awesome way.

When we send our manuscripts to each other, if we're anxious for feedback (which is a lot) we tag it with "Show me the meaning of haste, Shadowfax!"

Regan Leigh said...

Thanks for the post! This comes at the perfect time for me.

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

Thanks Rick (and Nathan) for posting this. Any serious writer needs to know how to give-and-take critique and Rick has pointed out methods that keep critique civil and productive.
I love Rick's Slushpile and learn from participating. If you want to give useful advice to someone else you must think about the craft, and any time you do that you help yourself as well.
One more snippet of advice: Know When To Shut Up. The critiquer can occasionally get carried away with their opinion. Once you've said your piece, move on. And the one getting the critique shouldn't argue or defend--just sit on it, as Rick said, and consider it.

Vacuum Queen said...

Yep...I agree with the part about waiting to see if there's a pattern before you change things. I was too whimpy with my last book and let every person's advice go into my changes. I should've waited it out to see if only one person felt that way, or many people felt that way.

What about this, though....you're in a critique group, you take advice, you go home and rework parts, but NOT a certain part that someone didn't like. Next week, you return with your same old part and they ask you, "why did you ask for my opinion if you weren't going to change it?!"

Argh. I live in a small town and there aren't that many critique groups out there. In fact...as far as I know, there's only one, broken into 3 tables at the library. I keep burning bridges and switching tables...

Thomas Taylor said...

Yes, the sandwich every time, please.

One thing though -- in my experience some agents are 'critique partners', and get their hand dirty grooming texts. I've been told this is becoming the norm.

Rick Daley said...

Vacuum Queen:
"why did you ask for my opinion if you weren't going to change it?!"

First, make sure the upset critiquer was not breaking this guideline to begin with:
- Don’t hunt for things just because you feel you have to suggest something. Sometimes the work we review is really good.

I think if someone gets really upset because you didn't accept their suggestion, they may have an ego problem and may not be a good critique partner.

I would add to the list of "What not to Do When Giving a Critique":

- Don't expect the writer to incorporate all of your suggestions

Rick Daley said...

Reesha:

Thank you for the additional LOTR reference!

Rick Daley said...

Neil: That's a tough call without reading the work in question.

I know there are guideline for "fan fiction" and people writing stories about other authors' characters. You need authorization to write a Star Wars novel, for example...and then there are specific guidelines you must follow.

I think this is likely to fall into that same category.

I think that would be a great topic for a Nathan post!

C.J. Ellisson said...

The sandwich approach is my style of critting - and thanks! I didn't know it had a name.

Great blog article! The old saying of you attract more flies with sugar water than with vinegar can be applied to the advice in a crit.

If the advice is given in a polite voice, it will be listened to. If it is a pile of S*** it will still attract flies, but the smell will be so bad you won't care.

fred limberg said...

From one with a query in current rotation on Rick's site I'm happy to report that the reviewers who took a look at my work all pretty much followed the guidelines.

It's awesome, and my query letter is much improved.

D. G. Hudson said...

Excellent posting, Rick. Your points about accepting the critique, but digesting the feedback is very good advice. The last critique group I was a part of obviously wasn't aware of the etiquette required.

I try to listen, mull over the suggestions in feedback, to see if it would improve my story, and toss out what I think doesn't apply. Some of the hardest critiques offer the best advice - if they don't crush your spirit beforehand. (or else there could be the tirade that INK mentions in his comment)

Congrats on being a guest blogger, Rick, your comments are always worth reading.

Ink said...

Rick,

I thought it was pretty &%$*#@ing unbelievable too. I mean, the $%$&^#@&ing rant is the key to the whole thing.

My best,
&%^$#^%ing Bryan

PurpleClover said...

Oh Rick Rick Rick. How uber-spooky that I mentioned hanging your critique on my wall when you were announced as winning the guest blog. I have...like...ESPN or something...lol.

Anyhow, I agree whole-heartedly with your post. It is hard to swallow good critique (and I did see the "sandwich" approach in your critique by the way as well as a few others, lol).

Great post!

P.S. At least I read your full post. :P

Ink said...

Bane,

Are you calling me verbose? Just let me grab the first half of my rebuttal here... (the print shop ran out of paper in the middle... said they had a new order coming in on Monday.)

Neil said...

Hey Rick,

Yeah I've read several reviews of the "Rye" sequel that say the same: it reads like fan fiction. The funny thing is, I hear sales of Salinger's original book have seen a small spike as a result of this pseudo-sequel. I honestly think, now Salinger's been dragged out of his self-imposed exile to the extent that he at least has his lawyers telling the world how he feels, there's never been a better time for another Salinger book to be released. Imagine that! No interviews, no readings, no website, no blog tie-ins, just a brand new Salinger work speaking for itself. Show the imitators how it's done.

Plus, I don't really get why you'd want to do a sequel to a book that wasn't yours (certainly not as your first book). Maybe I'm wrong and this Colting/California guy has put out numerous works before, but why not release something that's wholly your own and prove your chops that way? Perhaps this is all a ploy, and the scandal is just being used to create an appetite for what Colting's first original work will be... I don't know. It's like this Jane Austen Vs Whoever craze -- I just don't get it. I'm obviously getting old!

Ink said...

Neil,

He's doing it because he's going to make a lot of money. How many people, say, are going to buy a mediocre novel from someone without a reputation? And how many are going to buy a sequel to Catcher in the Rye? Obviously a publisher saw the same thing. All about the marketing.

Neil said...

Ink --

You're right in theory, but from what I understand the sales of the sequel haven't been that great yet. Though having the NY Times and others throw their weight behind you and start using your work as a way to have a discussion about free speech is a pretty good way of driving sales.

It's funny how quite often the most controversial books get the most mediocre receptions. That book about Mohammed's wife, for example.

PS Rick maybe you could replace Paula Abdul yourself...

Ink said...

Neil,

Yeah, I'd agree with that. I do think that was the publisher's reasoning, though - they saw an angle they could play. I guess I'm hoping that a lot of people will be like me, and say "Why would I want to read a sequel to Catcher in the Rye that's not by Salinger?"

Steph Damore said...

Hey Laurel,

The ending of my latest novel bothered me a bit - a felt that it was too rushed. I wanted to point it out to my beta readers right away, but instead I waited.

So far the jury's split. One reader said it was rushed; the other, not so much (after I asked, seeing she didn't mention it in her feedback).

However, instead of waiting for my third reader, I've revised the ending. Added to it really (about 5,000 words). I decided that even if it didn't bother my readers, it still bothered me, so I fixed it. I might be biased, but I think it was for the best.

Mira said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Mira said...

I decided to re-write that just a tad....

Rick, I'm sort of disappointed. I was kind of assuming this would be your usual cool post, and I'd do lots of cheering and admiring and a plug for the Query Slushpile. I thought I knew what to expect....

But darn. This isn't your usual cool post.

This is a great post.

Now what do I do?

Oh I know. Someone told me what to do.

I'll sandwich my feedback:

a. Rick, this is excellent. It's an outstanding breakdown. Well-organized, thoughtful and accurate. I learned things while reading it, like sandwiching, and will flag it to re-read it again. That's not something I do often. I loved that you touched on both the writer and the critiquer's perspective succinctly and clearly. Very well done!

b. You forgot to put anything about ignoring feedback if it really doesn't fit. No matter how many or who gives you the feedback. No matter how many times Randy tells you that you could sing a phonebook, don't do it. Do not sing the phonebook.

c. You absolutely deserve the chance to shine here. Not only for the quality of your post, but for the Query Slushpile. The Query Slushpile is an absolute gem, and it deserves the publicity. I hope you post a link to this at the top of the Query Slushpile, if you haven't already.

Nicely done, Mr. D. Color me impressed.

Bane of Anubis said...

Maybe I'll write a sequel to The Bible (that thing seems to sell pretty well) -- not exactly sure what I'll call it, though.

Steph Damore said...

The World: According to Bane

Just a suggestion...

Ink said...

Anubis Gates?

Oops, already taken...

Margaret Yang said...

Excellent post, Rick! In my experience, writers are very tuned into the "negative" parts of the critique. I have learned the hard way that saying something nice is essential. Even if the manuscript is terrible, dig deep for something to say that's positive. Don't worry that you're diluting your message--can't be done. Even if you sandwich it, the writer will zero in on the parts that that beta reader didn't like. Don't know why. Human nature, I guess.

Bane of Anubis said...

Steph - I like it... blurb... "You thought the Vatican was pissed by The DaVinci Code" -- speaking of which, would it be blasphemous to blurb The Bible? ("A Tour de Force... especially the walking on water part" "That John cat really had some great ideas - can't understand half of them, but there's poetry in dem der hills.")

Bryan - hadn't heard of the book -- googled it -- sounds right up my alley... gonna have to check it out.

Mariana said...

Fantastic clear advice. Thank you!

Steph Damore said...

Bane lol...blurb..."A soul turner, I couldn't put it down"

Mira said...

The Bibble.

Bible, part 2: The sequel. After the apocolypse.

Bible: The Director's Cut.
(Includes all the cut scenes that were considered too controversial and racy to include in the original.)

Mira said...

Wait. Nathan's out of town. I wonder if those are tricky waters we are treading in....

Bane of Anubis said...

The Director's Cut - LOL -- when the cat's away, the mice get to play ;)

Steph Damore said...

Mira, I had the same thought. I cringed when I hit "publish" not wanting to offend anyone.

What's that Nathan? Professionalism? Right, got it.

Neil said...

BOA - sequel to the Bible is an awesome idea! You could call it Beyond the Bible: Afterlife. Or if you REALLY want to stoke some fires, you could call it Bible 2: Evolution!

Bane of Anubis said...

Neil - :) -- we're all going to Hell... good thing a jackal-headed psychopomp's got my back.

Robert A Meacham said...

Rick,
As one who has participated in your blog, I find your blog here spot on. Thanks for a great article.

Mira said...

Well, I think we should be careful. I know that is bizarre for me to say, of all people, since I've been so outrageous here.

But since (I think) I also have the dubious honor of having Nathan delete more of my posts than any other person on his blog - well, let's just say maybe I learned the hard way. :-)

It's fun to play, but, you know, this is a professional blog.

That said, I have no idea if he'd have a problem with these posts. I think they're funny. But it's good to be careful.

Btw, Rick D. I got three personal e-mails all raving about your post.

That's very cool, and I thought you should know that. However, I did sort of have a request for the people e-mailing me. You know, if you're going to send me e-mails raving about something, well it could be me.

I'm just saying.

Rick Daley said...

Neil: "I don't really get why you'd want to do a sequel to a book that wasn't yours (certainly not as your first book)"

Ink was right on the *&^%ing money. The best comparison I can make is to a musician whose first hit is a cover song.

Ink said...

Mira,

No ice cream, no raves.

Ink said...

Rick,

I'm always right on the #^@&ing money, or so my mother says. Although without the #^@&ing.

dan radke said...

All the guest posts have been damn good this week. Concise and informative. Oftentimes hilarious.

I was unaware Simon had douchebaggery on lockdown. I guess I'll back off my writer buddies.

I'm beginning to believe my entires will never get picked. Mostly because they're not informative and have no point to speak of. But ah, so is life.

Grats to all the winners this week!

Rick Daley said...

Funny, I thought they already published a sequel to the Bible. If I recall correctly, it was called "The New Testament" or something like that.

A prequel to the Bible would be interesting, though.

Now if you will entertain the notion of a trilogy, read this to find out what happens next:

http://mydaleyrant.blogspot.com/2009/06/earths-end-post-1.html

Peter Cooper said...

Great post, Rick! Thanks for mentioning the sandwich approach, very important but often forgotten. I think another important guideline for feedback (and this may have already been mentioned in previous comments) is that it should *always* point the receiver towards specific action. Never say something like "your writing is hard to read" - instead say: "you should use more paragraphs" or "use shorter sentences". Otherwise your feedback isn't feedback, it's nothing more than a vent.

Laurel said...

No, Rick, the sequel to the Bible is called "The Book of Mormon."

Laurel said...

P.S.: Some people claim it is authorized, others disagree vehemently. The author(s) of the original work have not weighed in on the matter so legal is uncertain how to proceed.

Ink said...

I had a really good joke to go here, but... maybe not.

folksinmt said...

You're taking over the web Rick! Great post. Its good to be reminded that we can improve on the way we offer critiques. If only the ABNA reviewer who shredded my first chapter was reading this...he's obviously never heard of the sandwich approach!

Mira said...

Ink - uh oh. I think I'm in trouble. I went to the store to get you some ice cream, so you'd rave about me. When the employees saw me coming, they raced to the door and threw themselves in front of it, yelling, "There's no more ice cream. For the love of god, stop buying ice cream from us."

Um.

How do you feel about frozen yogurt?

jbchicoine said...

Nice post Rick.

As someone who often has a hard time citing specific problems, or offering suggestions, I also appreciated what RW mentioned in a previous comment: “You may tend to clam up when something about the essay doesn't feel right because you feel like you have to diagnose the problem exactly and offer specific strategies to fix it, and you may not know how to do that. So you get shy and say nothing, and that's not helpful. So, your job is just to flag anything that makes you as a reader pause. ‘I was confused here. I didn't understand this. I had to read this twice.’"

There’s a lot of helpful advice here!

Lady Glamis said...

Excellent post, Rick! I've always loved your Sandwich approach. I've used it a lot since you talked about it in a comment awhile ago.

I like the pouting advice best. I pout a lot when I get critiques. It's bad. I'll mope around the house for days until somebody slaps me upside the head and tells me to get over it already. I'm getting better!

wendy said...

As I've had a critique from you in the past, Rick, (Qery Slush Pile) I know how good you are at the critting game. I appreciate those tips because no matter how much I try to be helpful and tactful, I suspect I'm not. Got kicked off a critting group once because of complaints. *g*

Jen C said...

I love getting criticism on my work. The worse the better! I'm not precious about my work, and I'm glad when I get it back with thousands of marks on it and pages of notes, as I just did with my WIP. I'm talking about 10 pages of notes! The critiquer (who also happens to be my sister) ripped the thing to shreds, and I read it all with a big smile on my face, because I knew it was going to make the book that much better. Criticism is awesome!

RLS said...

prequel could be:
Just Before ...In the Beginning

Elaine 'still writing' Smith said...

That was an interesting concept; the bit in the middle concerned me but the final full-stop was well-formed.
Is this the kind of thing you meant?

Useful, informative and timely - three stars ... with no wish necessary. Go Rick!

AM said...

Rick,

This is very timely for me.

I am about to ask my "focus group” to read my novel.

I have been mentally preparing myself, and this posting is going to be very helpful.

I appreciate all that you do to encourage your fellow writers – like me.

Thank you.

Jack Roberts, Annabelle's scribe said...

The "Sandwich Approach" has always helped me. I've used it and had it used on my stuff.

Very good advice.

Diana said...

Great post.

One thing that I have found really helps a writer take my comments well is to say things like "I didn't understand this." instead of "This is confusing." A writer can't argue over whether I understood something or not, but they can argue over whether a sentence is confusing or not. *smile*

Donna Hole said...

Yes Laurel, I have sometimes mentioned things that bugged me nobody else noted in a critique workshop. Sometimes other reviewers (critters, as Bane called them) comment on it afterward, a sort of “now that you mention it” response. And sometimes, others rave about how much they liked the section or scene I didn’t. It doesn’t mean the odd critter was wrong, or the others right in their opinions. (Yes I know, that right/wrong is awkward but I’m having a word analogy crisis here.)

I’m not embarrassed to voice an unpopular opinion. The members of writer’s group I attend seem to all be focused in YA and Chic Lit, and I don’t always “get” those genre. So, I see things differently a lot of times. I also realize I bring some of my own “writer preference” to the table. As Rick says, though, I’ve learned a lot about my own writing in getting and receiving critiques. I don’t always agree with the feedback, but I certainly take it under consideration and weigh it in the constructive nature it is intended.

That said, Vacuum Queen, the reason I don’t always make suggested changes, though I’ve asked for the feedback, is due mostly to Ricks rule # 3 and # 5. I seriously consider if the suggested changes will work not only in the scene being reviewed, but also in the voice and plot of the entire novel. Maybe it’s not that specific scene that needs changed, but something later or earlier in the novel that relates. Or, maybe the bit that didn’t work for the reader was left on purpose as a red-herring; something to niggle the reader and keep it in mind for a twisted finish.

And when I’m offering feedback, I always remember this: just because you ask someone their opinion doesn’t mean you have to accept it. How often in life do we solicit advice we ignore? Why should it be different in regards to the pet project we’ve poured our heart and soul into?

This was an awesome subject matter Rick. Thanks for putting so much effort into this, and the Slushpile blog.
…………dhole

mkcbunny said...

This is very helpful. I've just received feedback from beta readers but have yet to provide any of my own comments to others. So all of this advice is useful to me right now.

Thanks for guest-blogging!

Other Lisa said...

Great post!

Am I the only one who refers to this comment technique as a "s*** sandwich"?

Other Lisa said...

gah. "critique technique."

Lydia Sharp said...

Excellent post.

Writeaholic said...

Great post!

I like the sandwich idea -- many writers -- most? -- are very sensitive when it comes to their babies. If the crit starts with something negative, it's possible for the writer to lose their ability to hear everything that follows, good or bad.I think I'll start following this advice.

Rick Daley said...

"You're taking over the web Rick!"

Al Gore will be so upset.

Donna made a great point here:
"I don’t always agree with the feedback, but I certainly take it under consideration and weigh it in the constructive nature it is intended."

Other Lisa:
Depending on the quality of the work being critiqued, that expression may be reserved by the critter ;-)

Thanks everyone for your feedback, I'm glad my post resonated so well.

And another thanks to Nathan for selecting mine from the deluge of submissions. Knowing the crowd here, it really is an honor because I know the competition is very strong!

xzonia said...

A friend sent me a link to your blog, and this was great! All that was missing was advice on how to find these mythical readers who will actually give honest feedback. Whenever I show my writings to anyone, really, and ask for a critique, I always get the same response "It's great! Wouldn't change a thing!" Either I'm better than I think, or I live in a bubble filled with Paula Abduls. Suggestions?

Ink said...

xzonia,

Look up local writer's groups, or find them online. The best place to start would probably be big writer forums like Forward Motion for Writers or Absolute Write. They have avenues for connecting with other writers and groups, and they also have places for you to share your work and ask for critiques from other members (as well as many other writerly things). They both have large memberships and host writers of many sorts.

Best of luck,
Bryan

xzonia said...

Regarding the Salinger sequel, many great books have had sequels written by other authors (though not usually during the author's lifetime). Jane Eyre had that dreadful Wide Sargasso Sea sequel, and Gone with the Wind had the terrible Scarlett sequel - both were written years after the original authors had died. And the Bible has had many sequels. My favorite? The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. ;)

xzonia said...

Thanks Bryan! I've joined local writers groups in the past, both the face-to-face kind and online only types (without ever getting useful feedback). I'll look for the ones you recommended. I appreciate your specificity! Thanks!!

Ink said...

No problemo.

Rick Daley said...

Mira,

Thanks for the feedback, but don't applaud. Send ice cream. No frozen yogurt, either. I like Ben & Jerry's Chubby Hubby. It's da bomb.

In regard to singing the phone book, it worked for these guys:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tBHJqtgo8RA

Now I'm going to send you a personal email praising the three people who sent you personal emails praising me.

Laura Martone said...

Hi, Mira.

Has Ink finished the catapult yet? Will it work for northern Michigan? 'Cause I could go for some Cherry Garcia right about now(you know, since you'll already be picking up some B&J for Rick). Can't hurt to ask, right?

Hungrily yours,
Laura the Michigander

Ink said...

Laura,

I'm having a crank problem. If you drove down to Detroit, though, I might be able to heave some across the river.

Laura Martone said...

Oh, man, is my mind warped. When I read that you were having a "crank" problem, Ink, I was thinking about something else entirely. I thought, "What's he talking about, Willis? I don't want no crank, just the ice cream, man. Just the ice cream."

Where is my head today?!

Rick Daley said...

I hope the catapult reaches Michigan, because if it doesn't I'm out of luck here in Ohio.

BTW...I also took crank the wrong way. Now that sounds bad, let me rephrase that. I also misinterpreted his reference to crank. That's better.

WORD VERIFICATION: backsag. A problem affecting the cranking device in a catapult that prevents it from reaching the peak velocity needed to heave frozen dairy goods beyond the Mississippi.

Laura Martone said...

Teehee. Even my kitty thought that was hilarious (if only she'd stop biting me in her excitement). Thanks, Ink and Rick, for making my day, as always!

Now, why hasn't Mira weighed in on the whole crank vs. dairy debate? Wherever could she be? Harassing folks in the frozen food aisle?

Ink said...

I thought ice cream was crank?

M. K. Clarke said...

Hey, Rick, wasn't this meant to be a "Dagwood"?

Notes worthy to digest, but one more nugget of advice you didn't offer--two, actually--those who're on the rant of overly sensitive to a well-constructed critique; and those receiving said critique let the feedback marinate a while. Best bench time: 24 hours. This way, after the ego's been hit and the high tide of emo's out the way, you can come back to the notes with an uninvolved eye and see things in a more objective fashion.

That aside, great notes, Rick, thank you. I'll take my "Crit Dagwood" on seedless rye, please, loaded, with onions, black olives, and ranch dressing.

~Missye

Laura Martone said...

I totally agree, Missye. Best to let the feedback sit for a while, before trying to absorb it and possibly incorporate it within one's story.

But I would venture another suggestion re: time. In my limited experience with beta-reading, I find it best to wait a bit longer than 24 hours... more like a week or so (if not longer). Not just for the sake of the ego - but also to have an improved chance of approaching the feedback, manuscript, and possible revision with relatively fresh eyes.

And regarding sandwiches... my hubby made an awesome one today: grilled garlic chicken on sprouted wheat with tomato cream cheese, cheddar, tomato, and ranch dressing. Oh my, that was delish! And, darn it all, now I'm hungry again.

Mira, Ink, somebody, where's my bleepin' ice cream already?!

Donna Hole said...

OMG people; get off the food, will ya!? I'm dieting here. Though Jared lost weight with sandwiches, I'm just giving up my Ruffles and jelly filled donuts. My kids feel deprived enough the nights I make them hunt down sandwiches or frozen foods when I don't cook so I don't eat.

But seriously Laura, I think thats very good advice about waiting more than a week to revise. Your emotions - either devastation that someone didn't like your favorite passages, or an overwhelming desire to change everything because you value one or another critter's opinion - simmer and, possibly even dissolve. Not defending my creative inspiration during a critique session is hard, but letting my emotions get the better of me too soon after a critique is worse than when my computer crashes before I have a chance to save the last viable changes.

Hmm; I hope that came out right. Maybe I should go to bed and dream up a fix for my latest memory challenge . .
.........dhole

Mira said...

Hi Rick,

Too late, I already applauded. :)

I'll put you on the list for the catapult though, as soon as Ink cranks it up, that is.

Although watching Ink heave ice cream across the river could have it's appeal as well.

Btw, it's now FOUR people who have e-mailed me raving about you.

When it gets to 10, I'm just going to put an automated forwarding to you on my e-mail. Fair warning.

Mira said...

Oh, I agree with Missye, Laura and Donna about waiting when you get feedback. Not only to be able to take it in, but to evaluate it.

I have an additional problem. When anyone praises my writing, I don't believe them. I think they're just being nice. I re-play what they said, looking for what they REALLY feel. If they wrote their feedback to me, I re-read it dozens of times, trying to read between the lines.

I have to fight the tendency to change things based on positive feedback. Does anyone else have this?

So, the sandwich approach works for me, because it feels more honest.

jbchicoine said...

Mira,
I heard it said somewhere—‘All criticism hurts; All compliments are suspect.’ I don’t think you’re alone…

Mira said...

Thanks Jbc - I thought I might not be.

Rick, you'll have to find a way to include that - how to take in positive feedback.

Anonymous said...

This is an excellent post.

Jamey Stegmaier said...

I'm getting on this train a little late, but I'm developing a company called TypeTribe where I'll need a critical mass of people available to give feedback to writers interested in improving their work. Feel free to check out http://typetribe.com to sign up for the launch notification e-mail.

Rick Daley said...

Missye / Laura / Donna (and anyone I may have missed),

The time frames will vary based on the work being critiqued. I would think 24 hours should be a minimum for a query, but if you're looking at a solid critique of a 100,000-word manuscript, several weeks worth of thought may be warranted.

CKHB said...

Other thoughts:

Don't go to a crit group if all you want is unconditional support. Your parents/spouse/children have cornered that market.

As Stephen King says, "ties go to the writer." Half the crit group likes your ending, half hates it? You get to keep it the way you want. EVERYONE thinks a character is unlikeable, and he's not supposed to be? Better get re-writing.

Thank, Rick!

Marjorie said...

I am totally against rewriting based on critiques. Five people can have five criticisms. A writer would be rewriting to please readers instead of maintaining his writing integrity. Who cares if something doesn't feel right to one reader. It has to feel right to the author and then the work finds the audience. Rewrites based on readers' feedbacks seems just wrong.

Woody Allen did a small rewrite when asked by The New Yorker.

I am sure J.D. Salinger never did.

Marjorie said...

re: "EVERYONE thinks a character is unlikeable, and he's not supposed to be? Better get re-writing."

Why? Leave it as it is. My memoir in a blog is supposed to be funny. Many people read it and find it sad. I will not rewrite one word of it so those who do not find it funny will. Their reaction is their reaction... and that's what makes is so darn good.

Ink said...

CKHB,

Can I politely disagree? Or, at least, offer a variant opinion on the opposing crit comments? My thoughts are here if you're interested. In a nutshell, there's advantage in evaluating each critique separately...

Ink said...

Marjorie,

The point is not that you make changes just because someone suggests them. You make changes because someone suggests them and you agree with these changes and think they will make the writing better. If you don't agree, don't make the changes. The key to having people read and offer critique is that it allows you an opportunity to see the writing objectively. The writer is not always right, and sometimes they will see that when offered critique. But the most important thing is not the critique... it's what you do with it. A fantastic critique is useless if you can't apply it in a way that makes your writing better. And a poor overall critique might be useful if it helps you change one small thing element that hasn't been working. In other words, critique is useless without analysis. You have to see evaluate every comment and see whether it supports the creative vision you have for that particular piece.

Just my two cents.

Best,
Bryan

Rick Daley said...

Marjorie,

I think this is central to the point of re-writing based on critiques:

Rule # 4: Look for common threads in the feedback and start there. The advice of the many outweighs the advice of the few.

If 1 person didn't like or didn't get something, it may just be that one person. Worth noting, but may not warrant any further action.

However, if all 5 people didn't like the same thing, you need to think about why they didn't like it. The gray area is what you do to fix it. The 5 people may each have a different suggestion to fix it, and you may have a "6th" suggestion of your own. Which fix is implemented is the writer's choice (as is doing nothing).

I've often followed this rule in business and it also works well for writing:

- Manage to trends, not incidents.

gumbo writers said...

Great advice. Giving and receiving critiques can be difficult and its important to remember that its only for the betterment of the writing so don't be afraid to say what you think. Being honest, both when critiquing and getting critiqued, is really important. I think a lot of people will find this post really helpful. Thanks for posting!

R. Garrett Wilson said...

Great advice! I love getting feedback because I know it helps me – I want to be the best storyteller/writer I can be. However I am always scared to return the favor. I am afraid to hurt someone’s feelings. I like the sandwich approach and will try it the next time I am asked for a review.

liznwyrk said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
liznwyrk said...

When it comes to discussions about critique I always think of the great poem about the workshop model by Billy Collins.

If you haven't read it you can follow this link to a copy:

http://alilsumpinsumpin.blogspot.com/2009/04/billy-collins-on-workshop-model.html

Crystal Posey said...

Wonderful!

Christine H said...

Now I'm hungry.

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