by Adam Huddleston
Although it’s (regrettably) been some time since I’ve met with them, I’m a part of a writers group that gets together to read and critique each other’s work. It is extremely beneficial to gain both positive and negative feedback concerning the craft that you’re working so hard on improving. Recently, one of the members asked me to critique a few pages of her writing and it got me to thinking: What would be considered good etiquette when it comes to this process.
- Always be truthful. It may sound like something you would teach a child but it still rings true to the critiquing process. The writer may be your closest friend and confidant, but you won’t be doing them any good by lying about what you feel could be improved upon.
- Try to include positive reinforcement with the negative. Tell the writer what they are doing right, what you enjoyed, and how it makes you feel.This will go a long way toward encouraging them and making their work stronger.
- Make sure your advice is clear. Plainly state what you don’t understand and if you are critiquing by hand, make your notes legible. Insertion arrows, punctuation changes, and paragraph signs should be easy to see.
This list is far from exhaustive. Hopefully it will help you if you find yourself facing the rather enjoyable task of helping another writer with their work.
As a child, I could not wait for the big experiences. Christmas seemed so far away. I thought I’d never get my driver’s license. Would I ever reach sixteen and be allowed to wear makeup and get to date? Would I ever graduate high school? Marriage was a dream. Like most young people, patience was not a sterling quality. My mother and father warned me to slow down and enjoy the stages of life. Didn’t make sense at the time, but now I wish I had listened. As I get older, life seems to move at an Indy 500 pace. I feel I have missed so much because I was impatient.
It can be that way when I write. I’m so anxious to finish one project and start another that I miss out on the pleasure of creating something special. As I prepare the final pages of HOW DO YOU LIKE ME NOW for my critique group to review, I realize I’ve sped through Kate and Dalton’s journey. I’ve overlooked some of their special moments and maybe I’ve glossed over the intensity of their struggles; downplayed their doubts; left unsaid their most intimate thoughts. That is why the final editing process is so important to me.
At this stage, I pull out the critiques, read the notes I’ve made and the comments my friends have written. I weigh the ideas, incorporate those I like, discard the ones I don’t need, and even flag some for further consideration. I carefully rework scenes and dialogue to improve the story I already love. I do not rush through this process. Instead, I invest time in conversing with my characters. At some point, I will probably ask King Phillips if he has a redeeming quality. And, I will listen for his response. I will read aloud to be sure the dialogue flows. When I complete the final rewrite, I will do one more proof-read and put the novel to bed. I’ll let it cook for a few days and then will send the first thirty pages to a potential agent.
I’ve been asked how I know it’s finished. I don’t really know how to answer that. There’s a line between working toward perfection and over-working the novel. I’ve known authors who worry about dotting every “I” and crossing every “T”, they destroy the soul of the work. At some point, my internal editor will say, “Let go,” and then I will say it’s done. Will I ever be one hundred percent satisfied with writing? I doubt it, but I will be happy with my creation.