Welcome back to week #2 of Writing on Wednesdays. Take my tips on writing and publishing with a grain of salt, as you should any feedback you receive on your work. Do NOT accept any criticism unless it is meant constructively. This may be the single most valuable piece of advice I have to offer. It was certainly the biggest lesson I’ve learned thus far in my writing career.
When I sat down to write my first novel—I truly believe that everyone has at least one novel in them—I realized very quickly that, while I was an expert reader, I knew nothing of the craft of writing. I signed up for an online writing course at Gotham Writers Workshop. They offer a large selection of courses from basic fiction writing to character development and dialogue writing to a seminar on getting published. I highly recommend their go-at-your-own-pace forum. It’s intuitive and interactive and a great way to meet other like-minded writers. You might find it on the pricey side, but it’s well worth every penny.
Critique Groups: Pick a Good One
My first course at Gotham was Fiction I. Once a week, the instructor posts a lecture in the blackboard for class participants to read and discuss. Throughout the duration of the course, students are assigned certain weeks where they can post their work for the instructor and other participants to critique. I lucked out during this first course by meeting three other intelligent women—two attorneys and one nuclear physicist—who, like me, took their writing seriously. We continued our critique group for several years after that class ended. I trusted their feedback because I knew they had my best interests at heart. Does that mean I implemented all their suggestions? Of course not. I responded to their feedback when my gut warned me they might be right.
Breaking the Rules
Our lives eventually took us in different directions, and I haven’t belonged to another critique group since. As you know, writing is subjective, and creative people have a difficult time offering feedback based on what they know of an artist’s work and not their own tastes. Many of the writers I know lack diplomacy in offering that feedback. Let’s return to the Gotham Writers Workshop for a minute. After I’d taken a handful of courses and published my first novel, I applied for and was accepted to the Masters Novel Writing class. Based on their website, they no longer offer this course. I disliked the instructor from the start. (She was the only instructor I ever had a problem with.) She was a play-by-the-rules writer with an inferiority complex and felt the need to harshly criticize everyone’s work, especially mine. I knew deep down my work was good, and I’d learned enough by then to understand the rules of writing were made to be broken. (Don’t go breaking any rules just yet. That’s a subject for another day.) So I left the class and never went back.
Big Picture Feedback
Who do I trust to critique my work? My editor and a few close friends. I never share my work until I’ve edited it much as I possibly can, and I only ever ask for feedback on big picture items. I let my editor handle everything else. Terminating a toxic relationship with a critique partner is a liberating feeling. Aren’t you your own worst critic? Learn to trust your gut. You know your characters, plots, and settings better than anyone. They are your babies. You have given birth to them. Why would you let someone else parent them?