On Teaching and Critiquing

Whenever I turn in a novel to my publisher, I’m rather puffed up and excited about it until I receive the critique from my editor. This critique is usually ten pages long with a few paragraphs about what is working and many pages about what is not working. It’s a humbling, terrifying experience to read that critique. But after a few days of anguish (and a few pep talks from my husband who’d just as soon I get out of bed and start functioning because we do have a family to take care of) I usually go back to the critique and realize that my editor is exactly right. Nine out of ten times, she is right on the money. Then I go back to work weighing her criticism and reworking the manuscript.

Here is what I have come to understand about writing- Much like real life, we all have blind spots and so do our plot trajectories, our characters and our themes. We need to share our work with a group of trusted authors and be willing to receive their critiques. I’ve been in a workshop setting since high school as either a student or a teacher, and my best work is always the one that is torn to shreds by a round table of fellow authors who are willing to point out where the piece can be improved. This always involves putting my ego aside and opening my mind.

One of the ways I’ve grown as a writer and a human being is through teaching. Whether it is a group of elementary school kids who have no fears or inhibitions about writing a story or a room full of college students who dread turning something in to be read by their classmates, the model is the same. We study an element of the craft (Plot, characterization, setting, point-of-view, voice, etc.), we read a few successful short stories that serve as an example of how it can be done, then we try our hand at our own piece which we share with the class. This process, known as “workshopping” is both exhilarating and frightening. The author can not defend his or her piece or explain what he or she “meant”. They must sit still, keep quiet and listen to the individual critiques of their classmates and teacher. Then they take the ideas, rework the piece, and resubmit it for a second go round. You can’t imagine how much the work improves over the course of the semester when the writer is willing to go back and reshape the piece on behalf of that most important person, the reader.

Depending on my writing schedule, I am available to speak about the craft of writing, lead a workshop or critique an individual manuscript. Go to contact to find out how to reach me.

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