Critiques – The Difference Between Success and Not-As-Much Success

“In criticism I will be bold, and as sternly, absolutely just with friend and foe. From this purpose nothing shall turn me.” – Edgar Allan Poe

Robbie’s summer writing/blogging offensive grinds brutally on today with a look at yet another aspect of the The Craft – editing. Specifically, I’m turning to the editor’s slightly less hardcore but equally important little bro, the critiquer. Strap yourself in for a stern, near-humourless lecture about his importance.

It is no more possible for a writer to successfully edit his own work than it is for an ant to dissect Plato. These are simple truths. A good editor will make a crap work mediocre, a mediocre work decent, and a decent work brilliant. It’s in every writer’s interests to employ an editor. 

There are two layers to your work. The first and most discernible is the one you can self edit – ruthlessly hunting typos (some will still slip through and make a break for it though!), cutting back on unnecessary replacements for the word ‘said,’  deciding once and for all whether Tristan really is the best name for your protagonist. Time consuming, yes, but ultimately doable.

The second layer, however, lies below what you can discern. It is the muck that makes the water murky, always there but slipping through your fingers when you try to snatch it. For this you need someone else’s eyes, not those bloodshot things that have been staring at a laptop screen for the past 18 hours.

Yeah, that ‘someone else’ could be your mum, but if you want to go pro with your writing you’d better start thinking about interacting with pros. This is where most authors baulk, because professional editing cost monies. Sometimes quite a lot of monies. If you aren’t lucky enough to have your own publishing house employing an editor for you, you may be tempted to commit a cardinal sin and skimp on editing.

Thankfully there are halfway houses, in-between alternatives. There are the critiquers.

Critiquers (I prefer Critters. Sometimes they’re even big and hairy) provide critiques of your work. What’s the difference between them and agents? Well, mostly they don’t get paid. Consequently their analysis of your work will generally be a little less thorough. It’s still, however, immensely valuable.

Why would anyone want to look at your work for free when it’s still in it’s horribly deformed embryonic stage? Often critting is an exchange of services, so it’s quite likely you’ll be acting as a critter for their writing too. Which brings me onto the core of today’s post – scribophile.

I’ve been a naughty writer. I’ve never really had my work seriously critted. I paid an agent a big wad of cash to go through Crucible of Faith last year and, to be fair, he turned up the goods. But there’s no reason why I haven’t been making use of the internet’s abundant source of free, crit-hungry fellow-writers. That’s where Scribophile comes in. It’s a site hosting tens of thousands of folks happy to critique your work for free. The only requirement is that your crit their work as well. Fair enough.

There’s something freakishly revitalising about entering the world of crittery. Suddenly, every word, every sentence, matters. There’s a distance between you and the agents and publishers you submit your work to, a lack of connection that numbs you to the reality that this person is going to be dissecting everything you write. Having critique partners brings this back home with horrible clarity. I’m already feverish trying to fine-tuning the first few thousand words I intend to put up on Scribophile as a starter. It’s a tad stressy.

And the great thing is, even if I make my work the best I possible can, someone will still find something that can be improved on. That’s the whole point.

If you’re already on Scrib or intend to join, throw me a wassup on the scratchpad to the left of my profile. In the meantime, I’m still looking for opinions on Name that Novel. If you’ve already voted on that then what are you doing still reading this? Go out there and get critical!


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