Julie Weathers

Looking For Hephaestus

As many of you know, FAR RIDER is getting close to submission. I’ve been doing the final cuts and a lady on Twitter offered to beta read it for me. She gave me some valuable advice I definitely plan to use.
I realized, once again, how valuable good critique partners are. When I first joined Books and Writers, I jumped into the novel workshop. The premise was a pay as you go system. Your initial down payment was five critiques by you in exchange for one upload. Thereafter, you only paid three for one. This was a very fair system as it encouraged people to stretch beyond just their friends to critique and it made sure everyone was getting attention.
What I learned there was the value of different people looking at your work. One person may do line edits, focusing on grammar. Another may hone in on dialogue. Another may point out flow and consistency. Some were just good readers who told you where they felt it slowed down or where they got confused. When you put it all together, you had a very concise look at your work from different angles.
This last pass through was especially good for me because Amy came to the work with completely fresh eyes. She hadn’t seen the previous incarnations and she wasn’t reading what she thought was there, but actually what was there. That’s the main problem for us as writers. We often see what we think is there instead of what the page says.
I enjoy reading other work, but I also have a lot of trepidation. Some writers, even experienced ones, are very sensitive about their work. They say they want feedback, but they really don’t. They want affirmation that all is right with the world.
It’s fine to explain why something needs to stay like it is, but if it isn’t working, then perhaps you need to do more of a lead in so it does work.
I’m going back to the last conference and the first ten pages workshop. One man wanted his work thoroughly critiqued, but he couldn’t be bothered to read anyone else’s and simply wrote, “Good luck!” on them. This was a workshop where you had to send out ten copies of your work weeks before the conference so everyone had plenty of time to critique.
If he had said he was just swamped and didn’t have time to read or offered to talk to people later about their work, I would have been better with it. Sitting back in his chair, like a king on his throne, and explaining he was a published writer wasn’t a valid excuse.
Unfortunately, you find these types everywhere. These are the ones in the critique group who eagerly wait for you to tell them how great they are, but they can’t be bothered to give anyone else real feedback.
Figure them out quickly, be polite and avoid them. They are the vampires of the writing world without the sparkle.
You will also encounter Loki along the way. These are the people who are so bitter about their writing experience they have to spread the misery and take great joy in inflicting pain on others. There is one man who joins an online writer’s chat. I have him blocked, but when you’re following a chat, you see everyone’s comments. He will happily harp about how traditional publishing is only out to screw the true artists. Those bloodsucking agents only want quick sales and they don’t appreciate art either. If you go the traditional publishing route, according to him, they will suck out your soul and steal your masterpiece.
Avoid Loki. Instead of improving his craft, he just wants to “mix their mead with malice” and trick impressionable new writers into thinking they have no chance in the writing world, unless you self publish, like him, of course.
If you are very lucky, you will find Hephaestus in your travels. These wonderful people are craftsmen in their own right and they pass their knowledge on to others. If you find one of these, hang on to them. They’re worth more than any writing course you find.
I strongly encourage everyone to critique work. It not only repays the favor someone did for you, but it also teaches you to slow down and look for things in your own writing. When you note something that doesn’t work in another story, you notice it more in your own.
Here are a few of my suggestions for critiquing.
  1. Identify your strengths. If you aren’t strong in the mechanics of writing, then focus on something you are gifted with.
  1. Sandwich. If your critiquee really wants help, they want to spot the problems. That’s why they asked for your help. However, if the only thing you notice is the problems, it becomes discouraging. Point out the good things as you see them as well as the problem areas. The opposite is also true. Writing, “this is great!” over and over doesn’t help. Why is it great? Why doesn’t it work? The writer should know all this in your final wrap up, mention the strengths and then give the suggestions for improvement. When you sandwich the bad in between the good, it doesn’t sting quite so much.
  1. Unless you are Miss Snark RIP, Evil Editor or QueryShark, leave the snark at home. Snark is like good comedy, it takes a real gift to pull it off and chances are you don’t have it. One person offered to take a look at some work, and I quickly figured out they were just looking for targets to get off a zinger. After the third jab about something that actually wasn’t wrong, I decided to ignore the suggestions. I found out later the person was practicing for a blog where they hoped to be the next Miss Snark.
  1. After you look at the small details of the piece, look at the whole of it. It should have a cigar shape unless you are like Charles Dickens and you’re selling your work in installments. Does the story have a pleasing shape? In my case, I cut it off too quickly, probably as a result of sweating the word count.
  1. Note any plot inconsistencies or loose ends that are bugging you. In FAR RIDER there are loose ends that can’t be tied up or there is no reason to continue the series. However, I made sure the important plot lines were resolved. Part of the mystery has been solved and yet, the larger mystery remains. Even if the piece you’re critiquing is intended to be part of a series, it has to have a satisfactory resolution. Loose ends need to be neatly wrapped up.
6.  As with anything writing related, have fun. Do your best, but don’t lose your mind over it.  

This Post Has 6 Comments

  1. I’ve met the vampires and Lokis.

    A Hephaestes critiquer — what a wonderful analogy!

  2. Let me guess — a Hephaestus in a kilt is worth not just hanging onto, but fighting over!

    Critiquing’s a tough subject for me. I’m naturally reticent around people I don’t already know, and — even though I’m “paying for” the privilege in a crit group or workshop, via crits of my own — asking people to swallow a novel just doesn’t feel right to me.

    Wish I’d started this whole book-writing thing about 20 years earlier than I did!

  3. Yes, those Lokis and vampires will suck the soul out of you and ruin your writing spirit.

    I think we have several Hephaestus people around us, which is such a blessing.

  4. JES damn right.

    Critiquing is very hard. I don’t like doing it for other people because, even though I try to include all the good things, I know some people are really hurt by the problem areas. I did one recently and mentioned some things that really bothered me throughout. I think the person was offended. Ah well.

    Then you get to the flip side of asking people to read your work and I hate to ask anyone for anything. It’s just hard.

    If we are very lucky, we find a great group of writers who know what they’re doing and are professional.

    I’m with you about the 20 years ago thing. I’m going to have to live a very long time to get all these stories out.

  5. Absolutely! I’ve learned a lot of reading and critiquing other people’s work!

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