Can you give as well as you take?

Criticism. Not everyone can take it but depending on what it’s about, I’ve gotten good at it. After all, I grew up in a house with nothing BUT criticism, so for me it became quite the norm.  When it is something I know I am good at or right about though, that’s a bit harder.

That being said, I’ve avoiding putting my written work out for critique because I know my writing skills are rusty. The average person (that is the people I am usually around) think I am a ‘wordsmith’ and have told me so. I regularly am called upon to draft communiques for my employer and that is an unofficial function of my daily job.  Be that as it may, I feel my skills pale in comparison to others, especially in story-telling.  Go back and read “The Hobbit” some time if you want a lesson on story-telling.  I can picture Tolkien sitting back in a large, comfortable leather chair with some choice drink in hand telling his family a story around a dim fireplace.

THAT is the kind of storyteller I want to be, seemingly effortless and causal with a depth and richness that makes the room around you fade from existence as you read.

My work, on the other hand, has been compared to a technical manual.  Let me tell you, that stung more than a little, though it was an unintentional compliment. My first major had been Education.  My second Professional Technical Writing and Rhetoric. My third is nothing close to those two and is in the Information Technology field.  In any case, I have shown my work to a few close friends with responses ranging from, “Oh, dragons!” to “It reads like an instruction manual”. It just goes to show that no two people will have the same view of your work and that all viewpoints can have some merit. 

Back to my initial point for this entry; I put myself out there again, subjecting myself to MSFV’s Critique Partner Dating Service, a title that earned me a raised eyebrow from my spouse, let me tell you!  I botched my entry, naturally, since I was in a rush to get in ahead of the glut.  After all, the last contest I had entered on her site netted 125 entries and there would be space in this for only 100.  I managed to snag the #7 spot in my haste, but also neglected to put my email address. It was one of those days. I queried three people from near the top of the list and heard back from one of them almost immediately.  The other two responded the next day and I now have my first (enormous!) chapter out for critique.  The trade off for this, of course, is that I critique their work as well. 

The reason this is being called a ‘dating service’ has nothing to do with infidelity and everything to do with ‘rightness of fit’.  For the same reason you don’t just hit it off with every person you meet is the same reason this is being treated the way it is.  After all, each and every one of us is handing our pride and joy to another person and saying, “Hey, find every little screw-up I made and point it out to me.”  Unfortunately that is how many people treat critiquing, a chance to dissect someone else’s work without any thought for how your utter obliteration of their writing will make them feel.

Not to imply that one shouldn’t be honest but one should be, at the very least, tactful. It took a lot of courage for some of these people to put themselves out there and such courage should be rewarded with an honest review of what went right as well as wrong.  One of my criticizer’s was almost apologetic in how ‘harsh’ she might sound, but i didn’t find her to be harsh at all, merely honest and up front with no sugar-coating.  Perfect.


  • My plot is refreshing and unique. 

(At this point I start to panic, wondering how much longer she will continue to believe that.) 

  • My main character is a little arrogant, but it fits his character as someone who is the best at everything, all of the time. 

(Another point of panic. Have I made him too good at things? Possibly.)


  • POV. So many POV problems.  

[I tend to switch between them often and without much warning, something that is a NO for agents. Also, this is the likely cause of my overly bloated manuscript.  I will delete ALL but my main character and see if the story still makes sense… if not I am in trouble.]

  • Passive Voice. It must die.

[This one will be harder to deal with.  It has been ten years since my last English class but Google is a thing now.]

  • Telling too much.

[Closely related to the POV issue, if the reader is seeing the story from an omniscient point of view, they have access to the ‘global’ story, but may have trouble connecting with the main character, which is a problem.]

  • Chapter length.

[At over 9,000 words (yes, really) the chapter is too damn long. Plain and simple.  However, if I cut all of the POV’s but the main character I will potentially have a shorter, stronger chapter. The POV’s could be separated into different chapters, but they are all short ‘cut scenes’ that if expanded could make the book even longer than it already is.]

And that’s it.  It went much better than I expected and she seemed willing to continue critiquing me.  However, this is a two-way street and if I can’t reciprocally provide the feedback she needs, then I’m wasting her time.

My critiquing style isn’t cut and dried like hers was.  I open her story on one side and a blank email on the other and start reading, making notes to myself of things that stand out, both good and bad.  Then I go back and make those notes into coherent thoughts and reread again.  Repeat the process and then reread the critique without the source to see if it makes sense.  I tend to ‘dagwood sandwich’ my critiques with a pro, a con, a pro, a con, [for function=critique; if document.source=>0; repeat].  Yes, that’s my nerd way of saying keep repeating until done.  No, it’s not in any known programming language.  Yes, I just made that up.

I hope she continues our “relationship”, her work is dark and fun to read and I really want to see where it goes from here.  I can hardly believe I want to actually READ again.  After a year of practically NO life and reading nothing but Cisco Networking and Information Security materials… my desire to read for ‘fun’ ceased to exist.  My desire to actually write has been absent so long I can’t remember what NEEDING to write feels like anymore.

Well, now I do…

So thanks ‘Susan’, if you ever find this entry.


2 responses to “Can you give as well as you take?

  1. It’s good that you’ve found the fun in reading again. Would be a shame if you lost that. Nothing worse than forcing yourself into something you find no joy in.

    You were #7? That’s not bad out of 100 … I was #67. Too bad the list has gone now as I never got around to seeing who signed on.
    But I got two partners from it and have two different chapters out there with each. Heard back from one, but I’m in the middle of critiquing another’s and since he was first … I’m beginning to wonder if maybe I’ll be a bit too harsh on him. I try to point out the good with the bad, but I guess years of feedback that wasn’t always ‘nice’ may have thickened my skin too much.

    On a last note, while I do believe that 9000 words is a bit much for a first chapter, have you thought about splitting it to form chapters one AND two? Hard to tell how possible that is without seeing the piece in question, but I’ve done it many times before.

    Catch you on the buccaneer blogfest.

  2. Nice entry. I have similar feelings about critique– I feel like I’m pretty good at giving it, but I tend to overreact to negative criticism, especially in rejections from agents. This is probably rooted in the tendency of the human brain to prioritize negative information, but it’s still an obstacle I have to overcome every time I put my work out there.

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