This week I’m lucky to have Sara Jayne Townsend write the inaugural post for a new segment called Pro Tips. Here you’ll get advice from writers for writers, writers at heart, or anyone with a creative spirit.
PRAISE VS. CRITICISM: WHY A WRITER NEEDS BOTH
by Sara Jayne Townsend
My writing group has a reputation for pulling no punches. Generally I am OK with this. If a writer is serious about being a published author, she has to learn to grow a thick skin, for the road to publication is paved with rejections. It does mean, however, that we’ve had several potential members flounce off in a huff after their first crit, because people have dared to suggest that their masterpiece needs some improvement.
Every novel that I have had published has gone through the writing group and has been ritualistically flayed. And each time I have crawled into a corner to lick my wounds for several days, before eventually emerging to re-read the manuscript and deciding I couldn’t actually dispute anything that had been said. And then I proceeded to work on the rewrite.
There are writers out there who have difficulty with being edited. Who will argue with every suggestion that their editor makes. This is not me. On the whole, whenever I receive edits back on a manuscript I will make the changes that are suggested, bar one or two exceptions, for which I have provided a detailed explanation as to why I don’t want to change these things. I have learned that from a publisher’s point of view, this makes me a good writer to work with.
But it is possible to be too compliant. There is a fine balance between having faith in your manuscript and being that writer who refuses to change a word. If you are the latter writer, you put people off working with you. If you are raking in millions for your publisher, then you can probably afford to be that kind of writer. For most of us, not so much. But if you do not have faith in your manuscript, if you are the sort of writer who curls up into a little ball every time someone suggests your manuscript needs improvement, you will never have the confidence to finish it, let alone send it out.
I have learned, over the years, that there is an art to heeding critiques. When I receive a critique from my writing group, I will generally get up to a dozen opinions about what is wrong with my manuscript. Sometimes the opinions will be polar opposites. If I heeded everyone’ s advice I would never finish the manuscript (and I’d probably go mad). But instead I have learned that there are certain people more in tune with the genre and style I write in, and I will generally pay more attention to their views. However, if I get six people giving an identical opinion (for instance, “I don’t like the way the character reacts to this situation. This seems unbelievable to me”), then I will come to the conclusion that this issue needs attention.
Most writers lurch between thinking their manuscript is the best thing ever written, and believing they are complete and utter rubbish and should stop deluding themselves that they can actually write. This is perfectly normal. If you get stuck in one of these extremes for too long, this is a problem. A good critique group is important, but if you receive nothing but criticism it batters your confidence. You also need a fan group – people who will read your manuscript and tell you how good it is. This latter group boosts your confidence and encourages you to sit in front of the computer again and write the next chapter.
Only with a combination of constructive criticism and praise can the writer grow in her craft and learn where she needs to improve. Believe me, it took me many years to understand the importance of this lesson.
Sara Jayne Townsend is a UK-based writer of crime and horror, and someone tends to die a horrible death in all of her stories. She was born in Cheshire in 1969, but spent most of the 1980s living in Canada after her family emigrated there. She now lives in Surrey with two cats and her guitarist husband Chris. She co-founded the T Party Writers’ Group in 1994, and remains Chair Person.
She decided she was going to be a published novelist when she was 10 years old and finished her first novel a year later. It took 30 years of submitting, however, to fulfil that dream.
The first two books in her amateur sleuth series about Canadian actress Shara Summers, DEATH SCENE and DEAD COOL, are available as e-books from the MuseitUp book store.
They were dying to be famous. And someone was prepared to kill for it…
Actress Shara Summers has settled in London and is “between jobs” when her Canadian ex-boyfriend David sails back into her life, begging to her to fill the backing singer vacancy in the up and coming band he’s about to go on a European tour with. Short on funds and auditions Shara reluctantly agrees, but tragedy strikes at the
opening night party when the band’s charismatic front man Dallas Cleary Anderson falls to his death from a hotel window. It soon becomes clear that Dallas did not fall, but was pushed. His arrogant and confrontational manner means there are no shortage of people who wanted him out of the band permanently – but who would resort to murder?