I’ve been writing for a long time, but I’ve recently begun sharing my work and asking for feedback. It’s a weird feeling, considering I’m most often on the side of doing the editing and critiquing.
Last year I was working on a novel that fell apart for various reasons. However, I thought the prologue might be able to stand on its own. It’s a short piece, less than 1000 words, about a child and her ghost-grandfather. I spent quite awhile tweaking it before sharing it.
I started with my local writing group. We’ve been meeting now for over a year. It’s a friendly, supportive environment and the perfect place to ease into the critique process. The group gave me some great suggestions for cleaning up a few confusing elements and explaining what didn’t work for them. I felt good about revising my work.
Then I decided to present the same piece (after revisions) to an editor at a conference during a “speed dating” event. If you’re not familiar with the concept, we had ten minutes for an editor to read our short manuscripts and then discuss. Sitting across the table in silence while the editor reads your work can be excruciatingly uncomfortable. And the editor who read mine wasn’t impressed. She gave me three options:
- Cut it in half, get rid of one character completely, rearrange the action.
- Expand it by 4,000 words into a proper short story.
- Use it as a prologue and write another 80,000 words to form a novel.
What she didn’t give me was any idea how to do those things or any encouragement. Ack.
Feeling deflated, I took a break from speed dating to fortify myself with some lunch and regroup by frantically texting a friend. This wise friend encouraged me to take my work to another editor for a second opinion.
So I did.
His verdict? “It definitely doesn’t work as it is. But it isn’t unfixable.” Sigh…
As opposed to the first editor, he gave me some solid options to consider:
- Add an adult narrator because a child’s voice is difficult to get right.
- Move all the action into one setting, rather than spreading it out.
- Tighten up the dialogue – there’s too much.
And here’s where it comes in handy that I’m more often critiquing rather than being critiqued: I remembered what I often tell writers when I send them suggestions. “Here are my thoughts for improving it. But ultimately, you own this work and it’s up to you to decide whether or not to take my suggestions.”
So while I don’t care for the idea of adding an adult narrator, I am excited to see what happens when I change the setting. And I can certainly cut some dialogue and tighten the piece overall.
It’s good to put the shoe on the other foot sometimes. It makes me more mindful both of giving but also receiving criticism. That can only be positive for my clients and me.