About Writers, Literary critique, Writers Co-op

Let’s Exchange Critiques!

Writers Co-op is about helping writers. We’re here to offer advice, resources, and experience about marketing, publishing, and the writing process itself. I’m sure there are other ways you can think of in which Writers Co-op can support its community, but I’m here to offer the one every writer needs even if they think they don’t: thoughtful, constructive, kind critiques.

How many of us are fortunate enough to have a dedicated set of beta readers who eagerly await each installment of our latest Work In Progress? Who among us has even one friend to call on who will read the 400 page draft of our brilliant literary fiction with an editor’s eye, sharing their thoughts in enough detail to help us polish our work to a professional gleam? How often have you wished a real writer would take a look at what you’ve written and offer a little free feedback?

Of course, it’s possible you are absolutely certain what you have spent months writing in the solitary mental confinement of your favorite room or coffee house or poolside bar is absolutely perfect just as you’ve written it. *snort* Guess again. Don’t get me wrong, there are probably many positive things to say about your manuscript, but there are probably at least a few things that need clarification or further description or a little rewriting to maintain continuity and interior logic. Sure, it’s all clear to you — you wrote it. But if you’re looking for a critique, you’re hoping for an audience. If a member of the audience says it’s not clear or it’s confusing, you’d do well to pay attention.

So here’s the deal:

If you have a piece of writing you would like a member of Writers Co-op to critique, whether it’s a short story, essay, poem, novella, novel, or a portion or chapter of a longer work, attach it as a .docx or .pdf to an email and send it to me at stranscht@sbcglobal.net. Please put “Critique Exchange” in the Subject line. (Just to be clear, by submitting your work for critique, you are agreeing to critique the work of the person who critiques your work.) I will match you with a critique partner who groks your genre and is able to take on a critique at that time, and they will send you their work to critique while they critique yours. The writer who needs the most time to complete their critique will set the deadline for both of you. Writers Co-op expects you both to honor that deadline or Writers Co-op will have the option of disallowing further participation of the author who fails to meet the deadline.

Now, a few words about writing and receiving critiques. Write the sort of critique you would find most helpful. Like I said earlier, thoughtful, constructive, and kind work for me. Snark and sarcasm might be fun, but they aren’t actually helpful or kind, so please restrain those urges. As for receiving a critique, first coat your skin with Armor All, then consider Neil Gaiman’s sage advice:

“Remember: when people tell you something’s wrong or doesn’t work for them, they are almost always right. When they tell you exactly what they think is wrong and how to fix it, they are almost always wrong.” ~~~ Neil Gaiman

We’re excited to invite you to take advantage of this service. You might even know other writers who are searching for this opportunity and would be grateful if you shared this post with them.

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About Writers

Your Whole Book Sucks

abbotsford-house

A couple of years ago, staying with friends on the Scottish border, we took the opportunity to visit Abbotsford, home of Sir Walter Scott. As you can see, it’s a pretty impressive place, but Scott could well afford it – he was the most successful writer of his day, his novels enjoying a popularity unheard of until then. Scott can reasonably be considered as the world’s first literary star, ranked during his lifetime as one the three greatest writers in history alongside Goethe and Shakespeare. And who reads Scott today? No one.

‘Which do you think is best?’ I said to my wife as we left. ‘Success during your lifetime and ignored two centuries later or the opposite?’ Obligingly – but not quite convincingly – she said, ‘I’m sure you’ll have both, my dear. Success in your lifetime and in two hundred years.’ Sweet as this reply was, it did nothing to conceal what we both knew: that it’s far more likely I’ll have neither.

As the example of Scott shows, success is a fickle creature. In some ways, that’s a comforting thought – what does it matter if I’m successful or not, since in any case it’s fleeting and overrated and ultimately unsatisfying? Well, yes, but to someone who’s never had it, that rings hollow, like telling developing countries that material wealth is a goal not worth pursuing. As Tennyson wrote of a different topic entirely, ’Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.

So lauded was Scott when alive that perhaps he was convinced that he was an excellent writer. But on the whole, successful writers are not exempt from self-doubt:

I am not a writer. I’ve been fooling myself and other people. John Steinbeck.

The first problem of any kind of even limited success is the unshakable conviction that you are getting away with something, and that any moment now, they will discover you. Neil Gaiman.

I have spent a good many years—too many, I think—being ashamed about what I write. Steven King

I’m very deeply inculcated with a sense of failure. Joyce Carol Oates.

The list could go on. But what to do about it? How do you tackle a problem that never goes away? You could join the Insecure Writers’ Support Group which now has many activities but was first set up to ‘act as a form of therapy, letting writers post about situations where they need encouragement, or to offer words of encouragement to others if they have experience.’

Personally, I haven’t joined. Not that it isn’t a fine initiative but ultimately, the encouragement I must find is within myself, and that can only come by continuing to write. On the face of it, that’s paradoxical because writing is what creates the doubt in the first place, so all that’s needed for the doubt to vanish is to stop. But in that case, of course, the doubt has won. No way am I going to let that happen. By continuing to write, I may be keeping it alive, but I’m also telling it to stay in its proper place – in a little cage in a corner of the room, every so often sneering through the bars, ‘That sentence you’ve just written really sucks. In fact, you know what? Your whole book sucks!’ Whereupon I turn to it and say, ‘Thank you. Because do you know what? If you weren’t there, I wouldn’t even try to make it better.’

Writing is finally about one thing: going into a room alone and doing it. Putting words on paper that have never been there in quite that way before. And although you are physically by yourself, the haunting Demon never leaves you, that Demon being the knowledge of your own terrible limitations, your hopeless inadequacy, the impossibility of ever getting it right. No matter how diamond-bright your ideas are dancing in your brain, on paper they are earthbound. William Goldman.

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