Show and Tell – My First Professional Critique

There’s this false sense of security that lulls a would-be writer when she posts her work on a site like Wattpad and read all the praise pouring in.  One writer friend told me that it was “instant gratification” to read all those comments as soon as you click ‘Publish’ and that it was addicting. It makes you want to keep on writing not really for the sake of writing to perfect your craft, but to keep hearing that praise pouring in. 

Problem is – the praise isn’t from your peers, fellow writers or editors who know the essentials of a good story. 

And so after almost 4 months of writing and now currently rewriting my novel, I decided to send the first 2500 words to an editor and author – just me being the type of girl who ‘runs with scissors and never thinks before she says something.’  The woman’s well-respected in the business and people actually were proud to have “bricks flung” at them (in the form of critiques, of course) and admitted that while the critique was harsh and took months to receive, it was what their novels really needed.  No false sense of security there.

I didn’t know what to expect really.  What I did know, the moment I clicked Send, was that my first chapter was the weakest of all 46 chapters in the 140K word novel.  But maybe I needed the validation. Maybe I needed a brick or two flung at me after all the praise I’d been hearing from readers via comments and private messages.  Or maybe I just needed a professional editor to look at it and tell me it was crap so I’d know what to do to make it not so much like crap.

Three hours later, I got my reply.  As I read her email, she first told me that she wasn’t flinging bricks at me – yet.  She also told me what I already knew about that first chapter.

Unfortunately I had mis-identified the genre I was writing by putting down ROMANCE instead of WOMEN’S LIT.  So her critique had more to do with the romance genre, one of which included the advice to read a 100 books for every one book I wanted to write, or read a How To Write a Romance Novel type of book – that is, IF I was writing a romance.

“If this is “women’s fiction” rather than “romance” … then this is fine, but it’s still riddled with the telling, not showing problems.

“Decide if your book is a romance or women’s fiction, then start it at the latest point possible when something more interesting is going on for the [protagonist] than being in the throes of grief for her friend.  I question even using that as a plot device.”

This critique was definitely what I needed to know just how weak my first chapter was.  It also told me that I had a long way to go.  I have heard of people writing novels in 3 to 4 months, then have it published by the 5th month.  Is it polished?  I don’t know, though sometimes I buy then and wonder I wasted my money.  But I shouldn’t be worrying about those authors, that they’re published and I’m not.  I should worry about me, and the type of work I want to produce. 

I need to move that story forward, find my voice in women’s lit (the genre I prefer most to read) and keep on editing till I know that that first chapter is the best I can send out.  Then, and only then – after she asks me to send the full manuscript – do  I wait for the bricks to be flung my way…

11 thoughts on “Show and Tell – My First Professional Critique

  1. It’s difficult to not be defensive when someone tears into the words that poured from your heart and soul. It makes the words, published author, a badge of courage for surviving the rite of passage.

    1. She was kind with her critique so it wasn’t too bad, and maybe because I knew it was the weakest chapter of my whole novel (worse, too, since one has to grab the reader in that first chapter). But I think I’d probably feel differently if she did fling those bricks at me 🙂

  2. This is good to know, and actually sounds very promising for you. I am a) very glad the response was amazingly immediate and b) glad they were constructive and placed the right questions in front of you. To me, this is really good news and a really great place to move forward. I think a sincere congratulations to you is definitely in order!

    1. Thank you, Crystal! I was down in the dumps yesterday and about to scrap one character that I thought drove the story forward, but thank goodness someone (not an editor, but a reader) kinda talked me away from that ledge and I’m back to editing the story and fine tune it a bit more – while kiddo is screaming in the background wanting me to take him to the pool (I am done with pools. I don’t care what people say. Chlorine messes with my hair color LOL) 🙂

      1. Very, very glad someone talked you out of it, especially if you believe in that character and they still “speak” to you.

        I don’t blame you about pools. I feel the same. But you know, if you can find a salt water pool, it’s less/no chlorine and much kinder to skin and hair. (The water is softer and smells better too.)

      2. This character does speak to me – in the rough draft, there’ s not much of her but in the editing, I’m bringing more of her in.

        There’s a saltwater pool next to where we go but it’s only available to day camps 😦 And what’s worse is – this place we go to is a temporary outdoor pool while the indoor one’s being renovated. They have NO showers! Yesterday I had white stuff all over me (I hope it was chlorine). Thank goodness we live 5 minutes away.

        And I have to wash my hair everyday! That drives me nuts since I have long thick hair.

      3. 😦 That’s a shame. Well maybe you can find an alternative for these hot days for the little guy, like a Geyser sprinkler attached to a hose? He could play at home and you can write on a laptop and watch him? Just a thought.

        It sounds like even more good has come out of this editor! 🙂

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