For one lucky commenter, chosen randomly, Naomi is offering a PDF copy of one (winner's choice) of her EMPIRE IN PINE series. These stories are described by Naomi as "historic, romantic, women's fiction--a multi-generational family saga of love and deception, hope and turmoil, and the rise of a wilderness empire. For convenience, please leave your email address within the body of the comment. The winner will be announced here on Friday April 5th between 4-6 EST.
Want to Really Improve Your Writing?
How Critiquing Others' Novels Will Put a Kick in Your Craft
By Naomi Musch
Feedback. Where would any writer be without it? If we, as writers, live inside our own bubbles, romancing our work and never exposing it until it's in the hands of an agent or editor, we might find a quick rejection. Why is that? It's because we haven't learned from critique. One set of eyes -- our own -- is seldom enough.
We don't take that plunge after a first draft, of course. Maybe not even after a second. We should apply self-edits and get our work as clean as we can before we turn it over to someone else to critique or even have it subjected to a hired editor's pen.
In the meantime, we can learn more about improvement by doing the same job for someone else.
When I sat down to pound out my first novel, I took it weekly, chapter by chapter, to my local writers' group for feedback. That eclectic, hands-on group questioned trouble spots, marked up passive tense, tweaked dialogue, made stronger verb suggestions, pointed out plot holes, offered ideas for tightening tension, and helped with a host of other new-writer issues. Sitting around a big conference-sized table, passing out copies of work which we read aloud, they offered me much needed advice, and I offered them the same type of feedback. Those early years in my experience were worth a college education. When other skilled writers and astute beta readers offer feedback, our eyes are opened to a myriad of plot snafus, grammar gaffs, and character issues we might have missed. Conversely, when we do the same service for others, we began to notice the weak points more easily in our own work. We gain the ability to look subjectively at our work -- at least as subjectively as is possible. We learn how to take criticism, and which criticism is worthy. This is all great preparation for the day our books are contracted with a publishing house where we might have to bow to an editor's decisions over our own. It also prepares us for receiving those book reviews we hope to garner someday. It's easy to bask in a 5-star glow, a little tougher to let a 1-star slide off our backs.
Years later, now that my list of publishing credits is gaining ground, I continue to grow in my own craft by helping others grow in theirs and by closely examining quality, published work as well.
As a staff writer and occasional proofreader for five years with a Christian newspaper, I learned more about various writing styles and techniques. Blogging regular tutorials for new and young writers on A Novel Writing Site, I helped judge and give personal feedback to entrants in our yearly "First 5 Pages Contest". Finally, spending a year as an editor for Port Yonder Press, I discovered there was more for me to learn as an editor, and there will always be more -- much more -- I will learn as a writer. Lately I've joined the board of The Grace Awards, which also offers a yearly contest. I expect the experience I gain serving others there will also provide facets of education to my writing experience.
Feedback is essential to receive, yes. But it is also extremely necessary to give.
If you don’t know where to start, think of a book you've recently read that's gripped you. Then begin asking why. What did that particular author have a way with? Was it the way they turned a phrase? Was it the short bursts of dialogue that created intensity in an action scene? Did they reveal their characters' motives in a way that created an immediate connection? If so, how? Study. Critique them.
What book have you set aside recently? What made you stop reading, and how can you avoid being guilty of making the mistakes that author did?
I occasionally even write Book Exams on my blog -- reviews of books that stood out to me, but focusing on an instructional twist -- ferreting out something a writer could learn from them.
Benefits of giving critique or edits:
· Learning how to look subjectively at plot structure, scene structure, character arc, and methods to develop brilliant dialogue, heightened verbs, even improved voice.
· Developing heart. It's frankly, pretty easy to be either hyper critical or blown away by genius. But if a manuscript needs more work, use your offer of critique to be kind while making suggestions. Consider that, in the serendipity of life, these things come back to you, so be tactful and gracious.
· When you've met a cardboard character, you know it. They feel lifeless and flat and you don't care what happens to them. If you were the author whose work you're critiquing, what would you do to enliven that character? Suggest it, and then give your own characters the same surgery.
· Making friends. You know you've found a kindred spirit when you connect with another writer. Your family might think you're off your rocker at times, as you walk around the house conversing with the imaginary population in your private downtown. But a fellow writer understands, and commiserates with your dreamed-up crises. Part of the fun of offering critiques and edits is the camaraderie you experience.
A final suggestion is that you don't offer editing service for a fee unless you really have the credentials to back them up. Experience over time is a great teacher. Having your own work go through a publisher's or editor's gristmill will put you miles ahead. Stick with it, and don’t be discouraged. Everyone's work needs work. Other's eyes will help you find your story's flaws, just as your eyes will help them find theirs.
Empire in Pine is Naomi's inspirational, historical series from Desert Breeze Publishing. First published in e-format, all three books are now coming to print beginning with Book One, The Green Veil. Naomi writes from the pristine north woods of Wisconsin where she and husband Jeff live as epically as God allows on a ramshackle farm near their five young adult children and three grandchildren. Amidst it, she writes about imperfect people who are finding hope and faith to overcome their struggles, whether the story venue is rich in American history, or along more contemporary lines.
She invites readers to say hello and find out more about her stories, passions, and other writing venues at http://www.naomimusch.com or to look her up on Facebook (Naomi Musch - Author) and Twitter (NMusch).
Naomi's Ah-hahs to Tweet:
“…get our work as clean as we can before we turn it over to someone else to critique…” (Click To Tweet)
“Feedback is essential to receive, yes. But it is also extremely necessary to give.” (Click To Tweet)
“Other's eyes will help you find your story's flaws, just as your eyes will help them find theirs.” (Click To Tweet)