the value of critique

Another late start with writing last night. Put in 400 words on “The Ghost, the Vampire, and the Jock.” It’s about 9,000 words total at the moment and still feels like I’m in the early stages of the book. And really, I can’t say much with what the book is about, because I have no freaking clue where this thing is going. There’s a ghost, a vampire, and probably a jock, though he hasn’t really played a part yet.

Short story challenge begins tomorrow, short of something else getting in the way. This is the challenge Dean Wesley Smith is offering, where he provides a prompt, you write a story, and then he reads the story. Wash, rinse, repeat every week until you don’t write a story. At the end of it all, I get credit for workshops.

For those who haven’t taken one of Smith’s workshops, his reads like an acquisitions editor. His responses boil down to “yes” or “no.” If there’s a major flaw in the story, he’ll point it out as bluntly as possible, more so with something basic (like the ending doesn’t match the story, stuff like that). If he really enjoyed the story, he says so.

Smith never critiques.

His reasoning for that is so he doesn’t intrude himself into another writer’s story. Or worse, force a writer into rewriting a story that another reader might enjoy.

I’ve thought lately about how I haven’t had a critique partner in years, and haven’t even sought one out. I don’t talk about stories that I’m currently working on, and once a story is done I simply publish it and move on to the next story. I learn by writing lots of stories and by taking classes and reading as much as I humanly can.

But early on, of course I sought out crit partners. That’s how it was done, dammit, and how else was I supposed to learn? Looking back though, I laugh at myself. Normally you’re exchanging manuscripts with another beginner, neither of you have a clue how to write a book. If you’re sort of lucky, you might find somebody who’s a little further down the road from you and knows enough to offer legitimate advice. Usually it’s the blind leading the blind.

And early stage writers, bless them, only see words and pretty sentences. Maybe they’ll give lip service to character and plot, but for them it’s mostly about the grammar and punctuation. I probably just pissed off half the internet, but whatever.

You learn how to write high school term papers with critique partners. You learn storytelling by studying the master storytellers, and by writing shit-tons of stories yourself.

I’ve reached a point where I don’t need a pat on the head critique. Nor do I need advice on how to structure my sentences. Yes, I have lots more to learn. LOTS. But exchanging manuscripts doesn’t cut it for me anymore.

Honestly, I doubt critique has much value to any aspiring author. This is a business with a high attrition rate. Critique will just get to your head and devalue your craft, especially if your critique partner is a vicious asshole who has no publishing credit to his name.

Instead, just write and publish everything you write. Grow a backbone and stand by your work. Read everything you can get your hands on. Take classes and workshops where you can. Have fun. And write. And publish. And write more.

So easy to say. So hard to do. And, of course, this is advice I would never have followed in my early days.

By David Anthony Brown

Indie writer and publisher. Among other jack-of-all-trade skills...

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