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Do Your Worst! The Value of Criticism

February 8, 2015

When I first started writing, I never shared my work with anyone. It felt too personal. And not only that, but what if it wasn’t any good? It would be devastating to put my heart and soul into hundreds of pages, only to have someone tell me my time is better spent on other endeavors. Like, finishing those ten seasons of FRIENDS they just put on Netflix. Or rearranging my closet.

I’m not sure when my attitude changed. Probably in college, when I won my first writing award. And when I took Creative Writing from the lovely Richard Burgin, who forced me to share my short stories. Then, when I graduated from law school, I put myself on query, where I met several amazing critique partners. They tore my work apart, and by them doing so, I was able to build it up into something much more.

No matter the source, I have found as a writer that the most important means to improving is the willingness to share my work. There are issues I have not seen in my writing because I’m simply too close to it. Others do not have those blinders. And writing is a never-ending process of getting better, which is accomplished in part by accepting and growing from criticism.

There are stories out there about debut writers who were grabbed with an idea, got on their computer, and pounded out words until their brilliant creation was finished and then submitted to an agent who immediately sold it to Random in a three-book deal. Those are writers who win the writing lottery. Much more common are the writers who go through six books and six revisions apiece before they finally, finally score that book deal. And how do they do that? They write, and read, and – relevant here –  learn from input.

With LISSA BLACK, my advanced middle grade book that will be subbed this month, I have run with the input I have been lucky to receive. My critique partners have read it and commented, my poor husband has sloughed through it (he’s very intelligent, but he isn’t a reader), and I’ve read dozens of other middle grade books to get a feel for my industry. I’ve done my homework.

And now, to add to it, I am in the middle of the revisions proposed by my fabulous agent Lauren Galit, who is a stickler! Lauren has painstakingly gone through all 242 pages of my novel to point out every place where a change would make my manuscript better. While I don’t think I was ever a diva when it came to revisions, my evolution from my college-age self enables me to make the most of these comments. I can run with them because I can see what she means from a creative and critical standpoint. If this had been five years ago, I might have cried, but the fact of the matter is an agent won’t take you on unless they love your book and believe in you, and I know that criticism serves a purpose.

My message to you, writers out there who shield your writing from view – don’t. Criticism is, for the most part, valuable. The moment you learn to discern the good criticism from the worthless criticism, and to make the educated decision as to which criticism to use and which to leave behind, is when you become a serious writer.

And that second part is so important. You are the writer. Do your job. Run with criticism, don’t lean on it. You can’t revise based on criticism because you’re afraid the criticism means your writing isn’t any good. You need to revise because the input resonates. After all, you’re the one who wrote the book in the first place, and you’re the one who knows what the finished product should look like.

My manuscript with the initial flagging for revisions (based on Lauren's and my crit partners' input)

My manuscript with the initial flagging for revisions (based on Lauren’s and my crit partners’ input)


My progress this weekend...

My progress this weekend…

Progress as of  Wednesday morning

Progress as of Wednesday morning


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