Thursday, March 4, 2010

If you want detailed critiques on your work

In my post about trusted readers a couple of days, I said I would later address the topic of what to do if you want detailed critiques of your work. The short answer for beginning writers is, alas, most likely to be a frustrating one:

Learn to live without it.

I say that because for most new writers, the people who are willing to give you detailed critiques are not competent to do so, and the people who are competent to do so won't do it.

In the first group are most of your friends, family, and other aspiring writers. I'm not in any way trying to say those people aren't good or smart or competent at their jobs; I'm sure they are all of those things and more. It's just unlikely that they have enough writing knowledge and experience to be able to help you craft your work into a form suitable for sale.

That said, there are always exceptions. Groups of new writers sometimes form and help each other sell their work. It's just rare.

The second group, the folks who could do a great job of shaping your work, are unlikely to do so because most of them are professional writers working in your genre, and those folks don't want to work on your book or story because doing so will distract them from their book or story. (There are many other reasons writers don't want to offer such advice; search the Web and you'll find many entertaining blog entries on the topic. I may even write one someday--but not today.) One of the best story mechanics with whom I've ever workshopped is Jim Kelly, and though this award-winning author is as nice a guy as you're ever likely to meet, I don't think he provides his editing services for free.

I mentioned workshopping. If you attend a workshop at which pro writers are working with beginners, such as the Clarion workshops, then you will get exactly this type of help--but you'll have to pay to be there. (Some workshops do have scholarships available.) You can sometimes find free or nearly free workshops at conventions--I participated in one at Worldcon in Montreal, where a group of beginners paid very little (I think; I just read some manuscripts and showed up and wasn't involved in that end of things) and received detailed comments from multiple professional writers.

So where does this leave beginning writers? Where we've all been: on their own most of the time. You can use your trusted reader to give you an overall sense of how you're doing, but the rest of the job remains your problem. As you sell, you'll meet other pros, and they might then be willing to give your work a look (or not).

Finally, in case you're wondering, yes, I probably could help you with your book or story, and no, I'm not going to do so. You could pay me enough to change my mind, but the fee would be far larger than what selling the work would net, so I wouldn't advise it. I'm not trying to be mean; I'm just swamped.

Speaking of which, I have a book to finish....


J. Griffin Barber said...

Solid information, well given.

Mark said...

Thanks for the kind words. I hope it proves helpful.


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