If you are fortunate enough that a professional writer who is much farther down the road happens to offer a critique of your work (most won’t, and I don’t), consider carefully what he or she has to say. Then decide whether to apply it to your own work. Apply it or discard it. Up to you.
However, if you receive any free critique of your writing from anyone else, my advice is to nod, smile, say thank you and go back to writing the story you want to write.
The thing is, nobody else knows your story. Period. They know only their version of your story.
And that goes double for so-called freelance “developmental” editors who offer paid critiques.
The paid critique is nothing more than a tool they use to stroke your ego, then upsell you on other services.
Recently I studied a critique (meaning I read it twice) for a friend. The critique was written by a “freelance developmental editor” whose training consisted of being asked by visitors to her husband’s bookstore years ago to look over their manuscripts and see what she thought.
Turned out she enjoyed telling those writers her opinion and has turned that into a living.
She has never written a novel or short story that I can find. On her website, she wrote, “[A]lthough I have the know-how to write a book, my real passion is helping other writers bring their books out into the world.”
In other words, “I could easily write a novel. I’m sacrificing my art to help others. Umm, for cash.”
Uh huh. They have a term for that sort of thing in Texas, and the term refers directly to bovine excrement.
As I said, I read the critique. The first three-quarters of it was how she would have written the story.
And remember, folks, this woman doesn’t have the ear of any particular publisher. She doesn’t work for a major publisher in New York. She’s just another non-connected reader with an opinion. You might as well pay your neighbor to read your novel and give you an opinion.
Don’t get me wrong. All readers have opinions, and they should have opinions. But they should not foist those opinions on writers as to how the book should have been written. And they should definitely not charge people money for that disservice.
- She talked about characterization and character arcs, but she has never developed a character or written an arc of any kind.
- She talked about deepening scenes (she didn’t call it that) but thought the writer could do that through the characters. (Uh, no.)
- She listed specifics, like wanting in one case to make a character work by herself when the character preferred to be teamed up with another character. (Again, no. The characters are IN the story. Let THEM decide.)
- She talked about weaknesses in the plot, apparently never having heard Bradbury’s quote that “plot is the tracks characters leave as they run through the story.”
Sigh. This sort of stuff washes over me with waves of weariness.
Look, you’re the writer. You get to choose.
- You can either be the Great Writer On High, directing everything the characters say and do (THIS is where writing becomes drudgery), OR
- You can resign as General Manager of the Universe, toss off all that responsibility, get down in the trenches and run through the story with the characters. That’s where the fun is.
This “editor” probably is a very nice woman. But she charged my friend $300 for this “critique,” which was only a little over 4 pages long. And remember that upselling I mentioned earlier? In the last several paragraphs, she recommended three different “levels” of editing:
- a “developmental edit,” during which she would go through the manuscript and note in the margins what the writer should do in each instance (um, developmental editors work in New York for big publishers, and I wouldn’t even let THEM touch my work);
- a “line edit,” “to ensure everything is in the best place [what?] for the flow of the story, that all the character reactions are in good shape [huh?], and that all those plot issues have been addressed.” (She wouldn’t do that during the “developmental” edit?); and finally
- a copy edit to “address all the wording and sentence structure concerns, as well as most of the grammar, punctuation, etc.” (Really? Just “most”?)
And yes, of course, she would charge a different fee for each level of edit.
Now, here’s some of that free advice that you can accept or just chunk on the junk pile. At least it won’t cost you anything.
As I told my friend,
- Write your story.
- Then have a good First Reader and/or copyeditor go over it to find wrong-word usages, typos, inconsistencies, and places where the story is confusing.
- Then do your “second draft” to correct What You Agree With that the first reader or copyeditor finds.
- Then publish it and write the next story. Don’t look back. Look forward.
Please. You’ll be a much better (and happier) writer.
I welcome comments on this post.
‘Til next time, happy writing.
Note: This is one of very few remaining “instructional” blogs at this location. I write those, almost daily, over on my Daily Journal now. If you want to continue getting advice from this professional novelist and short story writer, visit http://hestanbrough.com and subscribe! It’s free.