I'll let you in on a little secret. I love to critique writings. I love it. That might explain why I'm up at five in the morning and resisting the urge to go get my little red pen and start scratching away at the pile of manuscripts by my printer. In fact, I love critiquing manuscripts so much that it is almost impossible for me to read a novel without once questioning some element or literary device that the author has used. I have gotten better about ignoring it with some authors and worse with others. There are some writers I just can't read anymore because the quality of their work has gotten worse instead of better. I think that's the curse of being a bestseller. Once you make it that big, people want consistency. The readers know how you write, and they want to see it over and over again. The editors/publishers know how much you bring in, and they want you to do it over and over again, and the agent, well they just keep lining up deals that makes everyone happy. But the writing suffers, as the books come out faster and faster. I know some famous authors who used to workshop their stuff before it went to the editor and now they don't and honestly, I want to read the book that was workshoped. I sit there and think to myself, if they had let someone impartial look at this, then the plot would be different. Or they would realize that this character has done a complete 180. But whatever who am I to complain?
I love critiquing manuscripts so much that I am now in three different workshop groups. When I sit down with a story, I just get sucked in, only coming up for air every two hours or so. And today I learned that it doesn't even have to be a manuscript. I have in deed spent at least four hours editing a three page book synopsis!
Overkill you say? Nonsense. Not when you take your responsibility as a critiquer seriously. on many an occassion I read a piece twice if not three times. The first just to get an idea of the structure, plot etc. I get a feel for what is on the plate. Did the end feel satisfying. Was the beginning slow? Was I confused during the middle? The second readthrough is to ask why. I know what I liked, and what I didn't like, now what might have caused that. The third read is typically grammar/line edits that might not have gotten picked up the first two times.
And you know what, the really great thing about reviewing someone elses work? You still don't get everything. I go to my writing group and think....I've got this story down, and sometimes I am surprised to see what others picked up on. Sometimes what I think is a flaw works for someone else. And that is ok. The important thing is that the author knows that.
People who don't have much success in a writer's groups are the people who don't know what to do with the information they are given. Some people simply can't handle criticism. I've had people react very badly to my words. In fact one new member to our group finished the meeting with, "and now that you've all stomped the life out of my writing..." He was shocked, and unprepared for our comments, and felt they were harsh. Maybe they were. I think we are all used to getting to the point. There's no reason to pussyfoot around. What good do you get from me telling you that your work is great, if it isn't? If we don't tell you, some agent or editor will (maybe, if they think you deserve even more than a form letter rejection from the slush pile.)
Other's just willy-nilly change things, taking every single suggestion that comes their way. I want to scream out NOOOOO while shaking them madly. You're the writer. It's your work. You have to know what it is you want to do with the story/novel before you can guage the feedback you recieve. If you write a horror story, and someone says, I don't like this, It was scary... you don't go back and take it out. You are writing a horror story, something that person simply may not have known, or may not like. People who don't know what they want out of a story, make so many inconsistent changes that in the end, the story can be worse off. Then they wonder why people still don't like the story. (I'd like to say, with a few stories I am guilty as charged!)
So that is my five AM tangent. Love your reviewers. Thank them dearly, especially if they spend hours pouring over your words. In the end, I don't do it to make myself feel better. I do it because I truly believe in helping each other write better. I learn so much in the process. And as wonderful as I am critiquing other people's work, sometimes I can't even identify the basic flaws in my own. Often I'm just too damn close to it. I rely on people putting in as much effort on my own work as I do theirs. And will I use all their comments? No way. But listening to them is the first step....