May 25, 2011

Critiquing and the Overnight Success

Writing is a strange craft.  I've probably seen hundreds of amateur paintings as well as masterpieces.  I've certainly listened to beginning trombonists learn their scales (it's memorable, I promise).  I've seen pick-up games of basketball. many amateur novels does the average person read?

With so many other endeavors, we're used to seeing the steps.  We know that today's awkward fencer, given dedication and practice, can hone those skills to become an olympic medalist.  With novels, we only get the final product, shining in glorious hard cover at the bookstore.

I've met writers who compare their writing to their favorite author and weep.  In some ways, this seems comparable to a second-year cellist sighing that he's not Yo-Yo Ma and never will be.  But who would expect a student to sound like that?  Yo-Yo Ma's been practicing cello for over fifty years.

Critiquing can help fill in those gaps we never see, throwing out the strange -- but somehow far-reaching -- notion that "real" writers pour genius onto the page the first time they try.  All those shiny hardcovers started as someone's first draft.  Even the books I adore were frowned over, revised, and reworked until they became sheer awesomeness.

A while back, the Writing Excuses podcast took apart the opening to Brandon Sanderson's very first, unpublished novel.  It sounds like...well, an unpublished novel.  Somewhere between this and Elantris, Brandon poured in a lot of hard work into the craft of writing.  Maybe someone will find that daunting; I find it inspiring and reassuring.  If there's anything I'm good at, it's lots of hard work.

So, Critiquing Secret #1: Critiquing shows us that writing is a process.

Critiquing is something I love and something I feel I can say something about, so I'm staring a series of posts about it, updating on Wednesday evenings.


  1. I completely agree, critiquing is key to getting your work to a higher level! And I love how you mention that our work shouldn't be compared to published work-- we haven't gone through all the steps they have yet.

    Also, I'm a HUGE Brandon Sanderson fan as well. If you thought Mistborn was genius (which I totally agree with), try his book The Way of Kings. It. is. brilliant.

    Thanks for stopping by my blog and commenting on the marketing post, by the way! I loved Rob's marketing class a lot; it took the fear out of marketing for me. Here's what I think when I come to your blog: someone who loves books and writing, and is striving to learn and share that knowledge.

  2. I have read Way of Kings -- I pretty much go grab any Brandon Sanderson book as soon as it comes out. I know I'm not going to be disappointed.

    Rob's marketing class was amazing. I almost didn't go to the conference, but I'm so glad I did.