Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Wed & Writing: Beth's blocks(a tool for the paragraph critique)

For those of you who are published, you've undoubtedly at one time or another received an editorial letter with lines and lines and lines of what doesn't work. I don't know if it feels better to have some not like your work, because hey, at least you're under contract, or if it feels worse because it was good enough to get a contract and now you want me to change it. But I do know the first time I saw a paragraph form critique I thought I would die.

I bought a critique from an agent on ebay. She promised half a page. She delivered a page and a half. The customary first and last lines of the letter were encouraging. The rest of it read pretty much like this: "This is wrong, this is wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong. You suck, you suck you suck." Okay, so it didn't actually say that last part, but I got it pretty clear! I freaked out. I spent four months writing this and at the time I received the critique, another four revising (read six now). Not to mention, I was devastated that she promised half a page and there was so much wrong she had to give me a page and a half! But then one of my friends pointed out that if she didn't see potential, she probably would have done half a page and called it a day. I'm still not sure about this but that gave me hope.

I didn't know what to do about it. There were so many sentences of so many things wrong, that I couldn't even separate one comment from the next enough to think. But I'm a law school drop out/paralegal. I spend my day organizing things. I got the idea of a table. And that's what I did.

I copied and pasted the whole email into a word document. I read one sentence at a time. If the next sentence was an example of the previous found problem I left it. If it was a new problem I hit enter. I separated each comment in the email out like this until each thought was isolated. I then inserted a table below each thought. I left a column for whether or not I agreed with the comment, a column for my CP's thoguhts, and a column for how to fix the problem.

I found I knew some of the things she said. Some of the things I didn't know had been pointed out to me, but not put quite the same way, so that I didn't get the true meaning of the comment. Some of the things I just didn't agree with. But I now had a clear idea of what was definitely wrong and either had or could come up with a way to fix it. At this point I feel like I've addressed most of the concerns on the critique sheet I made that day. Paragraph critiques used to haunt me. Now I almost prefer them, because while line edits are essential, it's harder to put them in a table.

It's an easy thing to do. You just insert a table from word and choose how many columns you need. I tried to insert an example but the comp isn't co-operating. If anyone needs one let me know in the comments and I'll paste it in next week (when the resident tech guy is here to do it).


  1. Good technique. getting used to many edit suggestions is one of those necessary adjustments.

  2. Great use of your skills. Finding the right technique for your work is key when you're trying to understand a critique. Not always do I use the same method because each manuscript is different.

    I agree with your critique partner though. Had she not seen potential she would have told you to look for another career and not even completed the half a page. Sometimes it's fishing through the bad stuff to find the good stuff.

  3. Beth!! Great post! Critiques can be rough but what a productive way to handle it. Thank you so much for being my 100th follower. You will forever hold a special place in my bloggy

  4. Love your post and tips. Also, the fact that someone took the time to address your writing and help make it better is worth all the red they leave behind.

  5. Great technique! I do something similar. I separate out all the problems associated with a specific thought or idea, and then list out possible solutions, as well as all the places where it will need to be fixed. Sometimes it's just a few places, but other times it's all over the place. Those are harder to track down because I'm always afraid I'll miss something. :)

    Great post! Thanks for sharing.

  6. Thanks for sharing you technique. It's always interesting to see how other writers tackle revision and critiques.

  7. Hey, nice to "see" you. Love your blog picture. And I LOVE your technique. I will get you on my list for following, because you sound like you might have some useful ideas. Do agents often put up critiques for sale on ebay? I may have to check into that. Unfortunately, we've been writing and editing ourselves a book for 2.5 years. I am really afraid of a critique after all that work. You have to be confident but humble to handle those criques.

  8. I did something very similar with an editorial letter I received. It helps to take the criticism one sentence at a time, and helped me to focus on each comment and really reflect on it before moving on.

    Angela @ The Bookshelf Muse

  9. Seems like a sensible way to deal with it Beth! I've recently joined a writer's workshop where we critique each other's work. Though it's lovely when people tell you that they love your writing - it's much more helpful when they give you points to work on. It's all about getting better after all!