Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Covered in Red Ink

I haven't posted in a while because *gasp* I've been working on new things. I also joined a writer's group to help improve my craft. My first meeting with them was this past Sunday, and as I had never been to an official writer's group, I took my job of editing seriously. The submission was emailed to me, I read it through several times making notes with my little red pen along the way. It wasn't bad, mind you, in fact the scene descriptions were phenomenal and many of the characters were brought to life in only a few pages. I would say my biggest issue was with the dialogue. It felt more like it was used to tell us things about the characters and less like natural conversation. Just my opinion.

When I arrived, the other members took out their sample pages and looking around I saw only a little comment here or there, and then I peered down at my own pages, covered with so much red ink they looked like a murder scene. I kept them hidden as we discussed the story with the writer, and at the end of the meeting I was tucking them back into my folder when she asked, "Can I please have your notes?"
I froze.
"You want my notes?" I asked.
"Yes, if you don't mind."
My hand was shaking, as I stretched them out across the table, immediately making apologies.
"Well...uh...I really made these notes for myself and...I mean some of them are just my opinion...er, you can take it or leave it."
She smiled graciously, put them in her folder and then it was decided that the group would look at my writing next. I am expecting to receive an equal lashing in return.

Guaranteed, if I had known she was going to take my notes I would have made less of them, and I would have written more clearly. I decided I would be more careful with my comments in the future, but is that really helpful? I suppose I will see how it feels when I am on the chopping block next week, but fellow writers, what do you think? Should I continue to be unscrupulous in my feedback, or tone it down a little? What would you prefer?


Cameron L said...

When I took a writing class at the community college level, a good friend of mine would edit my work. I really liked the way he did it. Basically, he didn't hold back at all when it came to suggested changes. He would cross words out, move sentences, etc, all in red pen with no explanation. But at the same time, his critique would never attack me personally. In your example about the dialogue above, you did exactly what I'm describing. You said the dialogue was used to communicate facts to the reader and therefore didn't come across as a natural conversational flow. There's nothing hostile or wrong with that criticism. You aren't attacking the writer, you're making an observation. The writer can choose to take it or leave it, but it's probably very good criticism. It's certainly more valuable than saying, "I liked these seven things about your story." That's only slightly better than saying nothing.

jjdebenedictis said...

I decided I would be more careful with my comments in the future, but is that really helpful?


The fact she took your notes meant she valued your critique. A lot. Don't tone things down; you did your job well! She really, really wanted to know what all your little red marks were.

Dance like there's no one watching, as they say. No bashfulness allowed. Say exactly what you mean--both in your critiquing and in your writing

(Although, when you're critiquing, do be polite and tactful. We writers are, by definition, rather sensitive souls!)