Kristen Lamb

Author, Blogger, Social Media Jedi

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Posts Tagged: critic

It’s Friday! *insert Happy Dance here* What a week! Today I have an amazing opportunity to pass on some wisdom that I hope will change your life as much as it has mine. This blog is dedicated to helping the human writer. Why do I say human? Because we are more than robots sitting in front of a computer pounding out word count. We have fears and hopes and dreams and bad habits. We are all targets of Crappy Excuse Trolls and Procrastination Pixies.

Today, we are going to talk about character. There are a lot of people in the world with the talent to take them straight to the top, but they lack the character to stay there. I hate to admit it, but I was probably one of those people. Writing, for me, has been a journey of developing my character as much as it has been about growing in my craft.

In the not-so-distant past, I was the reigning Queen of Do It Later Land, a sad realm paved with good intentions, nestled between the Post-It Note Mountains. For years, I was better at meddling in the affairs of others than focusing on my own life. Why? I didn’t have the right perspective when it came to my own problems. I dwelled on my failures and mitigated my success. I didn’t have the proper relationship with failure. Instead of looking at my failures as learning experiences, I felt it was proof that I was a loser and nothing good would ever come my way.

I was so negative, I couldn’t take my own company, and I had no clue how I was sabotaging my own success. The more I focused on failure, the more failure came my way. My life was filled with toxic people, and why wouldn’t it be? I was gravitating to people just like me…negative, hopeless, and always living in expectation of failure. I had this horrible belief that, if I never expected anything, I could never be disappointed. Those were dark years, but I thank every day for them. Why? Because I learned to view dark times and dark people differently.

Film develops in a dark room. Character develops in dark places. So today we are going to learn some Attitude Alchemy by changing hardships from loadstones to steps in a golden staircase.

Jerks are Good for Us

I know! Hard to believe. The day I understood this principle was the day my life began to change.

All of us have areas of our character that need to improve; rough edges that, left alone, will always be rough, making it impossible for the best aspects of who we are to shine through. First, how does coal become a diamond? Pressure! Lots of pressure! Even still. Ever seen a diamond dug out of the ground? It isn’t exactly ready to be set in an engagement ring. It looks like a dirty hunk of glass. It needs to be….CUT! What cuts diamonds? Other diamonds…low grade industrial diamonds that will never be good for anything but their ability to be highly abrasive. Jerks are the low grade industrial diamonds that shape the facets of our character. We cannot shine until we are cut, and cut again, and again.

As writers, prepare to deal with a lot of jerks. When we start out, most of us are dirty, rough hunks of glass. For most of you (me included), family will be the first line of industrial diamonds. Yes, they are likely going to roll their eyes and have sarcastic comments. They may even sabotage. We can choose to feel like a victim, or we can believe they are shaping our character. Do we love writing enough to continue? Or are we being a people pleaser who will quit the second someone has something nasty to say? My family’s sarcasm made me a finisher. I had never been one of those before, and that massive flaw in my character had been a huge stumbling block barring the way to genuine success. Hah! My family thought they would stop me, but what did they really do? They polished that flaw out of my character.

When you decide to become a writer, jerks will come out of the woodwork. Join a critique group and there is a quota that every group have one jack@$$. Another layer of industrial diamonds.

BZZZZZZZZZZZTTTTTTTTT Owiiieeeee!!!!! No! Ouch! You’re a writer too! I thought you’d say nice things and be supportive! Ahhhhhhhhh!!!!!

The first time I read my work for critique, I thought I was going to throw up in my shoes. But I was so proud of what I had written. Even though my family was no longer speaking to me, I finished a novel. It was the first thing I had ever stuck to. I brought it to critique so I could send it to an agent.

There was a published writer who took my pages and threw them in the air and said, “This is crap.” The scent of blood filled the water and the sharks circled.

I got slaughtered.

I gritted my teeth, determined they would not break me. Somehow I made it through the rest of the session then stumbled through the parking lot to my car and cried. I so wanted to run away and give up, but that was what I had always done in the past. I dried my tears and resolved to prove I could write and write well. I refined and read and studied until the pieces I brought were polished perfect. My prose became the strongest in the group.


Once you make it past the critique group, you will have to likely endure the agents. Most will send you a form letter and, if you are lucky, they will even spell your name correctly. It hurts. But again, this process is cutting facets so you can shine brighter. Maybe you need to read more or take more writing classes. Maybe, because of fear, you aren’t writing in a genre you really love, so your voice isn’t developing.

We can take all those “No’s” as proof we are a failure, or we can take that and use it to change… BZZZZZZZZZTTTTTTTTTTTTTT OWWW NOT THAT!!!!! AGHHHHH!!!!

Even when you get published, and probably especially when you get published, there will still be jerks. They will write hateful stuff on your FB page and your blog and even send you nasty e-mails. Candace Havens (who is one of  THE most awesome people in the world) showed to a book signing in tears after someone posted a horrible, eviscerating review on Amazon. I have never seen a writer give more effort to teaching new writers than NY Times Best-Selling Author Bob Mayer. Bob had a workshop participant act so badly I seriously expected Bob to start speaking in tongues. He handled it with class, but I know he was deeply hurt by a writer he was trying very hard to help.

Jerks are part of life, and they can be a new devil or can bring a new level. The choice is ours.

Jerks can test our commitment level. They can challenge our convictions or even make us angry because they speak a truth we are scared to face. Whenever something makes me angry, I stop and ask why it bothered me. Jerks can teach us how to set effective boundaries. In Kindergarten we get taught to be nice to everyone. It’s a good principle to follow, and most people are respectful. But, being nice doesn’t mean we give carte blanche to people who want to tear through and wreck our lives and be hateful and disrespectful.

Sometimes we have to set boundaries, and that isn’t always pleasant. I had to unfollow someone on FB yesterday. I NEVER have to do that. But, he was bullying me and my friends and kicking sand in their faces. He wrote hateful comments on this blog and even wrote a blog calling me all sorts of ridiculous unfair names. But, he was teaching me a lesson that I have struggled with all my life. When do we stop being polite and put our foot down? Was I going to cave in what I believe, or was I going to water down my humor so he would not be offended? I happen to believe that a sense of humor is the sign of a healthy society (and person). This individual was challenging that belief. Would I compromise?

No. I wouldn’t. And I wasn’t going to permit him to bully me or any of you.

If we want to be NY Times best-selling authors (and many of us do), it stands to reason that we will have to be effective at setting and enforcing boundaries. We will need to be disciplined and committed and believe in our work and ourselves. All those jerks along the way just BZZZZZZZTTTTTTTTTTTTed off all the rough edges.

So the next time someone kicks sand in your face, you can get upset, or just smile and think….BBZZZZZTTTTTTT Boy are you gonna make me shine! It isn’t easy and it isn’t instinctive, but the activities that are contrary to our nature and what we want to do, generally are the best for us.

Lifting weights, eating broccoli or even giving up a movie with friends to make word count are not always the things that we want to do, but they take us a step closer to the big goal. Same with how we handle jerks. We can give in and cry and whine and go tell all our friends how we are picked on, or we can think, A new level or a new devil? I choose another level. Bring it on. The more you grind, the brighter I’ll SHINE! Give it your best!

What are your thoughts? What challenges have made you better? Share your triumphs! We love being encouraged. What have been your greatest trials? Suggestions? Recommendations?

Happy writing!

Until next time…..

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Today is Free-for-All Friday, so it’s my choice for topics. Today I am going to do something a tad unusual. A book review. Now I don’t get asked to do a lot of these. I think it has something to do with my reputation preceding me. When you earn nicknames like “The Shredder” and “The Death Star,” you generally don’t have writers lining up around the block to hand over their baby. Fair enough. I do tend to be picky. Almost ten years as an editor has made me more than a little odd, and I do find it tough to read fiction without my Inner Red Pen tagging along. But I am a HUGE fan of Jody’s blog, so I figured I’d show some writer support and read her book. Boy am I glad I did!

I enjoy fiction and usually read a few chapters a day. I take the good and the bad. But, every once in a while, I am blessed with a rare opportunity to remember my life before the red pen, to recall how it felt to be a reader held captive by a story. This past Sunday, I cracked open Jody Hedlund’s The Preacher’s Bride. It’s a Christian Romance and really not the genre I ever read in my spare time. I figured out on page one that likely there wouldn’t be a single autopsy, explosion or car chase. But, the funny thing is that even though this book was so far from what I normally would read for pleasure, it caught me on the first page and didn’t let go until I had finished.

I sat glued to my couch all day. I would say, “Okay, I’ll just finish this chapter, and then I’ll get up.” Yeah, well I did that all the way to the end of the book. I read from 10:00 Sunday morning until 9:00 that night. Just to give some perspective, that has happened only 3 times in 8 years, and I generally read at least a book a week. Jody is a master of tightening the noose of conflict and suspense. Readers will love The Preacher’s Bride for the story, and writers should love her for the lessons her story can teach all of us about writing great fiction.

Jody’s novel breathes new life into the pages of history. The Preacher’s Bride is set in England right before the Puritans will be forced to leave for America to escape persecution. Jody drops the reader right into this historical setting and makes it once more alive and real, filled with real people with real lives and real problems. This love story is surrounded by death, disease, persecution, loss and hardship. Thus, when love does emerge, it is like the lone bud that struggles through the winter snows to remind us that life is good and right and worth fighting for.

Jody’s characters are rich, vibrant, and distinct. Her protagonists are wonderfully imperfect and multi-dimensional. I love how this story glorifies so many of the character traits that modern society overlooks—being a hard worker, having a heart for service, and genuinely giving to others. The heroine isn’t supermodel beautiful, but has tremendous qualities of the heart that make her beautiful, and better still, identifiable. The hero is flawed and real and noble. What’s the best of all is that Jody’s antagonists are deliciously wicked and create gripping conflict throughout. This is a romance with substance and grit that will leave you breathless. Jody does a brilliant job of layering conflict in a way that never allows the reader to grow too comfortable.

I highly, highly recommend this book, no matter what genre you normally read. The Preacher’s Bride is a page-turning treat that will make you laugh, cry and cheer. Great stories are great stories, plain and simple. Like all great stories, The Preacher’s Bride will leave you feeling encouraged and inspired, and we all could use more of that :D.

Welcome to our third week discussing great novel beginnings. Why are we devoting so much time to the beginning of a novel? Because the first pages are the most critical. Today I am going to let you see the first 20 pages through the eyes of an agent or editor. Novel Diagnostics 101. The doctor is in the house.

I mean no disrespect in what I am about to say. I am not against self-publishing and that is a whole other subject entirely. But, what I will say is that there are too many authors who dismiss why agents are rejecting them and run off to self-publish instead of fixing why their manuscript was rejected. Agents know that a writer only has a few pages to hook a reader. That’s the first thing. But agents also know that the first 20 pages are a fairly accurate reflection of the entire book.

I don’t like being called a book doctor. I rarely will ever edit an entire book. I guess I am more of a diagnostician. Why? Doctors fix the problems and diagnosticians just figure out what the problems ARE. So again, why are beginnings imporant? Because I generally can “diagnose” every bad habit and writer weakness in ten pages or less. I never need more than 50 pages (and neither do agents and other editors). Why? Well, think of it this way. Does your doctor need to crack open your chest to know you have a bum ticker? No. He pays attention to symptoms to diagnose the larger problem. He takes your blood pressure and asks standardized questions. If he gets enough of the same kind of answer, he can tell you likely have a heart problem. Most of the time, the tests and EKGs are merely to gain more detail, but generally to confirm most of what the doc already knows.

The first pages of your novel are frequently the same. So let’s explore some common problems with beginnings and look to the problems that they can foreshadow in the rest of the work.


The beginning of the novel starts the reader off with lengthy history or world-building. The author pores on and on about details of a city or civilization all to “set up” the story.

In my experience, this is often the hallmark of a writer who is weak when it comes to characters. How can I tell? He begins with his strength…lots of intricate details about a painstakingly crafted world. Although not set in stone, generally, if the author dumps a huge chunk of information at the start of the book, then he is likely to use this tactic throughout. This type of beginning tells me that author is not yet strong enough to blend information into the narrative in a way that it doesn’t disrupt the story. The narrative then becomes like riding in a car with someone who relies on hitting the brakes to modulate speed. The story likely will just get flowing…and then the writer will stop to give an information dump.

Also, readers like to read fiction for stories. They read the encyclopedia for information.

Book Starts Right in the Middle of the Action

The beginning of the novel starts us off with the protagonist (we think) hanging over a shark tank and surrounded by ninjas. There are world-shattering stakes and we are only on page 2.

This shows me that the writer could be weak in a number of areas. First, she may not be clear what the overall story problem is, so she is beginning with a “gimmick” to hook the reader in that she is unsure the overall story problem will. Secondly, this alerts me that the writer is weak in her understanding of scene and sequel novel structure.

Scenes are structured: Goal-> conflict -> disaster

So when a writer begins her book with Biff hanging over a shark tank surrounded by ninjas, two major steps in a scene have been skipped. Also, if you go back to my earlier blog, normal world also serves an important function. Thus when a writer totally skips some fairly vital parts and thrusts us straight into disaster, I already know the author will likely rely on melodrama from this point on. Why? Because that was how she began her book.

Book Begins with Internalization

Fiction is driven by conflict. Period. Writing might be therapeutic, but it isn’t therapy. When a writer begins with a character thinking and internalizing that is another huge warning flag of a number of problems.

Do you need internalization in a novel? Yes! But it has its place. Most internalization will be part of what is known as the sequel. Sequels transpire as a direct reaction to a scene. When a writer begins the novel with the sequel, that is a huge warning that, again, the writer is weak when it comes to structure. There is a definite purpose for reflection, but kicking off the action is not one of them.

Also, beginning with the protagonist “thinking” is very self-indulgent. Why do I as the reader care about this person’s feelings or thoughts about anything? I don’t know this character. The only people who listen attentively to the thoughts, feelings, and disappointments of total strangers are shrinks, and they are being paid well to do so.

Now, give us (the reader) time to know your character and become interested in her and then we will care. But, starting right out of the gate with a character waxing rhapsodic is like having some stranger in the checkout line start telling you about her nasty divorce. It’s just weird.

Also, like people who tell you about their abusive alcoholic father the first 30 seconds after you’ve met them, they likely will keep this trend of rudely dumping too much personal information. When the protagonist begins with all this thinking and more thinking…and more thinking, it is probably a bad sign for the future. Just sayin’.

Book Begins with a Flashback

Yeah…flashbacks are a whole other blog, but lets’ just say that most of the time they are not necessary. We do not need to know why a certain character did this or that or why a bad guy went bad. Again, that’s for therapy. Did we really need to know why Hannibal Lecter started eating people for Silence of the Lambs to be an AWESOME book AND movie? Now I know that there was a later explication of this….but it was an entirely different story (and one that really didn’t do well, I might mention). We didn’t stop the hunt for Wild Bill to go on and on about how Hannibal’s family was slaughtered in the war and the bad guys ate his sister…and it worked!

Flashbacks often alert me that the writer needs time to grow. She hasn’t yet developed the skill to blend background details with the current conflict in a way that supports the story. I’ll give you a great example. Watch the new J.J. Abrams Star Trek. We find out exactly how Dr. Leonard McCoy gets his nickname…one line. “Wife got the whole planet in the divorce. All I got left is my bones.” The audience didn’t have to have a flashback to get that McCoy’s divorce was really bad. That is a great example of a writer seamlessly blending character back story.

Flashbacks, used too often, give the reader the feel of being trapped with a sixteen-year-old learning to drive a stick-shift. Just get going forward, then the car (story) dies and rolls backward.

There are two really great books I highly recommend if you want to work on your beginnings (and even learn to fix the problems that bad beginnings foreshadow). Hooked by Les Edgerton and Scene and Sequel buy Jack Bickham.

Many authors are being rejected by the first 20 pages, and because most agents are overworked, they don’t have time to explain to each and every rejected author what they saw. Thus, too many writers are reworking and reworking their beginning and not really seeing that their weak beginning is a symptom of larger issues. It is the pounding headache and dizziness that spells out “heart condition.” You can take all the asprin you want for the headache, but it won’t fix what is really wrong. Hopefully, though, today I gave you some helpful insight into what an editor (or an agent) really sees so you can roll up your sleeves and get to what’s truly going on. All the best!

Happy writing!

Until next time….

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Recently I was at my regular writer’s critique group, the Thursday night bunch. We had two visitors show up. After everyone left, we stayed and talked about writing, the process and business. They asked me why should they join our Warrior Writer Boot Camp (Saturdays). I told them the wonderful benefits of camaraderie, feedback, joining OWFI and such. I then told them one big reason. “There are many good critique groups, but members in our group will tell you that you’re baby is ugly.”

We all have seen an ugly baby. Not wanting to disrespect the parents, we say, “Bless his heart,” or, “Wow! You have a . . . baby?” Never once do we say, “What the hell is that?” It’s rude and uncouth, yet we think it. Many writers’ groups are the same way. A writer brings in a work to critique and many critiquers do not have the courage to say, “Your baby is ugly.” These groups are dangerous to the writer. They coddle their feelings with, “You’re missing a comma”, “Great dialogue,” and the always beneficial, “Beautiful writing.” I have seen beautiful houses built upon horrendous foundations.

 Then there are writers’ groups, like mine, which has members who will tell you, “Something is wrong with that hellspawn you produced.” (They’re not that harsh.) Thanks, to our wonderful past president and her insight into building the foundation before building the house, we are acknowledging, “I did not give birth to a stripling cherub.” A good writers’ group is one that pushes you to become a better writer, a lover of your craft. It pokes, prods, pushes, and prunes you. These things hurt, but the road to success is not easy. This type of group does not just hunt for every was and comma splice, but examines conflict, character, and crossing arcs and then provides solutions.

The writer who attends this type of group must be willing to admit he is not presently the greatest author (but may be one day), that his craft needs work, and that he desires to grow. This benefits the writer who gets 40,000 words in and finds out the characters have no goals, chapters have no conflict, and the inciting incident should have happened on page 3 instead of page 33.

The writer who believes in her heart of hearts that her baby belongs in the Gerber pageant need not attend. This writer can’t stand the heat of true critique. The thought of her work not being the next big thing is unfathomable. God forbid, she be forced to scrap 100,000 words and rewrite or ditch the entire project because there is no conflict between a Green Beret who’s antagonist is a pimply faced band geek who believes he can stop the Green Beret in hand to hand combat.

Most babies are not ugly. However, there are some you want to feed with a slingshot. Many people write beautifully. Others need help whether they know it or not. Writers who join critique groups should not go to be coddled. They have friends and family for that. They should go to be challenged and pushed. The good critique group is like a refiner’s fire. They challenge without condemning. They burn out the dross to help produce a work that is publishable and something the reader wants to say, “You have got to read this!” If you’re interested in more, check out Kristen Lamb’s (my wonderful Warrior Writer Boot Camp D.I./ President), blog “Critique- If You Can’t Stand the Heat, Get Out of the Kitchen” at http://warriorwriters.wordpress.com/2009/08/12/critique-if-you-cant-stand-the-heat-then-get-out-of-the-kitchen/


This guest blog brought to you by aspiring YA author, Terrell Mims, a teacher and talented writer who devotes every Saturday to his craft by attending Warrior Writer Boot Camp.  You can also follow his blog at http://terrellmims.wordpress.com/

For more information on a Warrior Writer Workshop, go to www.bobmayer.org for a workshop near you.


Critique has been a popular topic this month and has generated a lot of feedback and questions. Today I am going to debunk some myths about critique.

When I posted “Critique—If You Can’t Stand the Heat, then Get Out of the Kitchen,” some interesting commentary surfaced, but a lion’s share seemed to revolve around the nefarious breed of critic who apparently is so powerful, he or she has the power to crush a writer’s dreams. Like other creatures of the night, it was alleged that the Malus Critiqueus not only could give bad advice, but also apparently had the power to drain ambition and creative power like a succubus, leaving a hollowed out husk of what used to be an aspiring author who now cannot even bear to open Word.

Give me a break.

I will still stand by my assertion, All critique is useful. Just not all of it is valuable.

***A Note of Importance for All, but Especially New Authors

Before continuing, I would like to point out that good critique might very well make you angry. But, before casting judgment, take a break, calm down, then ask yourself why this person’s comments so upset you.

A really good critic is highly skilled at finding your greatest weaknesses. That is a good thing. Better to find and fix the flaws while a work is in progress and changes can be made. But, it is normal to react. Thus, the best advice is to breathe deeply. Listen. Calm down by breathing deeply some more. Ask questions. Check your ego. And then grow. Trust me. One day you will thank these people for having the courage to be honest.

Think of your time in critique like going to the gym. The goal is the happy medium. If after exercising you need ice and prompt medical attention? That is bad. If you don’t so much as break a sweat? You are wasting your time. A good critique is like a good workout. You want to walk away sore. It means you are pushing your limits, and therefore growing and getting stronger.

With that clarified, on to myth-busting…

Myth #1 Malus Critiqueus exists.

Um…no. No such thing. There is no Malus Critiqueus…but there are some people who happen to just be jerks. They were born little creeps who just grew into larger creeps. And here is a dose of reality….fully expect to find at least one of these folk in a writing group. Why wouldn’t you? Come on! Think about it. Most of us work or have worked day jobs. Didn’t there seem to be some sort of a hidden @$$hole quota? Like HR was tucked away in their offices watching a panel of hidden cameras?

Hmmm. All the folk over in accounting seem to be getting along. How about hiring that guy with that special talent for making people feel like an idiot? You know, the one who we can count on to make everyone dread coming into work. That guy.

Now Critique Jerk can take the fun out of a meeting, but always remember….he has the right to be wrong. But, better still, you have the right to be RIGHT.

Myth #2—Critique Jerks should be avoided.

Jerks are everywhere. And they are like an allergen. They get under our skin and make us puff up and wheeze and wish we were dead. But, the best way to get over this kind of severe reaction? Small exposures. Build an immunity. This person’s comments may make us want to scream and shout and carry an automatic weapon, but it isn’t going to get any easier. Also, since a lot of critique groups/writing groups are open to the public, it will be next to impossible to keep the Critique Jerk out—and you can count on this guy to have perfect attendance. So what can you do? You cannot control Critique Jerk, but you can refuse to add fuel to his fires. Just refuse to engage him and focus on the only thing within your control—your reaction.

Myth #3 Critique Jerks will eventually go away.

No, they just change form. Mean people do not disappear simply because we get published. If anything, they multiply in number and escalate in intensity. This is what Critique Jerks prepare us for.

There are actually people out there with nothing better to do than write hateful notes to authors. Bob could tell you some stories. Writers are also in a profession that is very public and open to the world for evisceration. Book reviewers can be brutal enough, but now with the wide-open world of the Internet, any twerp’s opinion can be up for public display….permanently.

A couple of months ago, I went to a friend’s book signing, and she was nearly in tears after some random person left a hateful review on Amazon. It didn’t matter that there were 42 other positive reviews. This one nasty human being managed to suck all the joy out of what should have been a really wonderful day. But, to give credit, my friend did hold it together very well. She exhibited true grace under fire…the sort of composure that, for most of us, does not come naturally. It is developed.

 Myth#4—Critique Jerks can derail a career.

So you may think the jerk in your writing group serves no purpose, but he does. He is there to rub and rub and rub and rub on you….until you build a callous. Publishing is brutal, and the thicker our skin, the better the chances we survive and thrive.

Critics (critiquers), in my opinion, only have the power we give them. As authors, there is a certain amount of responsibility we shoulder, and it is unwise to hand the keys to the kingdom to others. Professionals understand that knowledge is power. They actively read and educate themselves every day in order to arm and prepare against the onslaught of negativity and bad advice.

And not to be a smart-aleck, but how far can anyone’s bad advice really lead us astray without our own consent?

All writers should have a basic command of the English language. Don’t laugh. There are some great story-tellers who wouldn’t know a dangling participle if it bit them on the leg. That said, if punctuation and grammar are weaknesses, then it would be wise to read more books on these subjects. Eats, Shoot & Leaves (Lynne Truss), The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Grammar & Style (Laurie E. Rozakis, Ph.D. D. Rozakis), The Elements of Style (Strunk & White).

If you are a grammar Nazi, but story structure is a weakness, then look for books on the craft of writing. The Novel Writers Toolkit (Bob Mayer), The Writer’s Journey (Christopher Vogler),On Writing (Stephen King), Bird by Bird (Anne Lamott), Hooked (Les Edgerton), etc.

Go to writing conferences and instead of hitting every class on landing an agent, go to some of the classes that teach about the craft. Listen to experts.

Again, knowledge is power. Knowledge will help refine one’s ability to discern good advice from bad advice. The more education one has, the harder it is to be misled. To rely solely on the feedback of one critic or even a critique group is, at best, foolishness. And if we are too lazy to read books, and blogs, and articles, and do all the things professionals do…then we deserve what we get.

Myth #5 Critique Jerks can steal our dreams.

Malus Critiqueus is the Boogeyman of the writing world, an urban legend. No person should have the power to take away your passion. Bob Mayer tells this story in his workshops, but it is a perfect illustration. 

A young man received a violin when he was a boy, and started to play. He practiced and practiced and actually got quite good.

One day, he heard a great violin master was coming to his town, so the young man decided to play for the master and get his feedback.

The master agreed to see him and the young man played his violin as hard and as well as he could. When he was finished, he asked the master how he did and the master replied, “Not enough passion.” And turned and left.

The young man was crushed. He put his violin away and never played it again.

A few years later, the same master returned to the town, and the young man saw him at a party. The young man approached him and said, “Master, the last time you were here, I played for you. You said I did not have enough passion.”

“So what did you do?”

“Well, I stopped playing the violin.”

The master replied, “I say that to everyone. In your case, I guess I was right.”

There are all sorts of ways to find a good critique group—fellow writers, the Internet, the public library, local chapters of RWA. But, in my opinion, the worst sort of critique group (or critique partner) is one that holds our hand and does not challenge us to grow. In fact, the only thing worse is the group or person who charges us money to have our hands held. Again, think of the gym analogy. We want a good personal trainer. The pill that promises us instant weight-loss and a six-pack abs with no sweat, no effort, and no discomfort is probably a scam.

Critique groups or editors who promise a pain-free experience aren’t doing us any favors. NY is not going to baby our feelings. There are too many other talented authors out there who have the skin of a rhinoceros, who can take the truth on the chin and keep on chugging. With this said, though, critique should also be productive. If you feel like throwing yourself off something very high after every critique…it is probably time to look for another group.  

The best critique partner or group challenges you, but also helps keep the fires of your passion burning bright.

But the person who succeeds will sometimes get there with luck. Most of the time, though, she gets there because she never, ever, ever, ever, ever gives up…no matter what anyone says.

Happy writing! Until next time…