Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Write Tight as Granny's New Girdle

Tamika asked about one of the workshops I attended at the Muse Online Writers Conference. She was interested in “Write Tight as Granny’s New Girdle” by Margot Finke.

There weren’t actual lessons in this workshop. I was a little disappointed in that. However, what totally made up for the lack of lessons was a critique of my first page. This woman was B-U-S-Y. She had so many first pages to go through plus she hosted three chats. Unfortunately, I can’t post any of that information here. That’s one of the rules of the conference. But, if you ever have a chance to take one of Margot’s workshops, go for it.

I recently took another online course where the instructor critiqued this same first page. She shredded the scene, which surprised me because my crit group liked it. This bothered me, but not because someone didn’t like my work. (I have developed thicker skin than that.) What bugged me was the advice this industry professional gave to me. Everything she said in that critique went against anything I’ve learned the past two years. The biggest part was that she told me to cut my dialogue/action tags. ALL of them.

I took a closer look at that page and removed a couple of the tags, but that’s all I could afford. The others revealed character traits or reactions. (These aren’t the typical “said” or “asked” tags.) Without this info, the scene is flat. However, since this woman is an industry professional, I figured she must know, so that crushed me. How could I trust anything I’ve learned so far if none of it is worth anything in the real world? Yeah, I was kind of bummed and discouraged. My muse packed her bags and left while I dealt with this information all by myself. Thanks a lot, Muse.

When Margot offered to critique our first page, I couldn’t resist. I sent her the same words I’d sent to my other instructor. What a difference. Sure, there were little changes I could make to tighten, but Margot didn’t share the other instructor’s opinion of my first page. She didn’t seem to have a problem with any of the tags.

Does that mean the first instructor was wrong and that Margot was right? Maybe. Maybe not. I think what it tells me more than anything is that writing is very subjective. What some people might love, others will hate. There’s nothing we can do about that. We just have to accept that’s the way it is. And we can remember this when we get rejections. Just because that agent/editor didn’t like our story, doesn’t mean the next one won’t.

Don’t give up. Keep plugging away at your writing and submissions. Some day, you’ll be rewarded for your hard work.

And then the real work begins. ;)

Have you had an experience like this where people had totally different opinions of your work? How did you deal with the mixed message?


  1. Basically, I sulked in silence, got over it, considered what they had to say and if I did not agree I would stick to my guns.

    But the fact that someone in my crit group found fault when others had different opinions just underscores that there isn't one single correct choice. Writing's a craft and an art; you don't have any single choice, and not everyoen is going to appreciate your style.

    I just learned to separate what were wheat and chaff for my style, I guess.

  2. Great post. I think this is a good lesson. You can't please everyone. You've read some of my story. If I handed it over to someone who was strictly into inspirational/spiritual romance, they would be appalled, lol.

    So my rule of thumb is to look at every crit with an open mind. If it's something I totally don't agree with then I wait and get a second or third opinion before changing it. Now if multiple people point out the same thing, it's probably something you need to fix.

  3. Writing is art! Yes, there are standards, but it's as subjective as any other artistic creation.

    And I'm bummed! I didn't get the transcript of my own chat in time and now it's gone. There was a book club phone number I wanted...

  4. Great advice!!!

    There's nothing I hate more than conflicting advice from industry professionals. You read everything you can on various blogs, websites, books, etc...and one will say one thing and another the total opposite. Who's right??? I just go with my gut.

    I used to post on a writer's message board that will remain nameless. I needed query help. One person would tear it apart and then someone else would come along and say something completely the opposite. I would fix it and someone else would tear it apart for different reasons and make their suggestions that went against everything else I had already learned.

    But I kept on going...after numerous rejections I finally found someone who loves my story as much as I do. I truly feel like all those rejections were for a reason!!

  5. Lynnette, thanks for taking the time to answer my question! It surprises me too there weren't exercises.

    I wonder if I would have had the courage to resubmit. Hmm. I think I need to develop tougher skin!

  6. This was a very helpful post. It is an encouragement to not give up or make massive changes based on one person's opinion, even if they are a professional. But again, if several are saying the same thing, then changes need to be made.

  7. This is so, so true. It's impossible to please everyone - what is critical to a story for one person will have to be removed completely for another. I know I need to develop a thicker skin!

  8. Virtually everyone in a critique group thought my MC was a girl. Red flag for me. Their advice was that I change the sex. I rewrote the chapter and it wouldn't work for me. I've learned that I write about males in touch with their feminine side. I solved the problem by including a female and contrasting the two characters. What I learned is the feedback sometimes needs to distilled down to its essence and not changed in the way that might be most obvious.

  9. Yes! I came away from the SCBWI New York Conference feeling like that. I learned to stay true to myself as a writer and write from my heart. With that being said, I let others critique it too. When two or more people say the same thing, then I know something is off and I need to fix it.

  10. This is why I always say to have your piece looked over by more than one critique partner. When more than one writer pinpoints negative aspects in the same scene/passage then the writer needs to look at the work objectively.

    Those editors who follow publishers and have an inkling what these houses are seeking offer the closest advice than editors just starting out. Margot has been in this business a long time.

    I know she was swamped with critiques and for next year she's already got a game plan. GRIN

  11. You have such great insight and spirit. And yes, I agree. Writing is very subjective. Good luck!

  12. I'm so excited to find you!! I'm in the throws of my first "real" short story. More of a struggle than I thought.

    I can't wait until everyone is tucked in bed tonight so that I may thoroughly look through all your posts.

    And I think you're so correct about writing being subjective. It's the one thing that blogging has taught me for sure - you can't be everything to everyone, or you just lose your voice. Not good.

  13. Thanks for the support. I knew you guys would understand. :)

    Lynnette Labelle

  14. All the time. I tend to not use tags or only slightly like said for when it is unclear who is speaking. Too many gets in the way of the flow--but again, that's my preference:)