Marchbooks' Blog

April 29, 2009

Some Early Thoughts on Reviews by M.J. Claire

Filed under: Uncategorized — marchbooks @ 5:22 pm

First of all, I am a newbie to writing in almost every sense of the word, but I am eager and quick to learn. I am not a person who has been writing since I was old enough to wield a pen. I started writing about five years ago. It was an accident. But I have never looked back. Somehow, in that time, my muse has found me and the words are flowing. I have never had children, but to me, the conception and birth of a novel are the closest I will ever come. So I can truly understand the emotional attachment most writers have to their stories. I am no different. I send my book out into the world, like a young mother, sending her child to kindergarten. I want everyone to like my offspring, because, as I well know, it is nothing short of perfection. I want everyone else to see that as well.

For the first year or two, I wrote in a vacuum. In that time, I wrote five children’s’ stories that I thought were quite good. I sent them to agents and publishers. Well, most of you can guess the rest. Rejections flooded back to me, some of them kind, most of them perfunctory. ‘How could this be? How could these people fail to recognize greatness when they saw it?’ Ultimately, I came to the realization that many of you have also probably discovered. A review/critique is nothing more than one man/woman’s opinion. So where did that leave me?

Although I was no Rhodes Scholar, I knew that my stories were well written and had substance. So, what now? As luck would have it, or maybe it was my muse working overtime, I shortly thereafter befriended another writer who was tapped into some local writers’ groups. It was scary. Sitting or standing before a sea of unknown faces, I was going to present the fruit of my labor. I enthusiastically read my first story, which I was very proud of. How could these people fail to recognize the greatness of this work? My reading was generally well received, but the comments did not stop with the accolades.

People actually had suggestions for improving my work. ‘The audacity.‘ How dare they? Couldn’t they see that my stories were perfect already? Once I recovered from the gaping wound in my heart, I was able to listen to what they were saying. Of course some people had what seemed to be nitpicky comments, but when I really allowed myself to listen, I was able to hear some constructive suggestions. I listened more carefully and heard that several people were all in agreement on a couple of things. I decided to focus on those comments.

As we were driving home, my friends, feeling liberated by the open discourse, added their own thoughts. The only problem was, if I made the suggested changes, it would require a lot of work and substantial changes to the story. I reluctantly made the changes. When I was finished, I was delighted with the end product. The story was certainly stronger for the revisions. Since then, I have been ravenous for feedback.

I am not perfect, but I try to accept all comments graciously. I have no personal agenda when I give a review and I don’t expect people that review my writing have any axes to grind against me. But I do understand that you can’t make every suggested change. At the end of the day, a review or critique is just one other person’s opinion – very subjective and one is no better than another. So I use this as my guideline; one suggestion is nothing more than that, one opinion. If I hear the same comment from two people, I will look at the suggestion more carefully, but in the end I will still go with my gut. If three or more people are saying the same thing, then I have a consensus and I have to seriously think about making the suggested changes.

I read for enjoyment, as I expect most readers do. I want readers to enjoy my stories. If they don’t, I want to know why. I ask people to be brutal (not mean, but painfully honest) in their review of my writing. I ask this not because I am a Sadomasochist, but because I want my writing to be the best it can be. I want it to have wide appeal and I want it to be memorable. And because I write for people who are readers, how better to discover if my writing meets those criteria than to really listen to how they experienced my writing?

Kelly and Fagan escape from the Black Institute

Kelly and Fagan escape from the Black Institute

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