Monday, May 17, 2010

Monday Meeting, Manuscript Critique Backlash

Welcome to the Monday Meeting.  Before we get into goals and whatnot for the week, I'd like to debrief a bit from my manuscript critique on Saturday, at the NESCBWI conference.  Do you mind?  No?  Okay.  Thanks.

Things I learned from my fifteen minutes of intense stress:

1. Agent Sarah Davies is funny, interesting, kind, honest and seems to know what she is looking for in a manuscript.
2. My very-much-in-revision manuscript is not what she is looking for :).
3. It's tough to have someone review a chapter that you have since completely overhauled.  Very tough.
4. Agreeing with someone about the flaws in a manuscript doesn't make it any better that the flaws are there.
5. Resisting the urge to whip out the new version of the chapter is professional, but feels icky in the moment.  Icky, I tell you!!
6. Telling an agent your life story, instead of what other manuscripts you are working on, will make you lie in bed at night, cursing yourself.
7. Focusing on the negatives of a critique instead of the positives will make you lie in bed at night, cursing your MC. (Clearly, it's all his fault, right?  Why doesn't he do what I want him to do??)
8. Understanding what is wrong with your manuscript, and then have an agent back that up is painful, but also reassuring.  Knowing how to fix it?  Well, that's been my problem all along.  I have a feeling that I will know it when I write it.  Will today be the day?  God, let's hope so!

So, that leads us right into the Monday Meeting.  This week, I am going to take another look at my revised chapter, and see if it really, truly addresses all the issues that My British Agent (from this point on, I'm adopting Sarah Davies, and referring to her as M.B.A.) brought up.  Not that I would substitute her judgment for my own, but I had already revised with those issues in mind.  And, you know what?  I don't think that first chapter is there yet. After that, I will write forward.  Spectacularly.  Woo-hoo!  Who's with me?!

So, how do you survive the backlash from a critique?  What are your goals for this week?  Lay it on me, people!

In other news:
Have you heard about Anita's awesomeness?  Congrats, Anita! I'm so excited for your success!  I hope this great news will lead to more great new from you, Anita!!  Let's go, domino effect!
Have you checked out Sheri's Graffiti Wall--it's like a Friday Feature on Tuesday!
And, it's a WIBIJ week.  Nothing better than that!  Come by Wednesday to join in the fun.  We have one book left to giveaway (woo-hoo, BOOK GIVEAWAY!!), and all that we will tell you is that we will give it away at the first sign of awesomeness. So, show up, and show us the awesome.


  1. oh, I hear you about laying in bed cursing. Too funny! But, getting to know you as a person is just as important than your writing, so don't sweat it!
    Sounds like a helpful crit. So glad you have the right attitude to be open to suggestions. Half the battle right there.

  2. They are hard...but I can promise you that hard critiques from agents and editors really DO help you learn to write better.

    I wrote something for my editor once who loved the voice and the language by was concerned because there didn't seem to be much plot.

    Plot? What is that strange word?

    It really made me go and learn...and I am a better writer for it.

    Good Luck on your revising...don't curse yourself!


  3. Hmmm...just making it through the week? ;-)

    Seriously though, I don't set goals - not really. If I did, they wouldn't be met. I'm a fly by the seat of your pants type girl when it comes to my writing/revising schedule. I do it when I can. Of course, I always wish I could do it me.

    Good luck on the revising. I know how much that stinks!


  4. Sarah Davies seems like she knows what she's talking about. My impression is that she is very picky. So don't beat yourself up over that - and it doesn't mean your story has no merit! Remember that. It's not personal.

    I'm in that ms backlash too! I think we're all going to be working on first chapters today...

  5. Critiques are so hard, especially with a work in progress. I always think I'm going to be professional and able to handle the feedback when it comes - but something like what you just went through sends me straight for a Diet Coke and Dove bar (my comfort food of choice). I realized through my own journey toward getting my "first" novel published (really like the 10th I've written), some days, it's okay for me to sulk - indulge in a little "Woe is me, why doesn't anyone love my baby," whining. But after a day, time to put on the big girl panties and get back to work. Diet coke in hand, however.

  6. I'm with you, Heather. I find it reassuring when someone hones in on a weakness I already identified. It makes me feel like I am able to look at my work with some scrap of objectivity.

    And ditto on the "Okay, I knew that was a problem. How do I FIX it?"

  7. I just typed a long comment and lost I'll try again...

    I'm on the MS backlash too, Heather. My "dream" agent didn't really get my ms and asked for some changes I don't agree with that would flip flop my ms back to an earlier version. She's not my "dream" agent anymore. :(

    Also, I asked her to describe the agency "in a nutshell." *red face*
    Yeah, um, don't do that.

  8. Take it as a good sign. You are on the right track because you knew what was wrong. Just don't give up! Now you have what you need to succeed or at least come a step closer. Just don't start querying until you are sure it's ready!

  9. Curses!

    Critiques are sometimes hard to take, but I've found many times to benefit from them...and other times they send me stomping around the house for a few days, until I read through them again and discover, maybe there is a point to what they were saying.

    Great post!

    Christi Corbett

  10. Great post, Heather. You captured those 15 minutes so well that I felt stressed out reading it. Those sessions are hard, but so helpful also.

    Weekly goals: just get this draft done, and then worry about revision. Best to you with your revision goals!

  11. Heather, I appreciate you sharing this because I'm in a bit of a shell shock from my manuscript critique as well. It is very hard to hear negative things when you don't yet know how to fix them. Apparently my MC needs a voice, which I, um, thought she had. I need a break from it before I can try again.

  12. Well, all the cursing aside, it sounds like you've found some peace with your crit, right? Good luck on your revisions!

    I have *two* critiques at my upcoming conference! *cringe*

    This week, I have three crits for writing buddies, and some more tweaking on LURE. *good luck to me*

  13. Terry--It was helpful, and I'm always open to critique. Hopefully it will help me figure out what happens next. She had some interesting suggestions.

    Shelley--Thanks so much for stopping by! It's great to hear when others miss the mark as well. PLOT--LOL!

    Justine--Hi! I'm a seat of my pants kinda gal. Most of the time my goals are to write forward. I hope you survive the week too, and write/revise some great words!

    Laura--Yes, she seems pretty specific. But, she had some nice points. And, I agreed with most of them! So, all in all, it was...good. We'll start the post-conference, first chapter club!

    J--Thanks for the support, and grounding! Laura is one smart cookie!

    smartygirl--howdy! Thanks--awesome advice. Regular coke is my poison of choice. And oreo ice cream. And pizza. Oh, dear. Maybe I should wait a day or two before hitting the grocery store. I think I'm also going to wait another day or two before hitching up those 'big girl panties'. Thanks for the commiseration!

    Laurel--I'm glad you feel the same way. I like knowing what doesn't work. But the infinite possibilities of fixing...jeez. I'll know it when I see it (I hope!)

    Kristine--Bummer, about the dream agent. I hope that you find another dream agent to take their place!! Some agents I meet, and right away know that their personality and mine don't mesh. So, I'm glad that you found that out. And, I think that the nutshell question isn't quite as bad as telling the agent your life story. I hope they know that stress does weird things to our mouths...

    Hi Lisa! I agree, not to query until it's ready. I'm just hoping that some day it is ready... Thanks for the positive spin. I had an idea that floating something to an agent that wasn't polished wasn't the best idea, but I just wanted some feedback from an industry person.

    Christi--Thanks! I think some good already came out of it--confidence in my ability to truly spot the bad. We'll see what comes next.

    KarenB--So glad that I'm not the only one. I don't know whether to put it aside, myself, or jump right back in. I think either way can be the right move. Maybe your character has plenty of voice, but comes into her/his voice in chapter two. It was great meeting you at the conference!!

    Larissa--Wow--good luck with the two crits--you are brave. I'm sure yours will go more smoothly, since you are almost there...Good luck with the writing this week!

  14. Lori--missed you somehow in my all-encompassing commenting. I'm glad that my first crit is done. Like a band-aid removal! Fast and a little painful. And, I know good will come from it. Good luck getting your draft done this week!

  15. I think everyone I know has had one of those moments with publishing pros, whether in critique or not, that we might later say, gack, what was I thinking when I said that? or why didn't I just say this? (or what have you.) Critiques *can* be tough, but so are we writers :-) Eyes forward.

    Great seeing you in Fitchburg. (I always want to write Fitzburgh. Or would that be, Fittsburgh, the sister city of Pittsburgh? Ah, but I digress ...)

  16. Martha--so nice to see you in Fitchburg (the spelling is etched in my brain from the Henry Hikes to Fitchburg PB)--I think it's funny how the brain goes a little haywire due to stress. I agree--eyes forward.

  17. Hi Heather, sounds like you got a helpful critique. It's a good sign that you were already making some of those changes.

    And one thing to keep in mind while revising is that whatever MBA's preferences are they could be pretty unique and pretty different from what someone else may prefer. Just a reminder to keep your eye on your story. Good luck with the revisions.

    My goal for the week: I'd love to write another 7000 words on my WIP but today has been a slow day, sitting at some forks in the trail of my story, hands poised over the keyboard, and peeking around the corners. I hope to write at least one more scene today. We'll see...

  18. I think you need to just take what's helpful from the critique, revise, and move on. I had a similar experience of getting critiqued by an agent a few weeks ago and, like you, realizing that what I'm writing is not for her.

    I've been working on my manuscript for about 7 years and have had many critiques of the same chapter. So it helped me realize where she was right on and where she wasn't.

    One of the best things I realized is that I have thicker skin. I don't expect to sell my book at these critiques and felt like I could handle the rejection better. Hope your revisions go well.

  19. After an especially brutal critique, I often (at first) get all annoyed and tell myself "that person doesn't know what they're talking about!" But after I calm down and try to be objective, I almost always see that at least SOME of what they said was right on. And then it is easier to get to work fixing it.

    It is hardest when I'm completely in love with a manuscript and the one giving the critique doesn't seem to get it at all.

  20. Dearest Heather!

    I was going to comment yesterday but it was SOOO late...I wasn't quite sure what I wanted to say to you - I've read all the comments now and see that I've been pretty much covered by our other friends. So, I'll just say:
    1) You are SO AMAZING for telling us all these VERY personal things and being totally honest about your feelings. My respect for you has now exited this galaxy and moved on faster than the speed of light to the next.

    2) Please refer to me as your
    M B B F (My British Best Friend) - it would be MY HONOUR!

    3) If you feel like a new set of eyes from another Brit - don't hesitate! Just make sure you write everything in CAPS LOCK - you know my little problem with the sight-thing!!!!!

    GOALS - to relax and work on new (funny) MG/YA project as much as family/work allows.


  21. Paul--I agree. I only make changes when something resonates. Every agent has their own preferences. I love hearing about your progress with writing--I'm living vicariously through you--7000 words--I bet you can make it!

    Natalie--I'm glad you're forthcoming about the time that you have spent on your book--I've been working on this one for over a year, and sometimes that feels like too long. Glad to hear that it's not. Thicker skin grows slowly, I think. But it's definitely growing. Thanks for the support--I hope you have a great writing week!

    Rebecca--yes, time does seem to heal the tough critique wounds. And, in all fairness, I think that the agent understood the unique direction of the story, but just was underwhelmed with what I did with the beginning. Which I'm glad. Because she was right. I think it's really hard to figure out what to take from a critique when the reader doesn't get the story. It's hard to know what to keep and what to ignore in that instance.

    Ann Marie-- 1)why not be forthcoming when I had already exposed my flaws to MBA? :) And, you're terribly sweet.

    2)You are MBBF--I totally thought that went without saying!

    3)I would love to send you some stuff, am saving you for the next level of critiques. Don't know how much you are kidding with the CAPS. :)


  22. I couldn't help but laugh at the title of your blog! Great posts, looking forward to following you on your journey

  23. Welcome, CSR! I am having fun checking out your blog. Some fascinating stuff there! I'm glad you got a kick out of the blog title. Some days it feels like it's coming true...

  24. I think it's wonderful that Sarah Davis wants to work with you, has faith in your talent. The bad news is lying in bed cursing yourself...but, hey, we've all done that. And you're not in denial. You're out there, on that road to success!

  25. Kittie--I'm sorry if I was unclear--this was a critique in which I was matched up with Sarah Davies at the NESCBWI conference. She critiqued my first ten pages, and had a lot of good and bad to say about it. So, it was wonderful to get that face time with an agent, and wade into the business side of things. It was uncomfortable for me, since I had since completely overhauled the first chapter, and had addressed some of the issues that she brought up (well, that's good, too). I am not sure that she has faith in my writing--but I'm sure that someone will! And on that note, back to writing! Thanks for the support, Kittie!