Recently, I bought a book by Becky Levine I hope will improve my critiques. (If you have or do read it let me know what you think.) I have been a member of a large critique group, then a smaller one, and now an even smaller one. I’ve never had much confidence in my critiquing ability because, except for the mechanics, I felt I could only tell you what I didn’t think worked, not how to fix it.
Then, today, I read this quote from Neil Gaiman:
“Remember: when people tell you something’s wrong or doesn’t work for them, they are almost always right. When they tell you exactly what they think is wrong and how to fix it, they are almost always wrong.”
Ookayyy … but who are these “people” he speaks of?
- Non-writing readers?
- Fellow writers?
I think this statement might apply most to group #1. It’s possible, of course, that someone who reads extensively, but doesn’t write could tell you what’s wrong, though not likely they could tell you how to fix it.
And I can see where it could apply to many in group #2. Haven’t we all had the experience of another writer suggesting changes that would transform your book or story into something you never intended. Or suggesting changes that would result in something suspiciously like their writing?
In fairness, Neil Gaiman is savvy, he’s a published writer, so I don’t think he was referring to groups #3 and #4. If we want to be published, we should—we have to—listen to agents and editors, right? So I’m left to wonder who exactly are these people he advises us not to listen to. Surely he didn’t mean that fellow writers can never tell us how to fix something in our writing.
Tell me, who do you trust to help fix your writing problems?