“Cowgirl up” is an expression that means to rise to the occasion, not to give up, and to do it all without making excuses.
Once we’ve found the courage to write (see blog post March 1), do we then have the guts to share it with others?
We know what kind of negative inner editors we have (“What d’ya mean, you think you can write, you can’t even spell?”) and how we have to overcome those voices in our heads. Once you put something down on paper and you’ve gone over it a few times, rewritten it, checked the spelling, grammar, etc., and think that maybe, just maybe you have something that is pretty good, now what? What if those “outer editors” say the same bad things?
Writers have characterized the writing process as akin to giving birth, a painful but glorious process. Who wants to put your “baby” on display and have others call it ugly?
Here are some tips on how to receive as well as give critique:
It is important to know how to react to a critique of your work. It is daunting to submit your work to others, but if we are to be published writers, then this is something we must do. Remember, feedback is just a signpost. If we react negatively to feedback, we’re wasting energy. If we provoke a negative reaction, we’re contributing to wasted energy.
My fiction instructor had coffee cups designed for the graduates of her class that remind us “Just Nod and Smile.” I think this is great advice.
Do take time to thank the person who has done the critique. Reading and providing feedback on works can take a long time. It is only polite to acknowledge this and thank the person for taking the time to do this for you.
Don't immediately fire back defensive messages. You might feel that the reviewer has got it all wrong, but wait before you act. Take time to re-read your work and consider the comments made about it. It is hard to see your work being criticized, but if you want to grow as a writer, you need to learn to take criticism and learn from it where you can.
Do think carefully, with an open mind, about the comments made. Take the suggestions that you VALUE, and LEAVE the rest (but think about them). You may end up considering the suggestion and come up with something even better.
Suggestions for critiquers:
(MOST IMPORTANT)—Start with a positive remark, a compliment. The things you like in this scene, the things the writer does well. Starting out with the positives puts the writer at ease, makes her feel less defensive and more open-minded toward the suggestions to come.
Don't say: "You should have written it like this:" We all have our own styles and we should respect that. That isn't to say you can't offer examples of how you would have written it, but that is all they should be, examples.
Language used by the critiquer is important. When something in the scene isn’t working say, “I was ‘bumped’ out of the scene because of a POV shift.” Or, “I was ‘bumped’ by the abrupt transition part in the scene.” Do Not say something like, “That was a weak (or stupid) way to show a transition.” Another acceptable way is: “I needed to know who was speaking in this part.” Or “I needed to have you show me, not tell me about the emotional curve of the character in this scene.” It is your responsibility to help further the work of the writer. This process has nothing to do with negative criticism. Never criticize the author, only give criticism of the work.
What is the piece’s STRENGTH?
What could make it STRONGER?
What is the PURPOSE of the scene?
Try to finish with a question: What would I like to see more of? What is unanswered in this scene? (By the way, the author is NOT obliged to answer this question, merely to think about it!)
It takes courage to share your work and courage to hear the criticism with an objective ear toward making it even better! So, Cowgirl Up, and strive to be the best you can be!
-------------------A native Montanan, Heidi Thomas now lives in Northwest Washington. She has had her first novel published, Cowgirl Dreams, based on her grandmother. Heidi has a degree in journalism, a certificate in fiction writing and is a member of Northwest Independent Editors Guild. She teaches writing and edits, blogs, and is working on the next books in her “Dare to Dream” series.