Monday, April 5, 2010

Cowgirl Up: The Courage to Share Your Work

“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. Bookmark and Share


  1. Great comments. I'm a freelance editor and I find it's natural for writers to want to defend their writing. Too often, people want an editor to tell them how great they are. That's not the nature of the job. Yes, we say what's good, but the writer learns the most if they can open up to the comments that will help them improve their writing. Cowgirl up!

  2. Thanks for this excellent post and for sharing the phrase "cowgirl up" -- I've long wanted an alternative to "man up" and now I have one.

  3. Excellent suggestions. And I think we all need a "Just Nod And Smile" coffee mug. I know I'm going to start looking for one today!

  4. Cowgirl Up and Just Nod and Smile! Good reminders for us all, I think.
    Thanks for the comments.

  5. I love the post..I am extremely shy about sharing my work with anyone..well except professionals..and have recently "Cowgirled Up" in a big way by starting a blog...

  6. These were excellent ideas and comments. Thank you.

  7. Doreen, good for you! That's a very positive step.

  8. I loved your post. When I put my work out there, I take what those reading my work say, thank them, leave the comments and return another day when the emotion is out of the equation. It works very well that way for me.
    I also started posting short stories, under my pen name, monthly. It has helped my writing in ways that cannot be measured.
    Thank you again for pointing out, if we want to write, well, 'cowgirl up'

  9. Great comments. Thanks.

    As a freelance editor, my job is marking up manuscripts. On occasion with a new writer, that manuscript may come back looking like someone opened a vein and bled all over it. To soften the shock, I find places to praise the work. I include comments pointing out what was done well and reminding them that once they've looked it over and done some work, we'll do another round of edits, and we'll keep working on it together.

    It's easier to cowgirl up when you can see light in the darkness.


  10. Great post!

    The most painful crit I've received said "You should have written this scene like this:" and ended with "Don't you see how much better my version is!"

    No, I didn't, and I certainly would never ask that person to crit for me again.

    Your suggestions are the ideal way to give a crit.

  11. Great post. I've been worrying about my critique method for a while now but everything you mentioned made sense. It's always hard not to defend your work but I think, in the end, crits help you make your writing stronger.
    p.s Love the cowgirl up phrase:)

  12. I've belonged to the same critique group since 1994 and consider it a valuable part of my writing. Thank you for these tips--I'll share them with my group.

  13. You make some really good points here, ones I try to use in my critiquing and hope others will use when they critique me. I still need to remind myself that what is being critiqued (not criticized...) is some words on paper -- not me. And that those words are written on a computer and put on paper -- not written in stone. I enjoyed reading your post! I think it will help people who have been hoarding their work, fearing that if they share it they'll get criticism! Thank YOU!

  14. Hi Heidi,good comments. What's most difficult for me is giving a manuscript to a family member for comments (critique?). A wrenching experience no matter what they say. If they like it, I think they're just being nice. If they don't, I'm crushed. I try to give them some hints before hand. Maybe now I'll give them your suggestions. Any other ideas? I'll remember "Nod and Smile."


The Blood-Red Pencil is a blog focusing on editing and writing advice. Some of our contributors are editors, some are authors, and some are writing sheep. Yes, sheep.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...