Showing posts with label first drafts. Show all posts
Showing posts with label first drafts. Show all posts

Writers: How to Handle a Difficult Critique

There are no secrets to success. It is the result of preparation,
 hard work, and learning from failure. Colin Powell

THE FIRST PAGE. The most important page in your entire book. A recent SCBWI Shop Talk meeting focused on the keys to a successful first page, or rather the necessary keys to the first page of your novel or nonfiction book, that will either interest an editor or agent . . . or not.

The text I took was the first page of my second book, Book Two in a middle grade mystery series. It was the best I could do at the time. Was I in for a shock when my entire attempt got kicked to the curb.

On the ride home, I felt wrung out. I allowed myself to feel this way until the garage door opened. Then I put the meeting's papers to the side and took up an enjoyable pastime to ease the tension. It worked. I had a good sleep. The next day I got to work.

This technique has served me well over the years, learned from one of my writing courses upon receiving a rejection. Of course, you're going to be upset. You can't deny those feelings, so you go with them for fifteen minutes, max. Then you either take a short break like I did, or you get back to work. If you're feeling especially low, get out any praises you've collected from editors, readers, and critiquers, and pour over them. Believe you're a good writer. Then get back to work.
Same could be said for successes. Gloat all you want, but keep it short. There's work to do.

Heed the Advice of the Pros
Even though it didn't seem necessary to me at first, the leader of our meeting ran through how to accept critique of your work:
  • Do not take your critique personally.
  • Separate yourself from the work.
  • Comments made do not need to be followed. Decide whether you agree with them or not before changing anything.
  • Duplicate comments need to be taken into account. If more than one person notices something, it most likely needs to be changed.
  • Give yourself a day or two before working on the comments.
For the critiquer:
  • Stay positive
  • Be respectful
  • Remember: It takes courage for a writer to share her work.
  • Remember: Someone has poured their heart and soul into their work.
Comments Gathered from the Group
The next day when I began work on my first page, the first thing I did was make a list of the comments. I have tacked it up on my bulletin board in an effort to learn from the critiquers and avoid making the same mistakes again. Interspersed are the positive along with the critiqued comments—to stay as positive as possible while restructuring my first page.
  • Has the tone of a mystery, which intrigues!
  • The two voices are very similar.
  • Save backstory for later—keep us in the action.
  • Seems like an info dump.
  • Has a Nancy Drew feel.
  • Dialogue not realistic—too formal for kids.
  • Thank you for sharing!
  • Deceptive beginning.
  • Cannot tell the difference between the two characters.
  • Likes how it starts with a question.
Am I going to allow this critique to stop me? Not by a long shot. Rather, I am filled with gratitude. I am grateful for the help. It means the difference between a failed novel and a successful one, I am convinced of that. You can bet, I’ll be coming back for more at the next critique meeting.

Illustration courtesy of :

The quote courtesy of:

Needlepoint that hangs on my wall

Linda Wilson, a former elementary teacher and ICL graduate, has published over 100 articles for adults and children, and six short stories for children. Her first book, a mystery/ghost story for children 7-11 years old, will be coming out in September. Currently, she is hard at work on Book Two in the series.  Follow Linda at

The Ugly Peach Tree

Last year my husband and I traveled from Phoenix to Bakersfield, Ca. While there we decided to visit a local nursery where we found an ugly peach tree. The peach tree's limbs were stunted and both issued forth from the same side of the tree. But it had blossoms and it would fit in the backseat of our car. We chose the ugly peach and brought it home.

That summer the ugly peach produced six fruits, all small but incredibly sweet. Winter came and our ugly peach was introduced to a harsher than normal winter. At some point, one of its two main limbs was broken. My husband's solution was to graft the limb and keep it in place with tape. Gray, ugly, duct tape. The ugly peach became even uglier. We laughed at its ungainly shape. We shook our heads over what would happen next. And what did happen? The broken limb of our ugly peach has bloomed.

What does this have to do with writing, you might ask. Sometimes an idea for a novel or story comes our way in an unexpected way or place. It may not be complete or even well-formed but it is there. We take it and nurse it, putting words on paper to delve deeper into its meaning. Sometimes from this idea, other ideas spring forth - for articles, for poems, or for completely different stories. Some of those may even produce award winning results or financial gains. Things happen. Sometimes the story is lost and is relegated to a drawer, but then an idea issues forth again. New thoughts occur and the work is brought out once again into the light. 

A writer friend of mine told me to never throw away my work. At first I had difficulty. My inner critic was ruthless. Some of it was so horrible, but I listened and kept all my writing, even those that for whatever reason I never finished. Years later I have often cleaned the drawer where these drafts reside, only to find a wonderful phrase, story idea and/or insight waiting for me. 

May your "ugly peach trees" survive your inner critic, may your writing blossom, and your work bear fruit.    

D. Jean Quarles is a writer of Women's Fiction and a co-author of a Young Adult Science Fiction Series. Her latest book, Flight from the Water Planet, Book 1 of The Exodus Series was written with coauthor, Austine Etcheverry.

D. Jean loves to tell stories of personal growth – where success has nothing to do with money or fame, but of living life to the fullest. She is also the author of the novels: Rocky's Mountains, Fire in the Hole and, Perception. The Mermaid, an award winning short story was published in the anthology, Tales from a Sweltering City.  

She is a wife, mother, grandmother and business coach. In her free time . . . ha! ha! ha! Anyway, you can find more about D. Jean Quarles, her writing and her books at her website at

You can also follower her at or on Facebook

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