Thursday, January 28, 2010

It's easier to eat the steak...

As a writer you have got to be a number of different people.

When you write you have to be sensitive to convey emotions. When you research you have to be inquisitive and find all those cruitial bits of detail that bring your story to life. When you submit you have to be patient and accept it takes time for an editor to get back to you. And when you get critiqued you have to be a thick-skinned rhino ready to take whatever the critiquer has to say.

This last bit is crucial. more crucial I think than any other piece of the puzzle. Like I've said in earlier posts, if you only want to write for your grandkids then your good, go write whatever dribbles out of your pen and they'll be thrilled. But if you want to get published then you have to get other peoples opinion.

"But Wolf," you say "isn’t that what submitting to editors is for?"

The answer is not only a no, but a HECK NO! Their job is to see if you offered something that will make their magazine money. End of story. Now some very few will offer tips on what was wrong and tell you to send something back. But by and large the best place to get help polishing your craft and producing things that editors will want to buy is a good circle of critiquers.

I recently had an experience with a new critique circle. It has a good mix or writers at different stages so they'll give you a wide variety of input. Just what you, or at least I, want. There was one particular writer who is newer and submitted a piece for review. I hope this guy keeps writing. He has a great love of his subject matter and can really turn a phrase when he wants to. But he hasn’t gotten that rhino hide yet. The piece he submitted had some major flaws and some good points. Unfortunately when all the reviews came in saying the same thing. He took it personally and stormed out.

This bugs me. If your gonna be a writer you gotta learn not only to spot the flaws yourself but also be able to admit when someone else points it out.

Now does this mean you have to listen to every piece of advice given from a critiquer? No! For heaven sakes it's your story you can do with it what you will. But if you are hearing the same problem mentioned over and over again you may just want to fix it. Because an editor is sure to notice the same thing.

This whole scenario prompted me to say one of the few things I've ever considered truly wise.

"It's easier to eat the steak, when you actually cut the bull."

Readers want steak. they want the words of your story that are gonna connect with them and make them think even after they put down your story. That lovely little tidbit about Aunt Martha’s broach, bull. The vivid description of ancient forests and cascading waterfalls that doesn’t move your story forward, bull. And the detailed account of the third generation of cheese makers who make the best cheese in the state when the story has to do with alfalfa pellets, BULL!

So let's cut the bull and give our readers what they really want. Steak.


  1. Excellent post, and very true. I've seen that happen in groups before, where somebody feels they are being picked on, they gather up their Barbie dolls and go home...but really they were getting some great advice on their writing. There is a difference! And yes, there are some people out there who do not know how to give a proper critique and are just out to hurt other writers, but you have to know the difference and put on that rhino skin, just like you said. Critiques are a way to grow and learn.

  2. When I first started out, I sought critiques from those more advanced in the craft then I. Sure, it hurt the ego when they pointed out flaws, but it made a better writer out of me.

    I know for myself, I take the job as critiquer very serious. It's my job to point out ways to make that piece the best it can be, especially if the writer's goal is publication. It's not my job to stroke the ego and make the writer feel good about writing that is lacking.

    Seems to me, there are a lot of writers who think they know it all and are entitled to being treated special. How else do you explain all those who query without following the proper guidelines? :-)

  3. Thanks to both of you. And its true V that some are out to hurt, luckily I belive those are few and far between.

    And Jean I think your right. Ego is great when you are actually submitting something thats been polished, but it has little place in the polishing process.