khaula mazhar

"I don't suffer from insanity, but enjoy every minute of it" Edgar Allan Poe

Guest post by a published author. Who is not snobby.

35 Comments

I had a day off today. So after sending all the kids to school I promptly went straight to my laptop? No I went straight back to bed. And continued to snooze blissfully till 12: 45. Now I am eating french toast and drinking hot tea and typing with sticky fingers because after you pass the three kids mark and 35 you no longer care about these things. Your biggest luxury is sleeping in and not being woken by five snarling monsters kids.

Mike Allegra is a published (non snobby) author.  He is also very, very funny. When I am feeling sad, mad or bad I go to his blog and have a good laugh. He also has great tips for writers, so you have to go and visit him here: heylookawriterfellow

Yes, now you know you have to visit. And his wife has a great way with animals. Definitely visit here.

His book  Sarah Gives Thanks is going into its second printing. Congrats! It is a touching story and has beautiful pictures.

I pestered him to do a guest post for my blog. And this is the first guest post here. So hurray for me. If you write then you are probably in some sort of critique group and you have probably come across some people who are ready to cruelly tear your work apart ( they have been published) or get violent when you give them honest suggestions( they will never be published). But Mike is a very nice, down to earth published author who does neither. Here is his entertaining and informative account of  critiquing.

Criticizing Critiques: A Critical Study ( Mike Allegra)

It was my turn to critique the manuscript and I wasn’t looking forward to it. It wasn’t because I didn’t like critiquing (because I do) or because I didn’t like the manuscript (although I didn’t) , it was because the critiquee – let’s say her name was Helen – was not interested in hearing anything but praise. No matter how I couched my constructive criticism, Helen’s response always hovered in the neighborhood of hostile.

Most of the other people in this writers’ circle had taken Helen’s cue long ago and used their time to offer up bland, non-specific kudos for her manuscripts. But I’m sort of stupid, I suppose. I just can’t say, “It’s good! Really good!” when I don’t think the manuscript is really good. I don’t see the value in doing so. I always try to critique others the way I want them to critique me.

I began Helen’s critique on a positive note. “I really like your idea,” I said. “It’s playful and fun. And I think the approach you took is dead on. It’s a perfect subject for a rhyming picture book.”

Helen beamed.

“But I noticed that some of your rhymes aren’t really rhymes.”

And Helen’s smile faded. It might have been my imagination, but her face seemed to suddenly fall into shadow. But I sallied forth, because, again, I’m stupid.

“For example: ‘pat’ and ‘path.’ Or ‘pane’ and ‘way.’ The words share the same vowel sounds, but they aren’t rhymes.”

I looked up from my notes to see if any of this was registering. Certainly none of the stuff I was saying could get her really angry this time. A rhyme is a rhyme, after all. There’s nothing subjective about a rhyme.

But, well, yikes. Was someone holding a flashlight under her chin?

“No one will care about that,” said Helen. Her tone announced, “How dare you care about that!”

Helen’s remark was followed by the squeak of half-dozen chairs as they, ever so slightly, pushed back from the table.

But I went on. Remember: I’m stupid.

“Also I noticed that the meter varies from line to line. Here you have 13 syllables and here you have 11. This one is 10.”

“It’s 11,” Helen said.

“No, it’s 10,” I said.

And that touched off a rather prolonged simmering discussion over what constitutes a syllable. Helen and I spent some quality time counting together.

Yep, it was 10. Helen didn’t acknowledge this fact as much as change her line of attack.

“No one will care about that either,” she said.

But that wasn’t true. I’m a someone and I cared.

Well, sort of.

I certainly didn’t care if Helen got published – which I doubted she ever would because she was an unpleasant, cantankerous crabby pants who didn’t know that “pat” and “path” didn’t rhyme – but I did care that my efforts were being treated so shabbily. Helen certainly didn’t have to accept anything I said – it was her manuscript and she could do what she wanted with it – but I took quite a lot of time to review her story, the least she could do was give my comments a little respectful consideration.

“Okay, I’m done,” I told Helen. I wasn’t really done with my critique. I was done with Helen and her rotten, dismissive attitude.

Of course, such dismissiveness doesn’t only have to be delivered by an ungrateful critiquee. I once heard a critique by a fellow I’ll call Don. On one fateful night he told an aspiring writer that her “characters were vague.”

Don didn’t elaborate beyond that, making his critique pretty vague as well. The aspiring writer, a bit of a doormat, I’m afraid, wrote down Don’s remark verbatim, as if she could later tease something of value out of it once she got home.

To her discredit, she didn’t ask for any examples of vagueness or any suggestions as to how to make the characters less vague. I would’ve asked such questions; I doubt, however, that Don would’ve been able to answer them. It’s hard to be specific when you don’t bother to read the story you’re critiquing.

Critique groups are essential to the writing process. They should be exploited for all they’re worth. But every group dynamic is different. A single Helen can suck the joy out of what should be a very supportive and constructive environment. A group that contains too many Dons can make the critiquing process almost useless.

I never returned to Helen’s group after she and I counted syllables together. Apparently I set off a chain reaction. The group disbanded a month later. As for Don’s group, (there were actually a few “Dons” in that group), I left that one too, and never looked back.

Eventually I found a good critique group that provided – and continues to provide – a thoughtful, constructive, and tough assessment of my work. Some comments I agree with, others I ignore, but I almost always drive home energized, eager to tackle another draft.

That’s what a writers’ group should be like.

Choose your group wisely. Stay in the group only if it helps. Leave when it doesn’t. Your writing deserves the best critiques you can find.

And please be sure to critique others the same way you want them to critique you.

Thanks so much Mike for doing the first guest post for me. And I swiped your wonderful doodles too:

Isn’t that great?

All images are from heylookawriterfellow except for snoring mom from Google Images.

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Author: khaula mazhar

I am a freelance writer with five perfect, angelic kids who are every mother's dream. I also tend to exaggerate, just a little.

35 thoughts on “Guest post by a published author. Who is not snobby.

  1. very interesting post..Beautifully written., thank you for liking my new post.Scherezade.Jalal

  2. Ooh. I am finding in person critiques considerably more delicate to manage. You see the person’s reaction; you feel the person’s reaction- but you keep going because you WANT TO HELP. You have invested the time to critique, and daggumit you are going to critique. If our critique is in the right ballpark, then the individual will undoubtedly hear the same feedback again from others. I just hope it eventually sinks in.

  3. Yeah, that’s insane. I’m really picky with critique partners and glad to be!

  4. Ahhh, my critique group has a Cruella DeVille that writes almost exclusively about dogs…and so, some of us have splintered off. Felt a little sneaky at first, but then after a fantastic session where all gave and took critique like the professional writers we aspire to be, I forgave myself.
    Khaula: I too go to heylookawriterfellow when I’m feeling down. Usually laugh out loud, always feel better after. What a gift!

  5. Hi Khaula,
    You chose a wonderful guest blogger for your first. I found you via Mike’s blog. Well done! Hope you enjoyed the long nap and licking sticky fingers.

  6. Love it. I don’t (try) to rhyme, so I don’t commit the crimes of rhyme anymore. I always admire the people who know how to count syllables, who share that information in a critique group. It happened yesterday at our meeting. Sometimes, it takes some trial and error to find the right group.

  7. Great post Mike and hosted with the mostest (inspite of the lack of something more than wise words to get my teeth into…) – I love constructive criticism and, at this stage in my writing, am more frustrated by vague flowery compliments than someone who goes too far down the harsh road. I agree it’s key to find the right group who share an intention to genuinely support each other to improve and criticism is like anything in life, it needs balance.

  8. Do you have Helen’s number? I want to invite her to my next party, she sounds like a barrel of laughs. I can understand not being good at handling criticism–very few of us are–but to be that defiant and resistant to any sort of comments is counterproductive and a colossal waste of your valuable time. You’re good people, Mike.

  9. Cake? Cookies? Fluffernutters? Bueller?

    I think you’ve well summed up why I have not invested a lot of time in finding the perfect face-to-face critique group. The handful of kindred souls who exchange drafts and critiques with me online are treasures beyond measure. I’ll sacrifice the adrenaline rush of the exciting spontaneous exchange for some well-thought out criticism and consideration from smart, talented people. Sayonara Don and Helen!

  10. Even in the absence of cake, I very much enjoyed seeing your blog via Mike (who also has never served me baked goods, despite my loyal following).

  11. Oh Mike, this is a delicate subject and you still make us laugh. I’ve had issues with my critique group which is online and you can see if someone has read your story so it’s frustrating when you can see they’ve read but they don’t give feedback. Luckily I am in critique heaven with a brand new CP and we just swap emails and have a blast!

  12. I’ve had my share of workshops. People like Helen make me wonder. Why are you in a workshop if you’re going to be so defensive right off the bat?

    Hehehe — in my twenties in a workshop at the school I went to I had an antagonistic relationship with one of the participants. The greatest joy in my adolescent petty mind was telling her that her poem sounded like a Hallmark card!

    • good one :) there are quite a few things I would like to say to those kind of people and not as nicely as you did ;)

    • Ooh, Sandee, I love your Hallmark comment. Cruel but oh, so very wonderful.

      To answer your Helen question, I think a lot of aspiring writers have a vague understanding that it’s important to be in a writers group – they don’t, however, understand why it’s important. I suspect some go in expecting to find a pep squad.

  13. It’s a shame that some people can’t take constructive criticism. I’ve had similar experiences, not in writing group, but maybe through Facebook or wherever, where people have asked for ‘honest feedback’ on something they’ve written, or about their new website, or whatever it is. I’ve spent a long time going through it and giving constructive feedback, which I know how to give in a nice way even if it’s a negative point, and then I just get an “ok” back or something. Which I’m sure means they’re not happy with what I’ve said, but a thank you for the time and consideration I gave to it wouldn’t go amiss, ya know? I guess you have to recognise the difference between people who geniunely want honest feedback, and those who just want compliments.

    • True, but it is their loss in the end, they won’t be able to fix up their work (agents/publishers won’t even glance at it) and there is so much competition that people should be grateful to those who actually take out time from their own writing to help out. And it is an even bigger blessing to have someone give feedback in a nice way, even if it is negative. Thanks for dropping by Vanessa :) sorry about no cake, here have some Canada Dry Ginger ale

    • Always beware when the words “honest” and “feedback” are put together. When someone says they want their feedback “honest,” they are rarely, if ever, being honest.

  14. Yes! Critique groups can offer very specific praise and very specific, er, help. I learn almost as much by offering my own critique as I do by seeing my own work through my fellow writers’ lenses. While I might know something is wrong with a passage, one of them might be able to tell me exactly what to do to make it better. And that makes all the difference.

    • Thanks for visiting, I felt I learn a lot by giving critiques too. You get to see all the mistakes and good points to avoid/use yourself. Hopefully I will bake a big chocolate cake for every one next time I have a guest post, ginger ale?

  15. Pingback: I’m a Guest | heylookawriterfellow

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