As a writer, we all want to write something amazing.  We want the reader to fall into the world we created; to get lost in our creative mind, and to emerge with a hunger for more.  That is what every person who ever wrote anything wants:  to either entertain or enlighten.  So how to do we get to that point?  How do we make this happen?

I’ve briefly mentioned a few idea’s in previous blogs, but I’d like to go into more detail with the one thing that has been the most important in my own writing–Peer Editing.

An article on the Guilford College website explains one of the benefits of peer editing:  “The individual editors get valuable editing practice, which enables them to edit their own work better in the future. One of the best ways to improve as a writer–other than through practice, practice, practice!–is by consciously using the criteria of excellent writing to make judgments about what is good in a piece of writing and what is not and then applying those criteria to one’s own work. Thus students in writing classes that employ peer editing regularly praise the practice highly, sometimes reporting it to be a class’s most useful aspect.”  (sited on Guilford College web site:  http://www.guilford.edu/about_guilford)

Belonging to a fantastic writers group in my area (coloradospringsfictionwritersgroup.org ), I could not agree more with the article, especially the underlined sentence above.  Go back and read it again.  What does it mean to you?

When I finished my first novel, I did pass it along to a few friends to read, but having someone tell you “it’s good”, or even “great”, is not as helpful as someone pointing out tense shifts, or overused words and phrases.  Our friends may buy the books we self-publish, even suggest it to their friends, but if it’s sloppy and badly written, was it worth it?  Let’s say the writing is excellent, but your character isn’t strong enough, or your plot is weak.  That will be the lasting impression you leave on the reader’s mind and they won’t be running down to Borders to buy your new book. Peer editing will not only bring these things out in our work, but we begin to see it in other writers work—the same mistakes.  I couldn’t see the mistakes in my own writing, until I started to edit others.  Now, not only do I have feedback written on my piece, but also I’ve learned something from the editing process, helping me become a stronger writer.

There can be a few pitfalls, so before you do the internet scan for peer editing groups, we all need to remember one thing—YOU ARE THE AUTHOR!  Not everyone’s feedback is helpful, and not everyone will agree with our critique of his/her work either.  That’s okay.  In my writing group, there are about ten of us.  Some of the critiques are very similar to each other, so then I know it’s a red flag to fix.  But occasionally one person might say something that no one else agrees with.  In the end, it’s your piece, your baby.  What I ask myself before I scrap a scene or begin to re-write: “Who is it I’m reaching too?  Am I missing my target audience?” and most importantly, “Do I agree with the suggestions?”  Nine times out of ten—for me–I enjoy the critiques that tear my writing apart.  I believe my writing gets stronger because of those who aren’t afraid to say, “I just didn’t get it.”

I’ve had readers tell me that they don’t know how to critique.  They feel inadequate and “not the best person to give you a critique”.  But, I bet you if you asked them about the worst book they ever read, they could ramble off a list.  Maybe you’re one of those people and for a moment, I’m going to assume you are.  Here are some basic things I look for when I critique:

  • Read the entire piece to make sure you have a good idea of what the person submitted.  Make a mark on spots where the flow stops, or you got lost—but not much else yet.  Find the beat!
  •   Start-off with the positive/strengths and give specifics.  Ex:  You liked the premise of the piece, strong characters, good descriptions, etc.
  • From here, you can either talk about the weakness of the piece—again being specific–or go right into the line editing.
  • Line Editing–Hopefully the piece submitted or exchanged is double-space with one and a half margin for adequate comments.  This is where you note grammar, punctuation, and sentence structure, below, above, or in the side margin.
  • Finish your critique again with something positive and encourage the writer.  They say half the battle in life, isn’t whether something is easy or hard, it’s your attitude about it.  Leave your writer with something they can hold on to, even if you hated it, without lying to them.  It does them no good for you to say you liked the story if you really didn’t.

These are just a few things I look for, but I do know there are other writers who critique as well and I would love to know your methods, or something I may have left out.  You can add your comments to my web site blog, www.shellygoodmanwright.com to share your strategies with other writers, including me.

Anyone can write and many do.  Unfortunately, in this self-publishing age, badly written books line the shelves everywhere you turn.  Join a group, strengthen your story, polish your writing skills, then head over to agentquery.com and begin the search.

As always, I wish you the very best of luck and happy writing!

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