Friday, September 3, 2010

When is too much help too much?

We all know that good crit partners are worth their weight in gold. Great crit partners need to have shrines erected to them.

But what about the ones who try, bless them they do try, but man alive do they go massively overboard.

I've come to the belief that a good/great crit partner not only understands the mechanics of writing, has a innate talent for the feel of a story, but also is in touch with the emotional balance of who they are critting for.

What the hell am I saying you ask?

Well ... some authors like everything spelled out at once. They want all the red ink (or whatever color is used for tracking changes if you go that route) to be done at once. Any punctuation, spelling, sentence flow, lack of parallel structure and dangling partaciple in the whole story - they want marked and found.

That's great for them. I applaud them for being able to emotionally handle that kind of a hit.

But there are other authors, myself being one of them, that are more fragile writers. Let's focus first on the story and characters, getting that all smoothed out and flowing well, and then we can do a second round of edits and hit the mechanics. Because I tell you, I have sat and cried my eyes out opening a document that looked like a technicolor nightmare from the track changes marks. It looked like the thing was bleeding ... and it was hard to see where each line pointed to and follow it all. My husband had to sit and print it out and white out stuff so that I could focus on just parts of it and not scream. IT didn't help that it was my first venture into a much longer word count that I had normally written at the time.

I am not saying baby a writing partner, but at the same time, realize that sometimes too much help at once can be cruel. Especially if
a) your writing parner hasn't managed to write a lot lately and this is their first foray back int to the cycle,
b) it's their first attempt at a new approach, idea, concept,
c) they are one of the uber busy types who only can give 30 minutes a week to their writings,
d) they are depressive by nature, and
e) anything else I might have forgotten to mention to keep this post from going into a novel length.

That's where a good/great writing partner adds in that element of being in touch with their writing partner. You don't have to crawl into their skin to understand that maybe they would be overwhelmed by all of this at once.

Just remember not to be unintentionally cruel while you are honestly trying to be kind.


  1. Michelle - I agree that it doesn't do any good to tell someone "You dropped a comma in this sentence that you're going to delete anyway." Too much thrown at you at once is overwhelming, which means that it's easy to miss one of the details. Ideally (for me) the first time through should fix the big picture problems such as plot. Grammar and punctuation should be the final polish. Everything between is a matter of degree.

  2. Michelle,

    This is all so true. An excellent point made with perfect clarity :-)


  3. Hello, Michelle,

    Personally, I prefer to focus on the big picture in my crits. The arc of the story and the realism and consistency of the characters are far more important than the details of language and punctuation.

    I do agree though, that it's necessary to adjust you's tone and subject matter based on the recipient. When you're critting someone new, for the first time, you need to step carefully, until you get a feeling for how much that author can take -- as well as what kind of feedback he or she is seeking.



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