Frankly, My Dear, I Don’t Give A Damn (…I Lie)

By: Stacey Purcell

“You’re beginning does not have a strong hook and I’m afraid you won’t draw your readers in as it stands.” Ouch.

Writers are gluttons for punishment. We pour our hearts upon the page, open our souls for all to see and then serve it up on a platter for human consumption. This is the wondrous glory and the bane of our existence. We cannot escape the inevitability of being critiqued. It is a part of the creative life. Unless we’re determined to never let our work see the light of day, then someone, somewhere will offer their opinion on what we’ve done.

Before we put our stuff up for sale or send it off to an agent, we need to have impartial eyes read over our pages. Critique partners are a writer’s secret weapon. When done correctly, they can help us avoid the type of comments at the top of this post. They can find holes in your plot, compliment your choice of words, and keep you from head hopping. The trick is to find just the right kind of help you need and to recognize you won’t need the same type of help at every stage.

I attended a workshop recently taught by my friend, Lorin Oberweger. She’s a professional free lance editor( ) who I think is rather brilliant. The workshop was titled Working Smarter: Understanding What Kind of Feedback You Need and When You Need It She suggests that we break the process up into 3 phases.

Phase 1 is when you’re writing an early draft. Construct it more like a dialogue rather than a list of improvements. Ask questions like: What’s happening?- literally unfolding in the scene. What emotions are conjured for you? What is your impression of the protagonist? What is the viewpoint character trying to accomplish in the scene?

Phase 2 should be done during the middle drafts. Your partners should dig deeper into your characters and story. Ask questions like: Does the opposition seem clear and significant enough to pose a compelling obstacle in this scene? How am I handling the pacing of this scene? Do I understand what motivates the protagonist/ antagonist/viewpoint character in this scene?

Phase 3 is for the last drafts of your story. It’s almost ready to send out into the world. This is when giving concrete suggestions are the most valuable. Is the scene successful? What elements are eluding me? Is there a lack of credibility? Problems with grammar, formatting, flow? Are there issues of language/ voice?

This is a wonderful structure for helping a writer along without breaking their heart. Too much constructive criticism at the beginning may seem like an insurmountable blockade. Even though it is well meaning, it can be overwhelming. Start with the general and steadily move to the specific. Makes sense.

Of course, like most things in life, critiquing is not a one size fits all thing. While Lorin outlined this method, we also discussed that not every approach is necessarily for you. For instance, I’ve found that, for my personality, I need a combo of all three phases to help me feel like I’m truly moving forward. On our first pass, we focus more in on Phase 1 and 2 and only touch on 3. (Some things, you just can’t ignore!) After I’ve wrestled with it for awhile, we make another pass and that’s a combo 2 with a heavy dose of 3.

After you decide how and what you need from your critique partners, you may decide that you need help from a professional. There are many wonderful free lance editors and many awful money suckers. Be careful. Do your research. Get references. I’ve had the pleasure of working with Lorin Oberweger and I think she’s amazing. She’s supportive and very insightful. That being said, after she suggested I cut two chapters even though they were “extremely well written”, I sent her an email back that looked something like this:

YOU SUCK!!! (Of course, she was 100% correct.)

She just smiles and tells me, “I suck so you don’t have to.”

Do you have critique partners? How do you structure your time with them? What have you found that really works? What doesn’t? Have you worked with a free lance editor before? Were you happy? Chime in and let us know!

35 Responses to Frankly, My Dear, I Don’t Give A Damn (…I Lie)

  1. What a great post! Particularly when you describe the curious habits of writers – that we are creatures of gluttony – how painfully, painfully true!


  2. William says:

    Sounds like Lorin. And she is, as she usually is, 100% correct.

    The hardest thing we as writers have to do is remove our own egos… and that’s never easy. Worth it, absolutely, but at times painful.


  3. jbrayweber says:

    Great post, Stacey. We do need the constructive criticism in bite-sized chunks. I think that’s what helps us digest what we lack and help us grown and become more aware of our own craft.



  4. Suzan Harden says:

    Rules within the crit group help too. Like no one’s allowed to use the b-word unless someone does something duper-fantastic that you’re super-jealous of (in a good way of course).


  5. Suzan Harden says:

    And I’m commenting before caffeine which doesn’t help my speling abilities.


  6. Hi Louise- So glad you enjoyed this post- I had a lot of fun writing it! Since it’s inevitable that people will read our work, we need to be smart during the process to get the best possible product to present to the world! Sigh…wish it was less painful sometimes!


  7. Susan- I dont no what you meen about the caffeen thing!!! I can selll fine without it.

    Another rule you should think about is to not tell your editor that she sucks…not the most politically correct thing to do. I’m lucky in that Lorin knew I was joking…sort of…of course I was…..not really so much….damn, I hate it when she’s right!!!


  8. Hey Will- Egos schmegos. I don’t have one so that’s not a problem for me. HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA


  9. All playing aside, you have to know yourself and really know when you’re ready for criticism and what kind. Your comment about bite sized chunks, Jenn, is exactly what Lorin was talking about. Be systematic, find a way that will benefit you.


  10. Nina Cordoba says:

    I remember that when I started writing, any little criticism was gut-wrenching. Now, it’s usually mildly stressful while I try to decide how I’m going to fix the problem.

    But for me, critiquers and editors with well-developed senses of humor are vital. One, because I can blow off stress steam in a humorous way, like you did, without fear of offending. And two, because I write humor into nearly everything I do, so when someone who doesn’t have much of a sense of humor reads my stories, I just get a bunch of “Huh?” in the comments next to the funny parts.

    Now that’s annoying.


  11. Nevea Lane says:

    I could stand here and lie and say that I love criticism and that it makes us stronger… I won’t. Criticism, once we are done grinding our teeth, having anxiety about why they don’t ‘like’ us and obsessing over how many red marks are on our draft, does make us better. It makes us better but that doesn’t mean we have to like it. We have to be careful not to get so immersed in the bad reviews that we don’t give credit to the good criticisms that may actually help you. There is a such thing as honest and helpful criticism and people just being mean.


  12. Ruth Kenjura says:

    I also met with Lorin, and one of the things I was able to learn from her was “trust my own instincts”. She read my work and made suggestions or opening with a certain character, and putting this in and that in. My response to her- I did those things but when others read it they suggested I take those parts out- So now I am in the process to rewriting those once delete scenes and hopefully moving forward. Once I get half way through again, I hope to have her take another look at it .


  13. Awesome blog article! And I totally agree — critique partners can really help! Not just for fine tuning the story itself, but for moral building and encouragement. I have a fabulous critique partner, Elle J. Rossi, and she’s gloriously honest, whether it hurts or not, though she’s very tactful. She has helped me so much that I’ve mentioned her in the dedication of my first book, A BEAUTIFUL CAGE, out this coming September from The Wild Rose Press.

    I’ve never hired an independent editor (editing came through the publisher), but I can see how finding one would be useful, particularly if you don’t have critique partner. Also, an editor would probably be a good idea if you want to find an agent to represent your book before publishing 🙂


  14. Rania Sarri says:

    “We pour our hearts upon the page, open our souls for all to see and then serve it up on a platter for human consumption.”
    I guess this summarizes my problem perfectly: no matter how I try, I still can’t write in my native language (greek). I can only express my self in English. Hmmm… It must have something to do with criticism …
    So Stacey, do you prefer a crit group with writers you know personally or anonymous members from a group on the net? That last one didn’t work for me.
    Now, can I post my add here please? Critique partners needed!


  15. I actually meant ‘morale’ building. lol But morals could probably figure in there somewhere! 😉


  16. Paula Martin says:

    I have two critique partners, each with their own strengths – one looks at the ‘whole’ story, the other is a stickler for details. Between them, they make me really think hard about some parts of my story, and in the end they helped me to tighten my writing and strengthen my plot and characters.


  17. Kristen says:

    A bad beginning is nothing compared to “Your beginning’s great–its the rest of the book that’s not so hot…”

    I get that you guys are all in the established writer zone (one of the reasons I LOVE this site) and are at a different level for critique partners. Unfortunately for newbies–it seems like half the battle is finding others who a.) want to finish something and b.) actually want to sell it (not wallow in it’s glorious second act sag…)


  18. Joan Reeves says:

    Great blog title for a great blog. My face line in the post is from your freelancing friend: “I suck so you don’t have to.”


    Best wishes,
    Joan Reeves


  19. jeff7salter says:

    I really like the way your friend distilled those three PHASES of the critique process. Though, actually, I’d tend to think of them as LEVELS.
    No, I don’t actually have a critique partner or even a regular beta reader. Part of it is my own selfishness: I don’t want to be distracted by having to read and critique the ms. of OTHER writers while I’m trying to compose my own. I can do that when my drafts are complete, I suppose. But writers need immediate feedback. Waiting sev. weeks won’t cut it.
    All that said, my brother is a terrific writer and multi-published in non-fiction. He’s always been excellent at critique-ing (?) my ms. And also extremely helpful in his comments.


  20. beckylevine says:

    Great post. Lorin is absolutely right–there are times for different levels of feedback, and–yes–you should have big say in what combination works for you. It’s the biggest reason I have for saying critique groups need to support everybody through MULTIPLE passes of their manuscripts.


  21. Hey Nina-
    I’m so glad you stayed with writing even though critiques were gut wrenching. Now, you are a successful top selling author with a new book out. Don’t Make Me Make You Brownies. The title alone was worth it-LOVE IT!! Nina Cordoba, you don’t have to worry about a thing!!


  22. Nevea- you are so correct when you talk about being careful how you receive feedback on your story. It absolutely can be paralyzing to a writer. Choose your partners carefully!


  23. Ruth- You have a winner of a story! Lorin was right to tell you to trust your instincts. No one knows your story better than you. If you have a solid reason for putting something a specific way then that’s the way it should be!! Keep writing- I can’t wait to buy your book!


  24. Hey Alyson- Moral/ Morale…they both kinda work! You’re so lucky to have found a partner that you like and respect. Better yet, she must like and respect your work as well.
    If you ever do get to the point of wanting to use a professional editor, remember Lorin Oberweger’s name. If not, do plenty of research on what they’re offering and ask to see references!!


  25. Hi Rania- Welcome back!!
    Sorry to hear that your last group didn’t work out. Finding good partners or groups can be a bit difficult. I’ve worked with close friends and folks that I’ve only met once or twice. I honestly didn’t see much difference if they were good. It should be about the words on the paper, not about a friendship.
    Have you joined RWA? I know they have a terrific YA and FFand P online group. I believe they also have critique groups there as well. Also, have you emailed my friend yet? If you need her name and email, send me an email and I’ll re-send.


  26. Oh Paula, you have the best possible scenario! Two trusted partners who specialize in different areas. Wow- Lucky Duck!!


  27. HAHAHA Kristen, you certainly have a point. I’d rather have a bad beginning and the rest OK rather than vice versa!!
    Sounds like you’re having trouble finding some partners as well.Should I hook you and Rania up together so you all could give it a try?


  28. Hi Joan- Yes, Lorin has the best way with words! I knew I had to include that line when she said it to me the other day. Glad you enjoyed the post.


  29. Well Jeff, if you don’t want to read other people’s manuscripts and your brother is busy, I guess that leaves you with the option of hiring in some help. Although, since you’ve already written 7 novels, maybe you’re far enough along in this journey to be able to spot your own mistakes. My hat is off to you! Wish I had that skill.


  30. Hi Becky- glad you stopped by today. I think an important thing you point out is that we should all make multiple passes before doing anything official with our work! An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure!!


  31. Lorin is an awesome editor. Your blog today is an excellent example of why.

    Timing is perfect for me. I’m working on revisions requested by a small press editor who “loved” my story. If she loved it, why’s she chaning it? LOL I’ll use Lorin’s phase method to evaluate the editor’s comments.

    Thanks for sharing Lorin’s techniques.


  32. Judythe- You can’t go wrong using this method. We worked on it in small groups and I found a specific thing I was missing and had been bugging me. I never could have figured it out on my own, but asking open ended question like this helped me drill down to the heart of what had been bothering me.
    Congrats on working with an e-publisher, I want to hear all about it when you get a moment!!


  33. Great post and written with heart. I’m glad I found you through this blog through!


  34. Welcome Dianne!- Thanks for stopping in and commenting. I really enjoyed this week’s post because I always have fun with Lorin! She’s one of the smartest industry professionals that I’ve met in a long time. I love the way she carved up critiquing with partners…I think we can all learn something here.


  35. Travel Ann says:

    Loved this post, Stacey!
    Your editor, however, should have edited her own letter better. The first words of this post “You’re beginning” should have been “Your beginning”. That mistake made me take everything she said with a small grain of salt. I do like this basic concept of networking and critiquing between seasoned writers.


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