Everything’s (Not) Fine with Gillian Archer

That’s the worst writing advice I’ve ever received. Everything’s fine.

SnowflakeI was a young writer, just starting out and obviously hadn’t published anything yet. I was still trying to find my footing in the writerly world and I knew that the best way to polish my stuff was to find a critique partner. So I signed up for a critique matching service a very popular writer (and rockstar in my eyes) had set up.

Full of nerves, I sent my chapter into the group and waited impatiently for the chapter I was to critique in return. When it arrived I spent a few hours going over with a fine tooth comb, pointing out repetitive phrases, asking for more clarification here or to cut back on too much exposition there. I spent hours on it. Then I sent it back to the coordinator and waited to get my own critique back.

When it finally arrived, there were two little words written in the margins.

Everything’s fine.

That’s it. Apparently it was perfect and didn’t need any improvement…

As much as I’d like to think I’m a special little snowflake who can do no wrong, I think we all know that’s the never the case. Everything can use improvement. Hell, if I could get my hands on my first published story again, I’d hack away at that sucker. And that’s after several rounds with both a content and line editor.

In the end, I politely informed the coordinator who was horrified and offered to critique my chapter herself. Like I could turn that offer down! So it all worked out and I didn’t have a hard time accepting the fact that I’m not a perfect little snowflake after all.

Have you ever had an awkward critique relationship?


Everything’s (Not) Fine with Gillian Archer — 14 Comments

  1. I love this story, Gillian! It’s an excellent point that, particularly for newbie writers, the near-universal love that your mother, sister and BFF give your work can be very counterproductive. And from a lazy critiquer? Even worse! How smart you were not to fall for the ego stroke and push for more.

  2. I’ve been lucky in that I’ve been involved with a couple of very good critique groups who have no problem telling me what’s wrong with my work! But – and it’s a big but – they’ve also encouraged me while giving me constructive criticism. There came a time in my writing career about ten years ago when I was ready to give up writing, convinced that I’d never be published and nobody liked what I had to say. My writing friends talked me down from the ledge, and told me that “If I really sucked at writing they would have told me so.” And I knew they would have, so I kept on plugging away, and eventually I was published. A writer needs honest critiques, ones that neither ridicule nor tear to pieces, but at the same time point out faults and give suggestions for improvement.

  3. Excellent post, Gillian. I have been in that position. I’m pretty thorough when I critique. I encourage, but I’m also very honest about opportunities for improvement. I invest a lot of time in critiques. So to receive a critique back from a partner that basically says, “Pretty clean, as usual. Good stuff” or “Sorry, I didn’t have time to give it a thorough read” was more than a little disappointing.

    • It’s so frustrating, right? I get that newbie writers can’t find everything but they should be able to find something. And critiquing does make your own writing stronger. It’s a great skill to have but you’ve got to try!

  4. That’s a great story. I’ve had some good AND bad experiences, though no one ever told me everything was fine. I did have a person tell me once that she didn’t connect with the hero, the heroine, the setting, or my voice, but that she’d be glad to “take a crack” at critiquing my work. Scared me off, which I’m sure was her intent.

  5. I’ve had all kinds of crits from the unnecessarily brutal totally rewritten my book to the “I wouldn’t change a thing gush”. But along the way I’ve found a group of people I trust and who will tell me the hard truths when I need to hear them. :) Sometimes I still stick to my guns and sometimes you have to because that’s the part that makes the way you write unique.

    • I don’t think I’ve had any truly brutal crits. I think I’m harder on myself than other people are 😉

      I’ve disagreed with someone one of my crit partners said only to have my editor point the same thing out! LOL! Thanks for stopping by, Kate!

  6. I’ve had a few cp’s like that. Like you, I failed to believe my story was perfect and I too would spend hours going over a piece I was critiquing. I took the somewhat radical decision and no longer have a cp and I think my writing is for the better for it.

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