The Ups and Downs of Critiques

I’ve been so busy writing, I haven’t thought of my blog. Sorry to keep you all at the edge of your keyboards. I know I promised more awesome wisdom.

One of the highlights of the weekend was critiques by Jane. We each received a one-on-one. I was so nervous. I agonized over what to send. I decided on a lyrical manuscript that I love and is my voice, but it seemed to have hit a boulder and I wasn’t sure what to do with it. The other is a story I had received a critique on before that is highly marketable. I’ve been having a hard time in deciding on 1st or 3rd person… and had rewritten many times. Jane’s critique was amazing. I took lots of notes, and she had some for me too. I left feeling strong about my writing skills, and had a positive direction to move forward too. I also loved that she noticed my diverse writing style since my manuscripts were both very different in voice and format.

Also, during the boot camp, we did spend time talking about receiving and giving critiques. So I’ll be talking about that a bit too.

So today’s blog is about how to receive a critique.

First, one mistake many people make is they hyper focus on one small part of the critique. This negates the whole process.

You’ve all heard the advice: listen, don’t try to defend your work, blah, blah, blah….

Yet, when you show your work to someone, it’s like pulling out a picture of your child or your dog… you are proud, and think they should drool over it. However, if we only got positive feedback, we’d never grow as a writer.

Brag Picture: Isn't he adorable!!! My son on his first day of school.

Brag Picture: Isn’t he adorable!!! My son on his first day of school.

One example of what often happens:

Critiquer: “This part isn’t working.”

You: You get defensive. You want to protect your child as if a vicious dog was on the attack, and you lose the rest of the feedback which could be the missing puzzle piece to fixing it.

My vicious dog.

My vicious dog.

When I get a critique, I usually roll my eyes as I read the feedback. Make note on a few things that I feel dumb about not catching. And then I put it away. I do not try to edit right away. Why? I need to process it. I need time to zoom out, detach myself from the initial feedback and be able to reread my baby with a new eye.

After a few days, or a week, or sometimes a month if I’m overwhelmed, I can pick it back up and say “Oh! She didn’t mean this, she meant that…I get it.” Or, “OK, I’ll make a note, but disagree. However, if that comes up again, I’ll need to revisit.”

No one is ever trying to critique your work to make you feel bad. They want to help if they agree to look at your MS in the first place. Sometimes we pigeon in on a specific thing that is said, and don’t listen to the rest. Then we may leave feeling dejected or like a failure. If you are told something that makes you sad, sing that song “Let It Go” and add your own magic. Do not let it ruin your experience or event.

Now the opposite can happen. When they start out with a positive, we can grasp onto those words and not pay attention to the issues that are happening. Be careful of jumping onto a cloud and ignoring the things that do need to be fixed.

I learned a ton in the 20 minutes or more I had with my one on one. One of the most important lessons was to step back and look at my manuscript from a third point of view.

Some good words to know:

Patterning: Patterns are often used in picture books to keep it fun and predictable. Make sure it is consistent.

Heartline: This is the thread that ties your story together

Marketability: Who will read it. And who will buy it.

Predictability: Sometimes this is actually good in a MS. Know your target audience before you start writing, or at least by the time you get to editing.

Page Out: How will your MS turn into a 32 page picture book. Make a dummy

Unneeded Words: It’s easy to use words you don’t need. Can you say the same thing in fewer words. What will the illustration show? Adjectives and Adverbs are often unneeded. Use sparingly

So, my lesson on critiques is that they are a must! And that the only way to get the most of the session is to listen, step back, and most importantly, know it’s not personal.

And if you don’t already have a critique group, find one. Even Jane Yolen has a critique group, and yes, they meet every week.

What have you learned from a critique?


March Madness!

Just a quick reminder that March Madness is happening now! Lots of great poems.

Come vote for your favorite poems. 🙂 And of course, you can come read mine. Remember, vote for the one you love best. Voting closes Friday night.

And later today I will be posting another blog about my marvelous experience with Jane Yolen and friends. The subject is critiquing. 🙂

Thanks for reading!


Jane Yolen’s Toothbrush

janes toothbrush
I know! I look like a total creeper. There is an inside joke to that picture. And yes, it is actually Jane Yolen’s toothbrush. And her amazing daughter, Heidi, encouraged me to post it. See, Jane is human and has to brush her teeth too.

I just returned from my dream. Except, my dream was real. It involved talking, studying, and learning about picture books with one of my favorite and most admired authors, with a small group of lesser known, but just as amazing people.–wow, that’s a long sentence! In my dream I was invited to stay at this author’s home, eat all my meals with her, and even most importantly, read her books (which included a library which would make any small town library envious.) On the first day we were handed a folder with an index of where we could find books by genre. The library even extends to the bathrooms.

The books in my room. Mine had the smallest library.  But I also had antique books.

The books in my room. Mine had the smallest library. But I also had antique books.

Grounding myself was hard. This was like meeting Emily Dickenson, and in so many ways, Jane is Uncle Emily.

She is an owl, wise and giving. When you hear her voice, you stop and listen. I never spent as much time listening as I did those last four days.

This weekend was filled with daily lectures, storytelling, storytime, poetry, writing and critiquing, rewriting, validation, art, guest speakers, amazing food and friendship.

When given access to someone as knowledgeable as Jane Yolen, you can only expect to learn. And learn we did! Jane gave us access to her house, her personal library, her books, her dishes, her daughter (who is of course all grown up). No room in the house was closed off, though I didn’t go into her bedroom–though there were books in there. We became part of the family for the weekend, and created our own camaraderie for a lifetime.

Book study!

Book study!

What did I learn, you ask? So much! Which I will be sharing over the next few weeks. It is too much to cram into one blog. But Jane was so giving of herself and her knowledge, that it would not behoove me to keep it to myself.

I’m going to start with the one thing I learned that I wasn’t expecting to learn. It is not a new lesson by any means, but it is the most important one. It is the reason Jane Yolen has published over 300 books. Are you ready?

Jane works hard. She works every day. She continues to grow as a writer. She continues to find challenges. She’s not afraid to take risks. The word FLEXIBLE was used often. Jane is not where she is because she is an amazing writer. There are many people who are amazing writers. She is there because she’s never given up.

I’ve come back from the weekend with a plan. No more writing when I can find time. Writing is now part of my day. I cleared off my desk so I have a place to storyboard and track what projects I’m working on, and I have a validation that I am heading down the road I want. I grew as an author, and as a person.

I’m home now. And though I now have to cook, do laundry, and get back to daily life I’m still in my dream. I’m already more productive this week then I was last month. And as soon as I hit publish, I’m back to working on a new manuscript I started yesterday, and editing another one from critiques from the weekend to submit.

Jane and I!

Jane and I!

If you want something, work for it. You’ll appreciate it so much more.

And thank you to Jane Yolen and her fabulous daughter, Heidi Stemple, for opening their home.

Off to see the Wizard!

I’m so excited! Tomorrow I head to New Hampshire for a weekend retreat with Jane Yolen! Jane is one of my favorite authors, and I’m ecstatic at this opportunity to learn from her.

I will be blogging from the retreat, so check back to see what’s happening. 🙂

In the meantime, write on!


Bear with me… <3

reading book


I’m back, with a new blog. Find my old blog here:
Somehow the ISP and Google had an error that is beyond my understanding, and I can’t log into my site through my ISP, but it won’t let me go in a back door…. but no need for boring details, breath!

So, I don’t have the time to make this blog all pretty, but I want to start blogging. So come back weekly to see if I figure out how to use WordPress. 😉

And bear with me for now… the most important thing is the words, right?

Next week I leave for Jane Yolen’s Picture Book Boot Camp. That means I get to stay at Jane Yolen’s farmhouse in CT! I’m so excited. Jane is one of my favorite book authors. “How Does a Dinosaur Say Goodnight” was included in the bedtime routine of my boys for many years. Not only did they enjoy it, I did… And that is something I’ve always kept in mind when writing books.

When I get back, I will head into Ed DeCaria’s Think Kid Think March Madness Poetry contest, after a year hiatus. I won 2nd place back in 2012, the first year of the event. I have no clue how I did that, but I did work hard, and it did burn me out a bit. It involved late nights, tons of rewriting, and lots of reading aloud to my teddy bear, Cuddles. I didn’t do it last year because I was focused on some other things, but I loved the way it made me think, and forced me to finish something in a short time frame. I’m doing it again as an exercise, and to recreate new good writing habits. 2012 was a good writing year for me.

So anyway, I’m here, with a new blog that I am trying to figure out. Look for my ramblings on writing, aha’s, workshops I take, people I meet, books I read, and random things I feel like sharing and have no where else to put my thoughts. 🙂

And if anyone wants to help me figure out how to redesign this, let me know.

Welcome to my new blog!