#marywrites: Constructive Criticism

You know how things just seem to happen at the exact right time sometimes? That’s this post. It’s going up a couple weeks after I’ve drafted it, and so, by now, my CP, Chelsea, has finished providing feedback for my novel, but, at the time of drafting this, she’s right at the end, and it has been a journey.

I always see in people’s Acknowledgements the usual “wow they weren’t kidding about a middle book”, and I felt that vibe while writing the second sister witches, but I didn’t really feel it. The whole book was a struggle to write, but, at the time, I thought most of that was because I just wanted to get to the third book. And a lot of it was that, but that feeling of wanting to get to something else is because it’s a middle book, because it’s a bridge between the two, because there’s so little plot, but so much foundational stuff needs to happen, and ya girl just wanted to write an epic finale. I had to just pause to literally sip my tea because friends, IT SHOWS. The second sister witches is painful. It is a complete and utter mess. It makes me want to stick permanently to duologies.

Alas, sister witches is definitely a trilogy, and despite the fact that the second book is something straight out of my nightmares, it’s got a solid skeleton to it, and I’m really excited to work on revisions for it. Why? Because my CP is a badass.

There is a huge difference between criticism and constructive criticism. I’ve received criticism over the years for my books, and it’s not a whole ton of fun. “This could use some work,” someone actually commented on one of my fics recently. Other than the fact that it’s seven years old, and I clearly haven’t posted a single fic since then, that’s not really helpful for me. “This sucks,” is something a friend of mine used to write across the top of a page, or, better yet, he liked to just draw an X through the page. Again, not very helpful. Also super hurtful, but I digress, I don’t feel like getting into that today.

Constructive criticism, though? It is the stuff that takes those nightmares and turns them into dreams. Constructive criticism is when, instead of just saying this sucks, someone says, “Here is what’s missing from this scene. I’m not feeling this emotion, and this character’s reaction doesn’t match up with previous ones, and the past 30 chapters haven’t moved the plot forward at all.” I’m not crying, I’M LAUGHING BECAUSE IT’S TRUE. Look, formal apology to Chelsea because SW2 is like I just decided to word vomit all of my unnecessary feelings everywhere and say fuck it with the plot until the last four chapters.

There’s something magical happening in it right now, though. As I was beginning to draft this, Chelsea wrote, “I’m sure you’re sick of me saying I have thoughts,” but the truth of it is, I am so eternally grateful to her thoughts. My writing would not be what it is today without her, and if ever she disappears from my life, for whatever reason, I’m truly going to feel like I’m lost at sea. The feedback and constructive criticism that she provides for my books is a literal godsend. I can already see the shape that SW2 needs to take because of her comments, and while it is hella daunting, I’m also very excited. And that wouldn’t be the case if the criticism was just criticism and not constructive.

I truly believe that you can’t write a book by yourself. I mean, obviously, you’ve got to write the book, but it’s not going to go anywhere unless you’ve got someone else looking at it. And I’m sure I sound like a broken record because I’ve talked about revision and needing to find a critique partner, but you’ve also got to find the right person.

Having someone read my books who said things like “this sucks”, but didn’t provide any other background to that comment was a) breaking my heart and b) not actually helping to forward my writing. Chelsea has never outright said “this sucks”, either, because, instead, she says, “There’s a solid foundation, and here’s how you can build upon it.” You need a critique partner who is going to peel open the layers of your work and tell you how to make it better. Obviously, you’re still the one writing it. You’re not handing it off to someone else to write. You’re handing it off to someone else that can look at it objectively, tell you where it’s lacking, and help figure out how to move it forward in the right direction. For SW2, I knew that introducing two new characters was necessary, but I also knew that I wasn’t doing it well while I was writing it, and as Chelsea has gone through it and pointed out weak spots, I can see where to re-thread those introductions and have them make a hell of a lot more sense. But I 100% would not have been able to come to that understanding on my own. I’m way too blinded by my love of my books, and I can’t see where they’re weak. I know they are, but it’s like wearing drunk goggles, I’m just stumbling around excited about all the new characters. Meanwhile, Chelsea’s like, alright kid calm down we gotta actually explain why these new characters need to be here.

At the end of the day, constructive criticism is going to take your book from zero to hero. Yes, you may break for a quick dance party.

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Criticism is not. And this post is not, as I just jokingly said to my mom, only a love letter to Chelsea’s amazing feedback. It’s a reminder to all of us that are providing feedback to do it constructively. If someone is trusting you with their work, don’t stomp on their heart. That’s just unnecessary and cruel. They’ve given you a small piece of their soul, something they hold near and dear, and they’ve entrusted you to take care of it.

I’ve given out my book before and had friends laugh at certain elements of it because there were pieces in it that weren’t accurate, and though I specifically asked for their help in fixing those elements, their initial reaction was to make fun. And do you know what the very first thing I did after receiving that criticism? Never sent them anything again. But do you know who keeps getting my books, and who I keep going back to for feedback? Spoiler alert, it’s Chelsea. Because she has never once provided me anything but constructive criticism, and I’m going to keep putting that in italics because it’s so damn important.

I am so ready for SW2 revisions. It’s going to pretty much mean rewriting the entire thing, and while, yeah, of course that’s intimidating and I don’t really want to do it, I also know how much better it’s going to be in the next draft, and I know that a lot of that is because I received such incredible feedback.

Giving your work to someone else to read is terrifying, but it’s also so necessary to your success. Know, too, that you absolutely have the opportunity to take your work back if the feedback you’re receiving is unkind and not helpful. Also recognize that sometimes constructive criticism is going to feel like someone is taking shots at you, but as long as they’re providing tools to help move you forward and not just taking shots, well. Look, feedback is rough no matter what way you look at it, and while it may be tough to hear sometimes, when it’s the constructive kind of feedback, you’ve got to listen to it. Challenge yourself to find someone you trust to give your work to, someone that can provide actual feedback (I mean find another writer, not just your best friend), and watch your words blossom into something wonderful and new.

Because, at the end of the day, every time I get an email saying Chelsea’s commented on a chapter, I am so damn excited to see what she has to say. I don’t care if it’s picking apart the entire chapter because I know that everything she’s written is going to help further the book and bring it to the level that it needs to be at. I know that I chose someone who is not only kind in her feedback, but incredibly frank. And that’s a wildly wonderful combination to have because it means she’s constructively providing feedback that will make my next round of revisions so much more effective.

Do you have a critique partner?

7 responses to “#marywrites: Constructive Criticism”

  1. Chelsea D.G. Bartlett Avatar

    Oh Mary, you’re so sweet! I’m so sorry you’ve had people treat your work so poorly in the past, that’s so awful! But I’m really glad we found each other, we’ve struck up such a good partnership over the last few years. I feel the same way when I see that I have new comments from you on a project — just excited to see what you have to say, even when I know it means I might have a lot of fresh work to do. For me, I always want my work to be the best version of itself that it can be, and you help me make that happen, so I’m really glad I can do the same for you. ❤

    Liked by 1 person

    1. marydrover Avatar

      We really have! I feel like I’ve gone through writing partners over the years and watched them fizzle out, but there’s never been a doubt in my mind that we’re in it for the long haul, and I’m so glad to have you! ❤ And so, so happy to know that the feeling is mutual! We're going to rule the world one day!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. waytoofantasy Avatar

    I love reading about your writing journey, Mary! I do think it’s really important to have a CP, someone you can bounce things off of as well!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Mary Drover Avatar

      Thank you! It’s just so helpful to have someone you can randomly text and just be like “okay but what if THIS happened???” and be able to brainstorm it out.

      Liked by 1 person

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