Welcome to the A to Z Blog Challenge for 2014, and thanks to you readers who are coming from that list to check this out.
This year I’m covering elements of critique: What to look for to make our writing stronger.
A critique is all about getting other eyes on our efforts, finding out what works and what doesn’t, seeing around our blind spots by taking advantage of the eyes and experience of several others.
Critiquing someone’s creative work can be daunting. You’re picking apart something they poured their heart into. But when everyone realizes the end result is a far stronger piece of writing, the slight pain of criticism and the terror of becoming vulnerable become well worth it.
When you hit “Publish” and send your words out into the Internet, or when you click “Send” on that e-mail delivering your manuscript to a submissions address at a publisher, the people who see your material have one unconscious motivation:
To dismiss it as quickly as possible.
Blog reader feeds and e-mail inboxes fill up fast. People don’t have time to wade through hundreds of articles. We naturally skim through, ostensibly looking for something to catch our eye. In reality, we’re flashing past plenty of material that for whatever reason we deem inconsequential, not worth our time.
Likewise, any editor accepting submissions is going to be inundated with pitches, queries, and manuscripts. The sooner that pile can be whittled down, the better. There’s a hundred more where this manuscript came from.
So the very first element of critique that I want to focus on is appearance.
Any editor or publisher is going to provide guidance for how submissions must be formatted. Magazine editors will post guidelines to give a prospective writer all the details necessary to know how to prepare their query or pitch. Even my critique group provides a formatting requirement, and they will pick on submissions that don’t follow the standards.
For example, If I send my piece in Helvetica font when the publisher demands Times New Roman, right from the outset, I’ve told them a few things:
“I don’t pay attention to what you want. I want you to pay attention to me.”
“I’m above following your rules. I will be a problem to work with.”
“I don’t have time to look at piddly details. That’s what I have you for.”
When a guideline tells me to use a specific style (AP Style Manual or what have you), I should get a quick primer for what that means. It might mean typing ‘OK’ instead of ‘okay.’ Or it could mean not using the Oxford comma when making a list of 1, 2, and 3. (The comma after 2 and before the ‘and’ is the offending comma.)
Tiny details. Simple matters. Easy to miss, with potentially large consequences.
The critique group I belong to has guidelines, and we mostly follow them. There’s room among friends for “I forgot” or “Something went wrong in Word” as excuses.
The editor or potential reader isn’t there to be my friend. I don’t want to give him or her any reason to ignore what I have to offer.
You only get one chance to make a first impression. Make sure it’s good.
Tomorrow I will look at background.