Thursday, December 6, 2012

The Rule of Two

Not too long ago, I got some notes back from my agent on a new manuscript I sent him. Overall, they were positive and what he suggested I address amounted to optional fine tuning on an otherwise submission-ready book.

Now, I'm not bringing that up to pat myself on the back for a job well done in writing it, but rather, I'm calling attention to the necessity of criticism when it comes to the art of writing.

I've been plowing away at publication for a couple of years now. Not too many compared to some, but enough to get a sense of the predictable spectrum of those that proclaim themselves to be writers. To sum it up, they range from "I'm an amazing writer," to "Woe is my writing talent". In the middle is a sort of realist that recognizes that he or she may possess some measure of talent, but that talent needs work and training to foster any sort of success.

Believe me, you want to be in the middle.

Those that think they have some divine talent typically write like shit and those that think their writing is shit are often talented, yet they are hampered by an inability to overcome their own perceived limitations.

Usually, what both ends of the spectrum lack is a good critique partner. It's my general rule that for each of my manuscripts, I use at least two critique partners before it's ready to send to my agent. Why two? Because if two of the critique partners pick up on a particular criticism, then addressing the criticism becomes mandatory. Their criticism becomes true, so to speak, and not just opinion. Obviously, this presupposes that I've got good critique partners for this project. I do. (Thank you Shandy Lawson and Mindy McGinnis.)

Editing can be difficult trying to figure out what stays and what goes. Stephen King is famous for (among other things) coining the phrase "kill your darlings," in reference to snipping good prose. Knowing which darlings to kill helps when your critique partners are in agreement. Remember, the purpose of being critiqued, ultimately, is so you can tell a better story.


  1. Wasn't it Faulkner who coined that term? Anyhow, this is awesome advice. I usually garage myself with CPs without really inking about the broad CP group as a whole. I really think now, I will limit myself to 2 CPs. Thank you!

  2. Balance is definitely what you need there, but I find it hard not to go to the "I totally suck" extreme now and then. I suppose I have moments of overconfident bliss as well. Probably just all part of the process.

    And yes...good CP's are gold. :)

  3. You know, SC - it probably was Faulkner. Knowing me (as I do), I've likely been misquoting this for a while now. ;) But I'm not saying to limit CPs to only two. Just a minimum of two and then when they both agree that something isn't working, then something needs to be addressed.

    Susan - exactly. And we all go there (the sucky place) from time to time. Or the confident place (though I've yet to find directions there).

    What's with me and parentheses tonight? (I don't know.)