(Or, Can They Hear Your Critique?)
We historical romance lovers are in for an absolute treat today because Courtney Milan is here to give her thoughts on critiquing. And it’s a double-delight for me to interview her, since she’s generously donated a 2,500-word critique, up for auction tomorrow (5/4) at Crits for Water. You can bid on it here.
Photo courtesy of Jovanka Novakovic | bauwerks.com
Courtney Milan lives in the Pacific Northwest with her husband, a marginally-trained dog,
and an attack cat. Before she started writing books, Courtney experimented with numerous
occupations. She has trained dogs, written legal briefs, sold newspaper subscriptions, and
written computer programs. Having given up on actually being able to do any actual things,
she's taken to heart the axiom that "those who can't, teach." When she isn't reading, writing,
or sleeping, she can be found in the vicinity of a classroom.Courtney loves hearing from
readers. You can visit her on the web and find out more about her and her newest releases
NAE: After a writer gets back an in-depth critique, what would you recommend in terms of a review/revise process?
CM: I think it's important that you trust yourself to know if the advice is good. Before I got published, I had critiques from two published authors. One of them was excellent--it really nailed my strengths but also gave a name to my weakness and told me how to work on it. The other didn't work for me at all--it told me to change a bunch of things that I felt very strongly shouldn't be changed. Give a critique a little time, and if it doesn't feel like it's working for you, feel free to ignore it.
If someone is right, you'll know it deep down. You may fight it, you may hate that they're right--but deep down, you will truly know it. If deep down, you think someone is wrong--it doesn't matter how many books they've published or how many awards. If you can't trust your own instincts in writing, you have a bigger problem.
NAE: What is the one piece of advice you can give to someone trying to develop his or her critique skills?
CM: A good critique is one that the person can hear. It doesn't matter if you're right if the person doesn't listen to what you're saying. I had to learn this when I was starting on both ends. I'm not saying that you can't be truthful, but it's always important to give people feedback that they can grow from.
Also, learn to trust the person you're critiquing. They don't have to take your advice, and they might still be a good person, even if they don't.
NAE: When you critique someone’s work, what is your general process?
CM: I read twice--once to get a feel for what the author is doing and what their strengths/weaknesses are, and then a second closer read through in light of that first read to see what is going on. Sometimes I will need to read it a third time if there's something lingering that bothers me, and I'm trying to put my finger on what it is. But I start making notes in the manuscript from the first time through.
NAE: Is there one specific thing that you gravitate toward while critiquing?
CM: It depends on my mood! If I'm editing my own work, I tend to be more nitpicky. If I'm in the big drafting stages I'll focus on emotions and whys and wherefores. I usually try to tell the author if I'm in a stage where I'm nitpicking language, just so they know where I'm coming from. But it's not always easy to shift hats from what I'm doing to my own work, and I try to be aware of that when I critique.
For those of us looking for some great reads, check out Coutney Milan’s collection. Here’s Unveiled, the one I’ve just ordered on my kindle:
Thanks, Courtney, for your contributions to Crits for Water and for your wise critiquerly insights. I agree that being heard when providing feedback is crucial, whether it's the way something is phrased, or whether the writer is ready to hear what is said. I've noticed several times where I needed to encounter specific feedback from several critiques over time to be ready to hear the meaning of the feedback and understand what I need to do to improve.