Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Critiquerly Interview with Author Courtney Milan

(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.


Anita said...

Thank you Courtney and Mary for that great interview! And what a beautiful book cover!

That's an interesting point about shifting gears from what your working on in your WIP to revise someone else's.

Krisz said...

Thanks for the interview, Mary and Courtney. I especially loved the very first point. Sometimes you have to give time to yourself to fully absorb a critique, play with some new ideas that were given by the critiquer. And if it still doesn’t work, then just trust your own guts. I find it hard, though, because if someone had those suggestions then other might have them, too. But I have to remember what you said in your previous post, Mary: the critique belongs to the critiquer, the story belongs to the writer. I love this statement.

Deana said...

Great points and so true about if you know it is wrong you know it no matter how badly you don't want to change it. I've been there done that:)

Pam Asberry said...

Thanks for the follow, Mary, and for all the great advice, Courtney. As a new writer, sometimes I don't know who to listen to and who to ignore. Mostly I am learning to trust my intuition. Hopefully I will be able to find an agent/editor who shares my vision!

Marybk said...

Anita: You're right. I do find that I have that same problem. It might be a tangential relative to Critiquing Your Own Tics (http://notaneditor.blogspot.com/2011/03/critiquing-your-own-tics.html)?

Krisz: Thanks. I have to print that sentence out and post it somewhere I can see while I write. :)

Hi, Deana! Welcome to NAE. I know the feeling, not wanting to change something you KNOW you have to change. Ugh. I'm just grateful to have wonderful critiquers to help me through it all.

PamL Thanks for stopping by! Your intuition gets stronger as you go along.

Jacquelin Cangro said...

Great suggestions! I just posted some tips on how to survive a critique group yesterday. Glad to know we're on the same page.


Bluestocking Mum said...

Hello Mary

Lovely to meet you. And what a super interview.
I've recently joined a writing group and have also been part of an online critique/peer group so I'm interested in the subject of critiquing. I'm very receptive to constructive comments - every critique is an opinion and even if we don't agree, it's a viewpoint and opinion to mull over.

I'm so pleased you found me and really look forward to following your posts and writing in the future

warm wishes

LisaAnn said...

Hi Mary! I found your blog through Anita's awards, and I'm now your newest follower.. :)

Marewolf said...

Great interview, Mary! I think a lot of writing is intuitive. Most of the time, I know when I'm going down the wrong path or something is flinky with my plot/character/whatever. Sometimes you just have to step back and listen to your gut (but not after eating a lot of chilli... :) )

P.S. A different post showed up in my blogger thingy from you, but when I clicked on it, it wasn't there anymore! Am I crazy?

Marybk said...

Jacquelin: Love your crit group tips! Everyone should check them out. Or, I may just link a post to them one day.

Bluestocking Mum: So glad you came by. I hope you come back and tell us about your critiquing journey in your new group!

LisaAnn: I heart new followers! Welcome.

Marewolf: Good point about the chili. And, you're not crazy (at least not about the extra post). I had an posting malfunction this morning. Ha!

Courtney Milan said...

Hi guys! Thanks so much for having me.

I just want to add that my relationship with my critique group has evolved (substantially) as I've evolved as a writer. I used to run every scene by them. But when I finally figured out how to write my way, I started writing everything out of order--which makes critiquing scene-by-scene nearly impossible.

Now I have a group of a trusted few who read drafts and provide comments.

I know some critique groups cringe in horror if someone doesn't grab out the red pen on every line, and others where they don't make any comments on the manuscript at all. You've got to find what works for you and what pushes you to be the best writer you can be.

Krista V. said...

Thanks, Courtney and Mary, for a great interview! I really liked what Courtney said about trusting your own instincts and not feeling like you have to make every change someone suggests - but also not ignoring the tough revisions when you know they're the right thing to do.

P.S. Mary, I gave you an award on my blog!

Ashley Nixon said...

Oh my gosh! I loved the whole idea of listening to what you think is right. I think writers(me especially) get really caught up in this idea that everyone else is right when your being critiqued. I took a class this semester that has changed my mind more, and I'm getting better at looking at what I think should stay. :) Love the book cover, too. Pretty, pretty!

Marybk said...

Courtney, my kindle was bursting with awesomeness as I read Unveiled. What a fantastic, beautiful story.

Krista V: Thank you for the award!! <3

Ashley: Thanks for stopping in. Yes, the book AND the cover are spectacular.

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