Thursday, September 8, 2011

Critique Conspiracies : The Know-It-All

Why the hell should I listen to you? Repeat that and stow it away in your defense systems because you’re going to need it.

In my last installment of Critique Conspiracies, I was fairly nice. I gave credit to every critique group (CG) I’ve attended because each one had at least someone in the circle who’d read some books on the craft of writing. And the information they cited made the learning experience more helpful for me.

But just like every story has to have a problem, every CG has a know-it-all who will do nothing but botch your manuscript if you listen to them. And in this posting, I’m not going to play nice. No sir, these trolls are getting the poke in the eye that they deserve for mindlessly blabbing their random opinions of your work WHEN THEY HAVE NOT BEEN PUBLISHED.

Writing is hard enough without listening to these pretentious warthogs. If you’re new to the game, don’t let the self-appointed authority/smart-ass fool you. If most of what this person says is negative, if he seems to be making himself look better—spouting his cosmic wisdom, rather than helping you, I’ll bet…I’m willing to smack down my next paycheck on it… that this louse is not published. Most published authors are very classy when offering advice. I’m not necessarily saying that they’re all gracious, but I’ve yet to encounter one that didn’t show me respect…even when my writing really sucked.

What scares me the most is that know-it-alls are all over the freakin’ place. You’ll even see these jokers teaching workshops, but I’ll get to that later.

Remember, there should be some ground rules to writing a good story. Publications abound that can give you the basics on how to do this*. And good critique partners should use techniques from these guides in their feedback. Yes, your colleagues will stretch a little and mention some preferential changes that they’d like to see. That comes with the territory and it’s okay. You’ll know that they’re genuinely trying to help you because, for the most part, they stuck with the ground rules.

If you are open-minded, have been reading a bunch of how-to titles on writing, and have willingly taken your lumps in a CG for the pursuit of improvement, you’ll recognize the know-it-all. It’s simple. This person will piss you off.

When a critique partner points out a shortcoming in your pages and you feel a little sting, that’s normal. You’ll go home, get over it, fix your flub, and become a better writer. But the know-it-all will twist you up in knots. Why? You won’t know what to fix because every thing she says is opinionated. The worst part is, because you truly want to get better, you’ll doubt yourself because of this whiney baby. That’s when you pull out the ammo I provided. Why the hell should I listen to you? Oh yeah, that’s right. YOU’RE NOT PUBLISHED. Guess I’ll just ignore all that BS you dribbled down your neck.

No, you shouldn’t say that aloud, but I have to admit I’d probably get a kick out of it if someone did.

Believe it or not, these know-it-alls sometimes connive their way into being workshop presenters at various venues. How? Oh, sometimes they’re a friend of a friend with some clout. Maybe they’re putting it on themselves. A know-it-all can build a sharp website that can trick someone into thinking that he’s the real thing. Hell, the know-it-all can even start his own publishing company nowadays. Again, it’s just a matter of tacking up an impressive web presence.

My advice to you, my friends, is this: you must go to a CG and brave the growing pains. It simply makes you a better writer. But you should know the accomplishments of those who offer council. Don’t get me wrong…if some members in your CG are not published, but have been practicing the accepted techniques of story telling, they can help you.

By all means, take a peek at my references. My work is published with Total-E-Bound, a modest independent out of England. But check me. (Besides that, I’m not telling you how to write. I’m helping you to steer clear of obstacles.) Research everybody. Check those who squawk the loudest on blogs. (That includes comments—especially ours on the Rock.) Do a little extra investigating on speakers at workshops and conferences because it’s not worth it for you to lose valuable time listening to someone who is nothing more than a slick talker.

By the way, good luck to all those attending the RMFW Gold Conference this weekend. Unfortunately, I can’t attend. The government has a special mission for me.

The ever opinionated E.C. Stacy

*The August 25th posting of Critique Conspiracies, subtitled The Sacred Parchment lists some well known publications on novel writing.


Dean K Miller said...

Well, my cover is blown and there's goes my livelihood of speaking at conferences. I'll never get in another CG now that everyone knows who/how I am.

But first, before I go, let me just comment on a couple of things in this post that might spruce it up just a bit....

BTW: thanks for this. I was so jazzed up after reading it I skipped my morning trip to Starbucks. You've saved me 5 bucks!

These types are everywhere...they just seem to thrive in CG's and other small organization's. Remember, even bad advice can be useful. You just have to be able to distinguish the difference.

Chiseled in Rock said...

LOL. Good point.


Marilynn Byerly said...

Critiquers are just like everyone else. Some are really good at it, and some are not.

The worst advice I've ever gotten was from a very successful writer and the best from someone who hadn't sold a book yet.

The first thing you need to do is educate yourself so you'll recognize the good from the bad advice, and you also need to read widely in your field to build up your instincts about what does and doesn't work.

And if you feel that you are only getting bad advice from your critique partners, find others or find a good writing teacher.

Angela Roe said...

There are far too many of these people in critique groups all over. My advice when critiquing is and always has remained the same. "This is my opinion. Use what makes sense to you and ignore the rest."

Personally, if I don't respect the work of the person offering the critique, I typically give it little consideration.

Marlena Cassidy said...

I had a know it all in mine once. She was incredibly annoying, especially when she kept trying to analyze everything I wrote in an obviously wrong way.

Good advice here!

Patricia Stoltey said...

I love the critique line, "Everything I say is only a suggestion, because only you will know what works for your novel and your voice."

Karen Duvall said...

Great post, E.C. I picked up some bad habits that were imposed on me by a critique partner and it's still my battle to overcome. Quite embarrassing when your editor calls you on things you should have known better about, but a "helpful" critique partner branded the habit in your brain. Ugh. The habit is actually 2-fold: over-explaining things & reminding the reader about something that happened earlier in the book. Surprisingly enough, those were the only 2 issues I had to deal with in my editor's notes, both of which were inflicted by a well-meaning and unpublished critique buddy. Sad but true.

Here are a couple rules of thumb when reviewing the critiques or contest scores you receive. Every criticism should be accompanied by an explanation of what they found wrong and a suggestion for how to fix it. If there's neither, consider ignoring the criticism altogether. I suppose there could be some exceptions, but I honestly don't know of any.