A Quick Word About Criticism

I hadn’t planned on writing a blog post today, considering I’ve fallen behind schedule for my Baby Grand revisions, but something interesting happened so I thought I’d share.

One of the comments made by my agent when discussing the first draft of my novel was to make a certain scene in the manuscript “grittier.” Now, generally speaking, I don’t consider my writing all that gritty. It’s rather straight-forward and to the point, probably because of my journalism background, and if there’s any direction I lean it’s probably toward romanticizing — a bizarre trait for a thriller writer, I know.

Anyway, I must have read that scene six times and wondered how I was going to do this, if I wanted to do this, if this would make the scene better. I should start by saying that, having worked with my agent on Good Girls Don’t Get Fat, she truly does have a strong editor’s sense. In other words, I take what she has to say very seriously. But as I was reading over the scene, I sort of threw up my hands and said, “I can’t do this. This won’t work.” I wondered if maybe I hadn’t made myself clear to her as far as what I was hoping to achieve with this particular scene. And I was about halfway through an email telling her just that when I sat back in my seat and thought, “Why don’t I just try first? Why don’t I just write?”

So I did. I forced it at the very beginning, as if I had to break down some kind of creative wall, and then found that afterwards the words were coming. Grittier words. Words that even made me laugh. And, lo and behold, the scene was becoming deeper and more believable, and at the same time I hadn’t sacrificed the character motivations that I had been hoping to achieve. I was able to do both, and the scene seemed more effective.

I’ve said this before, but, for me, feedback is such an important part of the writing process — getting criticism from someone whose opinion you respect. I’ve heard from self-published authors who say that it would be a tragedy for an editor or agent or publisher to mess with the words they’ve written, which is why they chose to self-publish to begin with. But having worked with editors all my career as a freelance journalist — and being one myself — I know the value of good input. Without a comment from my agent, I don’t think I would have explored the boundaries of that scene. Or would I even have thought to. And that, to me, would have been the tragedy.

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