Tuesday, February 21, 2006

First Rights, Critiques, A Rant...And All That Jazz

Those of you who post your writing anywhere on the Internet really need to read the latest post at the Writer Beware blog. Ms. Crispin makes two very good points, in my opinion. I have been a member of several on-line critique sites, but about eighteen months ago I stopped posting any of my serious work on the Internet for the very reasons mentioned in the blog:

One: By posting your work on the Internet, you can use up its first publication rights.

Copyright and first publication rights are two different things. You always own the copyright to your work (unless you specifically grant/sell it to someone else). What publishers want to purchase are its first publication rights. If you can't offer that--if you can only offer reprint rights--you're going to be out a big bunch of dough.

Second: Many writing/critique sites are (mostly) the blind leading the blind.

I find this to be true as well. At the sites I have participated in, I have always found a handful of members whose opinions I value, members whose critiques appear to be based on a real and working knowledge of fiction and poetry. A handful of members. Meaning I don't have to take my shoes off to count them. The majority of the members, however, seem to lack this knowledge and although sincere in their desire to help others improve, they have little of substance to offer. (OK, let the hate mail begin.) That said, I do think it is important to consider any and all critiques you receive on your writing, even if they are offered by someone who doesn't know much. There may still be one little kernal of truth, one little nugget of observation, one little...Ok, you get the picture...that makes you see your story or poem in a new and interesting way.

And now a mini rant. At one site, a few critiquees who didn't like my comments blasted back with, "Well, you haven't posted any of your work for me to read, so your comments are worthless." Arrghh. My blood pressure rises just writing that. The sheer stupidity of that statement is amazing. News for those people: if you can't discern the worth of someone's critique of your writing just by the critique, then you have a long, long, LONG, LONG, LONG, LONG way to go before you are writing at a professional level.


Writing and critiquing are two distinct--although related--skills. I believe that, as we learn to critique others better, our own writing skills can become sharper. We learn to see weaknesses (characterization, plot, POV, narrative, etc.) in the work of others, and then we can apply that knowledge to our own writing.

However, that also means that to become better writers, we need to learn to distance ourselves from our writing. We need to be able to look at writing objectively. I know through experience that I need to let at least a week pass between the writing of a story and the editing. During that week, I gain some emotional and intellectual distance from it, so that I can look at it with fresh eyes.

/end rant. off soap box....

No comments: