29 August 2011

Critical Learning 101

by Diane Carlisle

A fellow writer from my writing group sent me an email about her thoughts on the valuable feedback we garner from the members of our critique group. We both believe that feedback is important in our development as writers and we have that thick skin needed in order to drink in the feedback and apply what we can to our stories and our different writing styles.

My friend's email reminded me of a quick story about when I had the first critique during my professional career as a computer programmer. As you may know, many people do not like to be forced out of their comfort zone to learn something new; they would rather stay with what they know and be the expert. Not me. I have to find new things to learn or I become restless and depressed. Complacency isn't something that sits well with me.

So, one day, I receive a new assignment which calls for having to learn how to write a program using this new software product. Of course, with several other programmers in the department who had many more years experience than I, yet none of them had the time to learn it, guess what? They decide that not only do I get to write the program, it will be time to incorporate critical reviews for all new products that we design. Ta da! I get to be first. But, that's okay, I'll be the guinea pig.

Midway through my creation, I discovered we'd had this product for nearly 2 years already, and some of the more experienced programmers had ample opportunity to "play" with it and fool around with writing programs at their leisure. So, they had all used this product before to write programs that would never be put under the microscope!

Anyway, did I complain? Nope, because I don't beat myself up for sticking myself out there. Not a lot of people can do that. It's like they accept defeat before they are ever really challenged.

Either way, I got my program finished and during the design review I received a lot of great feedback and questions about what I had intended with my design. I answered the questions professionally and I think I gained a little more respect from the bigger players and managers.

Then, out of the blue, another experienced programmer asked rather accusingly, "Why didn't you just use ______ to _____ and do a _____________?" (blanks are used here to remove techie programming terms, but you get the idea, right?). This person sounded really smart and pretty important at that given moment. They even made it sound really easy to use this product with which I'd struggled to master while designing my program.

In all honesty, I wasn't even taken back by this and simply answered, "I didn't have two years to study the product before I had to use it for this program here, thus I had to be creative and do it my way." Either way, it was a successful product that I built and people are still using it today.

The original question by my fellow writer was how do we continue after the critiques and feedback? Do you move forward and finish your story and then revise, or do you incorporate changes as you receive them? I say move forward but some people feel obligated to make changes right away in case they forget about them.

As for moving forward and not looking back, I think of it like the Titanic. Tell the story even though you know the ship is sinking. In the end, you will have a story. But like the Titanic, it isn't going anywhere once it reaches the bottom of the ocean, you can still work on your story and polish it when you have the time. You will just need to dive into the ocean to do it. What an adventure!

Are you a "quick to the finish" writer or a "polish as you go" type?


  1. Diane, I've used both techniques. I think it depends on what the manuscript calls for. I'm usually an edit as I go type, but with my current WIP, I used fast drafting and wrote 80K in two weeks. It worked well for that manuscript, but that may not be the case for the next one. Only time will tell.

  2. What I would give to be able to write 80K words in two weeks!!! Go Kelly!


  3. Wow, no kidding! If I plug out 500 words in a day, I'm happy :)

    I've used both methods as well, depending on how big an issue the feedback addresses, though I veer towards the finish it and then go back to incorporate. Also, as I upload chapters, I pay attention to the critiques and if someone points out something that will affect future chapters, I'll edit before I submit to the queue.

  4. I once wrote a short story draft of 2900 words in two hours and then I didn't write again for a month. That was depressing!

    I admire those of you who keep yourselves on a schedule and turn out the words and pages like machines. My OCD gets in the way too often.

  5. Love your straight-up put-down to that snotty programmer!

    As for your question, it depends on what stage I've put work in for critiquing.

    If I submit a chapter of an unfinished novel, then that's because I want immediate feedback on whether or not it's working so I can incorporate changes before I move on.

    Right now, I'm pushing through chapters of a completed novel, so the question becomes how much can I keep up with revising critiqued chapters while still submitting further chapters and giving crits in return.

  6. Botanist, that makes a lot more sense to me now. I think because I don't have a variety of work to submit, I just haven't run across the situations that need different types of attention.

    It makes sense! Oh, and straight-up is right and I appreciate the kudos!

  7. Wow! Very admirable.
    I'm definitely a polish as you go type of writer. I often go back and add more thoughts. A writer's job is never done!

  8. Thank you, Heath. When I review other writers' works, I prefer the ones that polish as they go because I find I want to comment on the pace, voice and balance rather than grammar, sentence structure and form.

    I guess I'm more of a picky reader than I am a writer. :D

  9. I like this: "I don't beat myself up for sticking myself out there. Not a lot of people can do that. It's like they accept defeat before they are ever really challenged."

    And this: "As for moving forward and not looking back, I think of it like the Titanic. Tell the story even though you know the ship is sinking."

    Polish, can't help it.

    Good words, Diane.

  10. Glad you like it Carol. Rocks, I took some fukitol and all was better. :D


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