I’m taking an online class in fiction writing and it’s been nice, an opportunity to learn the basics (third person multiple POV wha? Ohhhh, the thing they did in World War Z, gotcha) and flex some muscles that normally lay dormant unless I’m invited to some sort of group gathering in which case oh BOY do the hastily-invented excuses flow like wine. The class consists of ongoing lectures — wall-of-text-style as opposed to video, or worse, the sort of class that involves Skype, don’t think I didn’t conduct exhaustive research ahead of time on that horrifying possibility — a forum discussion, a weekly writing prompt, and the occasional “booth” assignment where you submit written work for your classmates to critique.

The weekly prompts are mostly fun with the exception of the one where we were supposed to write a fictional dating profile (heaaaaaarnnnnnnnngggggh), but the booth critiques, holy cow. Each week I have three or four pieces to read and comment on, and it is SO hard. It’s like being asked to provide constructive criticism about someone’s child: “Well, he has great hair! Just great. Love the curls. I think it would maybe be nice if he wasn’t quite so, ah, high-spirited — can you get him off my leg? Thanks — but that’s just my personal preference. Overall you’ve done a great job birthing him and I’m eager to see how he develops.”

The idea is to be encouraging but also provide feedback on what could be improved and I just want to do it in a way that is kind and useful and perhaps even so meaningful it propels them to become wildly successful and years from now they post it on some Reddit thread titled “What was the greatest piece of advice anyone ever gave you?” and everyone is like no way was that really So-and-So, Bestselling Author, and they’re like yes it is me I just wanted to share this amazing thing on account of what a positive impact it had on my life. However, I suspect what I really end up writing sounds like “ALLOW ME TO CLUMSILY PRAISE YOUR EFFORTS! SOME WORDS GOOD SOME LESS GOOD.”


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8 years ago

Any chance you’d share the program you’re taking? Been looking for a good online writing course…

8 years ago

It’s hard enough for me to tell people they have a big glob of spinach in their teeth. This sounds really challenging!!!

8 years ago

Hey you’re writing, that’s got to make you smile. It makes ME smile–selfishly, as I hope you may end up sharing? Toss us a bone if you’re up for it. ❤️

8 years ago

If it helps, I’ve been workshopping fiction for…almost a decade? I think? and it’s gotten a whole lot easier with practice. At first I was totally “this part was good but I think this part was less good but I could be wrong oh just never mind.” Now I can churn out critiques nice and pretty, in paragraphs, in the good-good-bad-good pattern.

8 years ago

I do this professionally (medical editor), and you’re right, the big thing is to not tell someone “Look, your kid is ugly” because they have poured their heart, blood, sweat, and tears into their manuscripts.

My rule is to be as respectful as possible (no jokes, no sarcasm, since you can’t convey tone), and remember that the author may be really touchy about criticism. I write and rewrite my queries constantly, thinking about how they might be misinterpreted. But I don’t apologize for my opinion and also don’t care (much) if they disregard my suggestions.

When I think something is off, I always query the author but explain what the problem is (could be misinterpreted as this, doesn’t make sense given what came before, seems tangential or redundant, etc), and, if time allows, I rewrite to show a new way to express what I think they meant to say. Most of my authors seem to appreciate having options.

Writing author queries has become one of my most favorite things about editing.

8 years ago

My partner teaches fiction for Gotham! (He doesn’t have a class right now, so not yours!) It’s a great program, & he really enjoys it. And he’s been writing and workshopping fiction for over a decade, and it gets easier. Sounds like you’ve got the right formula. I hope you enjoy it and working on your writing!

8 years ago

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