Are you writing a story (or writing a novel) to be critiqued? If you are participating in a writing group — be it a fiction writing workshop, a fiction class in school, a writing studio, or a writing seminar — there are a few, simple things you can do to help make sure your work is well received. I bring this up because I often see writers do things which predisposes their critique group to dislike their work or avoid it almost immediately. The good news is these are really easy things to do.
1) Critique a lot of other submissions, and genuinely try to help. If you show up at your workshop and you can only think about yourself, you are already putting people off, and they will become more critical of your work. Don’t just crank through critiques as a required part of being in the group. Take it seriously and see what you can learn from what you are reading and how you are providing feedback. In addition to being well received as a writer, strive to be sought after as a critiquer — do this and your success and reputation as a writer will go up at the same time.
2) Of course, you don’t want to have any typos or spelling or grammatical errors in your work, but make double damn sure you don’t have any such errors on your first two pages. If you participate in an online writing workshop, as I actively do, then the same goes for any “auto preview” function your site might offer. It is critical that you get your reader sucked into your story. Gaffs will bump them out at the start, and they are more likely to give up and quit or form a negative opinion about your work at the start.
There are good, free tools that you can use to quickly check your work. Here is one of the fastest and simplest that I have written about before: Hemingway Editor + Grammarly = Nirvana (almost)
3) Your start better be interesting… There is a lot of discussion about having a good “hook”. I’m not going to repeat it all here. However you do it, though, make sure your start is interesting. And to be clear, that does not always mean action. It can also be voice, character, setting, etc.
4) This one makes me crazy, and it is shocking how often I see it: Don’t say things that signal your work is not well prepared, such as: “This is a first draft…” or “I don’t really care for this story, but thought I’d throw it out to see what you all think…” or “I know this has a lot of typos, so please be sure to call out those in your crit…”. I’ve seen all of these statements before, and many comments similar to these. This is a guaranteed way to make sure I won’t crit a story, and I’m not alone in responding this way.
I’m sure there are other considerations, and of course, you want to develop a reputation as a good writer. But I wanted to highlight these four issues above because each one can have a devastating impact on how people form opinions on your work before they even get to the 3rd page. And this matters, because what we all really want to know is what readers think of our story, not just our sentences.
Other thoughts on how to ensure your work is given a fair chance in your writing class or writing workshop?