Tuesday, April 12, 2011

A to Z Challenge: Judging Your Own Writing

Just like the action implied, this topic feels like quicksand beneath my feet.

See, I know I'm good at what I do. I feel it in my bones. Writing is familiar to me. It's my comfort zone. So it follows that my story must be brilliant, right? 

I hope so. 
Even though I think I've got a wonderful story going that will appeal to a wide range of readers and (I hope) agents. But the rub lies in two words. I think. 

Because in those words a fact is implied that can both help and harm us. We are biased when it comes to our own stories. 

As such, can we truly be reliable in judging the quality of what we wrote? 

No and yes. 

No, because we love our story. Our characters become our friends. We spend an incredible amount of time on both. So asking one of us if our story is bad is like asking a mother if her child is ugly. There's just not a chance of getting an objective answer. 

Does that mean we are left blind? Not really. We can find ways around it. 

I also look at aspects in isolation. If I look at the plot, I can realize that there are some problems. Or one of the characters might not be quite up to scratch. Or the voice gets wonky in some places. Those things I can catch. Just don't ask me to give a definitive answer on the overall picture. 

To get a better view on the general impression, I have crit partners. They catch the errors I miss (and I have a few big ones) and give me an idea what impressions the reader gets. I find that those opinions are golden, because 1) when something's wrong, I'll be told and 2) when something's right, I get the validation of knowing that I got the right thoughts onto the page. 

Still, when I get my critted work back, I go over the crit with a fine toothed comb as much as I do the writing.  Because at the base of it, I have to get my story written, and crit partners are only sharing their opinions. I have to decide if those opinions are right or not. 

I find that bit easier, though, because crits are like cold water thrown onto my face. Not always fun, but it does clear the mind. And in that clarity, I can look at my story and trust my instincts. 

How do you find objectivity when it comes to your work? 


  1. I usually try to be as harsh as i can to myself so when the critics strike, i will take it positively.

  2. I'm always overly critical with my own stuff, which is the best way to be I think. It's always nice when I get told good things because they usually come as a surprise.
    Good luck with the challenge, and the book!

  3. Terrific thought process in this article.
    I always hear you can't edit your own work. But once all the critiques are in and applied, who better to judge if the story says what you want it to say then you the writer?
    I set my work aside for weeks before attempting to do any editing. By then I've forgotten much of what I wanted to say and can judge if what I've written makes sense.

  4. I love objectivity! It's my favorite. =)

    I actually really love it when I can come back to a piece of work and say 'this sucks', because I know that I can make it better now. And then when I can come back to it after that and say 'hmm...this is actually pretty okay', I know I've hit gold. And I love crit partners and betas bunches, because they're even better at that than I am. Usually. I have one beta who is definitely not as harsh on me as I am. But it all works out! =)

  5. Yeah, it's tough. I find a little distance helps and crit partners of course. But it's never as straight forward as reading someone else's work, is it?
    Moody Writing

  6. I have 2 modes

    1) This is going all right, this might actually turn into something

    2) I hate this and, by extension, myself

    This writing business is a rocky road...

  7. I keep in mind they're not critiquing me, but rather my writing.

  8. It is so very difficult. But...I step back, breathe in, breathe out. Let a few other people read my stuff, and then...break down and weep. :O No not really, but sometimes I feel like it.

  9. I wish I had your confidence. I find some of my work good but am surprised by what pieces others really are touched by. I don't know that we are ever qualified to be good judges of our work.

    Thanks for stopping by my blog.


  10. I use critique partners too. I have found their opinion to be really helpful. I agree that it is hard to judge your own writing. Great post idea!

  11. There definitely is a very fine line when it comes to your own writing. Like you, isolation helps me SO MUCH. Crit partners are GOLDEN, but it's important to remember your own opinions.

    Great post.

  12. I have a love/hate relationship with my manuscripts. I overlook their flaws one day and the next I want to kick them to the curb with all their baggage. I think I need couples counseling or a good critique group.

  13. I too wish I had your confidence. I can easily assess my crit partners suggestions--keeping what furthers my story and disregarding the rest. But I find it impossible to be satisfied with the story. I can always seem room for improvement. I'm not ever sure I will be done. Thanks for the post!

  14. It's really hard to see what our work and voice looks like objectively, because we are so close to it. I'm so thankful for my beta readers, because they are honest and can pick my book apart. I always, always pay attention to what they say and their opinions. I consider everything that each of them says, and if two or three of them say the same thing, I REALLY know I've got a problem.

  15. I try to look at the process as a dance. I create the story and "lead," but without my "partner" I'd be dancing alone. Instead of looking at it as a criticism, I try to remember that the critical eye frees me up to be creative. I can jump and they make sure that I land safely. It's not always fun - but I always appreciate it.

  16. Really enjoyed that - because it's all true! I feel exactly the same.

  17. Great "J" post. I totally agree...it is very hard to be objective when judging your own writing. Like you, I have a critique partner who isn't afraid to be honest with me about the parts where I went off track, or where the characters sound weird, or where I screwed up in general. She's also awesome for telling me the sections she really enjoyed as well. Thank God for "track changes" in Word.

  18. Distance. I walk away from projects for weeks, or months, until I forget the story to the point I have to actually read for a bit before it comes back to me. If that doesn't point out "wait what is going on here" moments then the Crit partners generally help.

    It's mostly distance and fresh eyes that have saved my bacon.

  19. This is hard, I agree, but I think the writer best knows his/her writing and what they want it to say and be. I believe in using beta readers and having an editor to help, but at the end of the day, it's your book.

  20. For me this is the most difficult part of writing. Great post.

  21. I so needed this post! I really like the idea of looking at the work in pieces, like plot, then character, etc. Great idea. That will definitely help me. Thanks for this!

    Sarah Allen
    (my creative writing blog)

  22. I am far from a professional, but I find that self examination works best when you can step back and be the watcher. This includes any creative works we may produce. Not always easy of course, but if one finds fault, or even likes, it can be useful to take it a step further and ask your self why you like or dislike it. Can often produce good perspective.

  23. Great post! I don't think we can ever be truly objective about our writing. Yes, we may read over a page or a chapter and know when something doesn't quite sound right but we're often too close to our story and our characters. It's our critique partners who can bring fresh eyes to our work and tell us when something doesn't work for them as readers. I have two great CPs who are honest (an essential for a CP) and most times I agree with their comments and suggestions.

  24. It's funny...sometimes I will take a piece to my writers group that I think is really great and they will find all kinds of holes and problems....other times I think a piece is awful and they think it is great!! LOL!! I know I'm getting better at some things, like grammar and such, and I can read my work and know that is good. I have moments where I think a scene is brilliant, and then other times I question the same exact scene and wonder if it's crap!!

    Great post!!

  25. I find setting the work aside for a while, getting my mind out of it, helps me to look at it more objectively. I like what you say about going through the critiques as carefully as the writing---much of it is opinion and it's up to the writer to sift out what's best for the story.

  26. Personally, reading it aloud is a crucial stage. I catch soooo much that way (like those words you aren't aware are your favourites and get re-used ad nauseum).

    I also edit/re-write in stages: plot, characters (each main one separately for dialogue etc) and so on.

    Great topic - thanks for making me think about this!

  27. I try to write for myself on the first draft and then for others on the rewrite. I'm such a bad procrastinator that if I don't enjoy what I'm writing I know it won't get written. haha

  28. We are our own harshest critics. :)
    And I agree with Beth, reading aloud picks up so many things you over look.

  29. Critiquing is a great help, but like you said, the author has to decide in the end. I think one's own judgement is valid too. Many successful authors write for themselves and hope others feel the same way. In the end, that's all you can do, provided it's well told.

    You might be interested in this new critiquing project I've proposed:



  30. It's tough to objectively look at our work sometimes. I worry that I am too critical with the editing part. I love stepping away from one work to focus on a newer one. Those fresh eyes do make a difference when I return to the original piece. Great post!

  31. I can't tell you how many times I wrote something brilliant, only to wake the next morning and finding it had turned to crap. Between having other critique and taking writing breaks, a story does eventually get written.

  32. It's Indeed true, when you have put in so much of your effort and time,and less than a second, they tell you it's "poor quality" in one breath. It's a bit scare and eye opening (as you said).
    To accept the fact though is worth it.

    I hope you succeed in this journey, I also hope to read your book when it makes to Best Sellers list.

  33. Objectivity and my writing? somehow those two thoughts just won't blend. I go through periods of adoring and loathing my writing. That's why critique partners are so important. They give me an idea of what the story is like looking in. YOu are right though. Ultimately the writer has to decide whether or not an opinion is going to change her work or not and then there's nothing to trust but the story itself.

  34. Good topic. I'm not a writer, but I can say that in any creative endeavor I am my own worse critic. I judge my own work very, very harshly, and unless it's perfect, I'm not happy with it. That means I'm never happy with it, I can always find ways to improve it, and as I change, so do my opinions. Revisiting older projects makes me want to redo them all again, hahaha.

    The good thing is that wen I get any critical feedback, it's not as difficult to take, because I've told myself very similar things already.

  35. Murugi, I try that too. Doesn't work though.

    Tundiel, I try to be critical too, but I know that I will always be blind to certain issues. I'm always nervous when I get my crits back. Thank you for the good wishes!

    Thanks Gail! I think one can edit one's own work. I just think it's important to realize that there are limitations (and by extension) to editing without any outside help. But I always trust my instincts when it comes to dealing with crits.

    Amanda, I actually have some tough crit partners. But that's ok. I'm not exactly a ray of sunshine myself when it comes to critting.

    Mood, I agree. If I leave my WiP for a year, I will still come back to it with love and that always will complicate edits.

    Hehehe Christine, I get that too. That's why I try to avoid reading back for as long as possible. It's just dangerous to my equanimity.

    Em, that's and important thing to remember. Our stories feel like it's a part of us. :-)

    Lol Bish. I think all of us get times like that. :-)

    Lisa, I've also been amazed when my crit partner comments on this wonderful piece of writing that I forgot and seemingly ignores the bits I enjoyed. Perhaps it's just a show of differences in taste. Which can be a good thing, because that means that people different from us will like our work.

    Amy I also find the crit process invaluable. I never know when the extra opinion will make a profound difference. :-)

    I agree Mariah. If I lost my opinion, my story would lose its essence.

    Hehehe L.G. I strongly suggest a crit partner, as long as you won't want to toss out the work if someone gives a lukewarm to bad crit. Because no matter how nice my CPs are, critting is not for the faint of heart or those who lack faith in their stories.

    Nicole, I think all of us have that feeling. That the story never will be perfect. Actually, that feeling is 100% accurate. It won't be, because we're human. The best we can do is get as close as possible and let it go. :-)

    Laura, I also work on the same system. If one says something, I consider it. If two people say the same thing, I seriously consider it. If three or more say the same thing, I'm 90% likely to change it to fit with what they say. But I always keep my opinion to the fore.

    Jeffrey, that is an excellent way to look at it. I think I will adopt it as my own.

    I'm glad you liked it, Julia.

  36. Sarah Allan, I'm with you there. The best crit partners are merciless about the parts that aren't right, but are also quick to point out what they liked.

    Steph, I will definitely put distance between me and Doorways when the rewrite is done. I don't want to struggle with the edits.

    Myne, I agree, no amount of editors and CPs and beta readers can make up for my own instincts. Luckily, they all give me the clarity I need for my instincts to be sharp.

    Jack, I also struggle with it. Thanks for your lovely complement!

    Sarah Allen, I'm thrilled that my post helped you. :-)

    taochild, that is an excellent approach to objectivity. I will definitely try using it when time for edits come.

    Paula, I agree. Sometimes I get niggles of doubt when I write, but I can never be sure if it means anything. CP just give me that extra peace of mind.

    Stephanie, the same happens to me, although after the crit, I can usually figure out quickly if I was right or not.

    Nicki, I also try to put distance between versions of my book. But I still find that that unconditional love remains, which means that bias can't exactly go away either.

    Beth, I am definitely going to give reading out loud a try. In fact, that will be the first thing I do when time comes to edit.

    TS, I rewrite my story for myself too. Edits are for others to understand. ^_^ I also procrastinate a lot, although I don't see not writing something I hate as a form of it. To me, there's a reason why my brain isn't liking the scene.

    Mercy, we can be harsh critics to ourselves, but we never know if our issues are founded or not.

    Marcus, I definitely write for myself first. Thanks for the link. I checked it out and left a comment. :-)

    septembermom, I have to admit that I'm actually scared of the edits, because that's a beast I've never tackled before. The writing of other stuff to look with fresh eyes is an interesting idea. I might give it a try.

    Shellie, that's a big reason why I don't read back. Because I'm so happy with what I wrote that I don't want to find out that it's just another bit. Because that makes me feel as if the scene's pathetic, which it usually isn't. So I'll look at the scene when I'm not emotional about it anymore.

    Nasra, it can be quite scary to find how people might not like your work. :-) If my book does that well, I will be thrilled.

    Taryn, I know what you mean. It is very difficult to judge my writing without those outside eyes.

    I.Ikeda, that's a very similar experience to when we write. :-D Good luck with your projects!

  37. Nice J post. When I get crits back I always have to take a moment to pout at the red. Once I get over the fact that yes my writing has flaws excitement starts and I can't wait to read through it.

  38. I also do that. I always both anticipate and avoid thinking about my crits at the same time.


  39. It's really hard to be objective. Strangely, I take criticism best from strangers/writing people than from close friends and family.


  40. Me too. Probably because I don't feel like the strangers/writing people are attacking me when they're critting my writing. :-)

  41. I think critique partners are invaluable, though you really need to find people who are skilled enough to offer useful information and not leave you utterly lost and deflated. Some critiques can be so fragmented and scattered that you're simply left with a story full of holes without an overall impression of its worth. Sure its important having someone point out the micro details of repetition or grammar or the two times you used "suddenly" (oops) but what about the story itself? Did they think the dialogue and the characters were believable? Were they hooked on the plot? Did they care about the protagonist? Were they bored? Falling asleep? As a writer we need to know these things and very few critiques seem to come back to me with this essential information...and offering some praise if the story or parts if moved you isn't a sign of weakness, its what we write for, isn't it?


Thanks for commenting! I love to read what you think.

Feel free to ignore the check-box saying "Prove you're not a robot." My word verification is off, but I moderate comments to posts older than two weeks.