Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Don’t Go Breaking My Heart

Eva Marie Everson
Fiction Mentoring Project Instructor, 2010 FCWC

Remember the song by Elton John and KiKi Dee? The year was 1976 and people dressed funny. Well, okay. Elton John dressed funny and Ki Ki wore pink overalls.

The point is, no one likes their heart broken, do they? And no one likes to hear that there is something wrong with their baby. Yet, week after week and month after month we writers drag ourselves to our respective critique groups saying, “I want you to read this and tell me what I can do to make it better.”

Often translated: Tell me that you love it. Don’t break my heart on this one. I’ve worked so hard … so long … read all the right books … self-edited my little heart out.

Anyone who has been a part of a critique group for any period of time knows the personalities who make them. We get the “God told me to write this and not allow anyone to change a word” folks. We hear the “I hope you like it; my mother said it was wonderful” lines. Rarely do our ears behold, “Rip it to shreds. Make it better. Heck, make it the best!”

The Background Story

In 1997 I was invited to a new writers group starting at the church I attended. Five hopefuls (including myself) showed up. We developed a system which allowed two people per month to be critiqued. But when our group grew, that system stopped working.

One Saturday, a newcomer walked into our midst. Bryan Davis. (Yeah, that one.) He watched how we did things and then suggested something he called “cold critique.” What was that, we wondered. Bryan explained that anyone who wanted to bring a piece (up to a certain number of words), could. There should be enough copies for everyone. The person to the right of the critique-ee would read. The person to the left would start the critique. At first I thought, “I’m not sure if this will work.” But within an hour, Bryan had us all convinced.

Since that time, Word Weavers (the name of our group) has grown enormously … and not just in numbers. A great many of our members are published and multi-published. Why? Because we’ve learned not only the art of critique, but the value of it as well.

Mentoring & Me

For years now I’ve been teaching first one thing and then another at writers conferences. A few times I’ve been asked to teach on subjects I had no idea about. So I learned and then I taught. But two years ago I was asked to lead a workshop on something I know a lot about: the art and value of on-the-spot critique.

We call them “mentoring sessions” and for the conferee they are of great worth. Below are the top five reasons you should consider one:
  1. A sense of “team” is established. Suddenly (and we try not to use the word “suddenly”) this is no longer just your piece but rather the piece of the group. Now there are others in our court who commit to praying for us as we write and re-write, as we submit and submit again. And again. They are there for us when things look bleak and they’ll party – even with miles and miles of distance – when we get the news we’ve been waiting for.
  2. The areas we knew were weak are exposed and by that revealing, they are strengthened. Most of us don’t go to Bally’s or Curves because we’re firm but because our muscles need some attention. They are our weak points. In a mentoring workshop, we openly ask others to show us those places that need strengthening. Do we use certain words repeatedly (my editor tells me I use “a bit” in excess. Now I know to look for it.)? What about the overuse of adverbs and adjectives? Those pesky clichés? What if we are writing in passive voice and just don’t realize it? Do we have all the elements of dialogue – tags, quotation marks, etc. – correct? Are we staying within the rules of grammar? Or, at the very least, do we know the rules enough to know why we’ve broken them?
  3. We find what does work. We learn our areas of strength and can then build upon it. These may be areas we didn’t even realize were our finer moments.
  4. Our readers are important. Those sitting around the table – including the director – are essentially our readers. Getting the work past an editor and then the publishing board is one thing, but if your potential readers don’t get your work, you’ll be a one hit wonder.
  5. We have the opportunity to talk about the market. You know the old adage, “Two heads are better the one,” right? Well, think of what we may glean concerning the current trends, where the market is heading, etc. with nine other people sitting around a table.
Check it Out!

Something I love to do in my mentoring classes is a game whereby I give a list of paired-off sentences. They both look correct, but only one is. The winner gets a prize. It’s fun. Actually, the whole experience is fun … it’s not a heart-breaking experience at all.

I promise.

Eva Marie Everson is an award-winning author of both fiction and nonfiction books. Her book Reflections of God's Holy Land was a finalist for both the ECPA Book of the Year/Inspiration & Gift and Foreword Magazines Book of the Year/Travel Essays. She will lead the fiction mentoring project. For more information as to what to bring to the workshop, contact Eva Marie @


  1. This is Bryan Davis (yeah, that one) :-)

    If conferees want to see cold critiquing firsthand, they can come to the after-hours sessions I will have for the teen track. We will be critiquing the teens' manuscripts. You don't have to be a teenager to watch it work, and I guarantee we will all learn a lot.

  2. Bryan,
    That's right! I find that we learn just as much from hearing other people's work critiqued as we do our own!


  3. Saturday morning I am teaching a workshop on critique groups and will demonstrate this method at that time. : )


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