Today it is my pleasure to bring Sylvia Liu to the Tuesday 12 x 12 series. This is Sylvia’s second year partaking of the challenge, and she has been a huge supporter and enthusiastic giver of her expertise the whole time. Sylvia understands the value of external motivation and peer support and how both are vital to growing as a writer. She gives freely of her knowledge on her blog and website, and I highly encourage you to go there after you read her post today to be wowed by her amazing art. Here is a woman headed for high places. Please welcome Sylvia!
The Value of Critiques
by Sylvia Liu
Sometimes when you write a story, don’t you feel it’s just perfect, and you can’t wait to send it to a publisher or agent so that you can be discovered already? Yeah, I felt that way about a recent manuscript. I shared it with one of my critique friends, and she essentially said, “meh.” She also gave me some great suggestions to improve it. After I got over my shock that she didn’t think this would be the next worldwide picture book bestseller, I realized all over again why it is so important to have my work critiqued by others.
1. The Story in Your Head is Not What is Written.
When I write, I know the feelings and images I want to convey. But the words I choose are rooted in my own experiences and emotions that are not necessarily universal. Someone who doesn’t share my worldview, sense of humor, or baggage background may not get the same feelings from my words. By trusting my story to fresh eyes, I can gauge how close I am to achieving my intended effect.
2. A Writer Does Half the Job; the Reader Does the Rest.
The corollary is that, in any story, the reader brings her own life experiences. A good story takes a life of its own as people react to it in different ways. Critiques help me discover the range of reactions a story elicits. For example, in one story I shared, half the readers thought one of the main characters was imaginary and the rest thought he was real. I had intended him to be real, but I liked the other interpretation too. As I refine the story, I will consciously keep the ambiguity.
3. Any Story, No Matter How Brilliant, Can Be Improved.
No matter what level of writing we are at, constructive criticism can improve our work. Even the most accomplished writer can get too attached to a hard-won turn of phrase or lovingly created scene that may not move the story forward. Writers who know the rules (such as show, don’t tell; use active voice; raise the stakes) can use reminders. And writers exploring unfamiliar genres may need to learn the conventions (for example, the Rule of Threes in picture books).
4. Critiquing Others Will Help You Grow as a Writer.
Author Sarah Pinneo recently wrote an article on how critiquing queries is a great way to improve one’s own queries. It’s so much easier to identify ways to improve other people’s manuscripts, even as I struggle with the same issues. And once I notice a common pitfall enough times, I try to avoid it in my own writing.
5. All of the Above Applies to My Art as Well.
In some ways, I need less feedback on my illustrations because I can compare the finished project with my mental image. But I have still found critiques to be invaluable. Comments on composition, color choices, perspective and other issues that I did not notice have all been instrumental in making my pieces stronger.
12 x 12 is A Great Place to Get Critiques
Because of all these reasons, one of the best parts of 12 x 12 for me has been all the opportunities for getting critiques of my work: (1) the first 250 words in the Forum; (2) the ability to connect with critique partners, and (3) the PB Illustrators Critique Group, a Facebook group open to illustrators in 12 x 12. It is also through 12 x 12 that I discovered Rate Your Story, a great way to get free professional critiques of picture book manuscripts.
All who have critiqued my work have been generous with their knowledge and constructive in their criticisms. Without a doubt, my work has improved as a direct result.
Sylvia Liu is a former environmental lawyer turned artist/illustrator/writer. She is working on several picture book projects and developing an illustrated chapter book. She blogs about children’s illustration, picture books, ebooks, infographics, and Blogger tips at Sylvia Liu Land. Check out her portfolio, Art and Illustration by Sylvia Liu, or find her on Twitter @artsylliu, Facebook, Pinterest, or Google+.
Categories: 12 x 12, Authors, Children's Books, Creativity, Goals, Guest Blogging, Picture Books, Works in Progress, Writing · Tags: 12 x 12, Author, Authors, Children's Books, Creativity, Goals, Guest Blogging, Illustration, Julie Hedlund, Picture Books, Sylvia Liu, Tuesday 12 x 12, Works in Progress, Writing