#11: Reading Writing & Arithmetic? How about: The Author’s “Three Rs”!

(Don’t you wonder sometimes? I mean, only one of those starts with “R”…)

Now that you’ve started writing, joined a group and taken classes, it’s time to put your baby out there. Even if it’s not finished. I know – it’s still rough. I know – it’s terrifying. I know – someone will call your baby ugly.

Too bad. Get over yourself.

Remember that part about locking your ego in a cupboard? Toss in some more chocolate and move on. Critique hurts so much less on a self-proclaimed “draft.” One aspiring writer told me, “I’m not going to let anyone see it until it’s perfect.” Show of hands: is your manuscript ever perfect? Even if it’s published?


So imagine what a huge slap in the face it will be when this “perfect” manuscript starts being critiqued! She has set herself up for an ego-beating of such epic proportions that I bet she quits writing altogether.

You can save yourself from this particular devastation if you follow The AUTHOR’S Three Rs:

1. Readers and Critique Groups – Why You Need Both

Readers are non-writers who read for pleasure and read a lot. They are your friends and they’ll read your story and tell you if the plot makes sense, if the characters are believable and their actions consistent. You can feed it to them chapter by chapter, and tell them you want honest feedback. In my experience, some of them will take it quite seriously and be extremely helpful!

Critique groups consist of writers who comb through manuscripts looking for errors: grammar, style, point of view slips, continuity, overuse of adverbs, passive voice, repeated words, spelling, word choice, etc. They will see things that you can’t. You are too close to your manuscript and you know what you meant to say, so you won’t see your mistakes.

The best way to form a critique group is to ask about it at a meeting (in person or online) of the writer’s group you’ve joined. Exchange a chapter or two to get a feel for the other writer’s competency; remember, you’re looking for someone who can help you. It’s okay to search until you “click” with someone.

Then, when you’ve found 2 or 3 or 4 (no more) other writers whose opinions you trust, you can give each other chapters to actually critique. When you do, you will set up guidelines for your critiques such as:

  • Pages limits per submission
  • Turnaround timelines for critiques
  • Meetings – in person or through a Yahoo Group – that address the needs of everyone in the group

This is an important relationship, one your future is built on: your critique partners will help you get your manuscript cleaned up and submission-ready.

2. Revise

Everyone who reads your work will have something to say about it. Take every comment graciously, whether positive or negative.

I was in a workshop with a girl who was writing fantasy and one of her characters was a 80-year-old elf. Someone in the group commented on the “old” elf, and she snapped, “He’s a teenager! Everyone knows elves live to be 300!”

Oh, really. And are those years made up of 365 days? Are those days 24 hours long? How long is an hour in your world?

You see where I’m heading with this, don’t you?

I looked her in the eye and said, “Elves aren’t real. As an author, you can create any parameters you want. You need to explain your world.”

Like creating the vegetarian vampires in “Twilight” who sparkle in the sun, not burn to a crisp, you are in control. But listen carefully to what people say about your story – it’s your job to make them understand, not their job to read your mind. You must communicate effectively. If they don’t “get it” – it’s your problem. Fix it.

That said, consider all comments in light of who made them. Keep true to your overall voice, plot, etc. and change only what you need to change. A good rule: if more than one person suggests it, change it.

3. Repeat

Be prepared to go through your first manuscript 25 times or more. Seriously. Each time you fix one thing, others will surface. That’s normal. Keep at it.

A word of caution: Don’t work your first three chapters to death – a common mistake. They need to match your overall voice. And – they need to match the REST of the book.

Read – Revise – Repeat: The Author’s “Three Rs”!

6 Responses to “#11: Reading Writing & Arithmetic? How about: The Author’s “Three Rs”!”

  1. 1 Paisley Kirkpatrick 01/07/2010 at 11:44 AM

    Love your 3 “R’s” Kris. It is hard to put it out there, but with my current ms I actually sent it off to a contest with only half of it done just to see what kind of reaction I’d get. This is a first for me – maybe I am gaining confidence. We shall see!

    I find as I write a story my writing gets stronger the farther I get into it. It might be because I get to know my characters better and how they’d react to a situation and each other. Maybe it is rushing to the end so they can have that satisfactory happily ever after that is the best part of the story in my opinion. 😉

    • 2 kristualla 01/07/2010 at 1:22 PM

      Yes – I agree. The more I fall in love with my characters, the better the writing becomes! An author named Laurie Schnebly Campbell does a class on Enneagrams which is SO helpful. Enneagrams are ways of classifying personality types and she has you do it on your CHARACTERS. A link to her site – BookLaurie – is on Blog #9.

  2. 3 Vicki Bendau 01/07/2010 at 1:13 PM

    Thanks, Kris:

    Your blog is a joy to read. I’ve found a few stray readers for my stuff, but I’m really on the fence about joining a critique group. Good things to think about, though.


    • 4 kristualla 01/07/2010 at 1:26 PM

      You know – Clarissa at Desert Rose is compiling a list of interested parties right now. Throw your hat in! Maybe you’ll find your writer’s soul mate.
      Kris 🙂

  3. 5 Gwynlyn MacKenzie 01/13/2010 at 6:02 PM

    School days, school days,
    Dear old Golden Rule days
    Reading and ‘riting, and ‘rithmatic,
    Taught to the tune of a hick’ry stick.
    You were my queen in calico,
    I was your bashful, barefoot beau,
    And you wrote on my slate I love you, Joe
    When we were a couple of kids.

    And, thus, the three Rs. (Works better if you remember the melody!)

    Great blog, as always.

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