Friday, April 15, 2011

The Mentor-Mentee Compact

By John Gilstrap
Twenty years ago, when I taught rookie firefighters the basics of their craft, we all understood the vast chasm that separated the sterile learning environment of the classroom from the training crucible of a real fire. On paper and in books and in training videos, even the complicated stuff looks easy—or if not easy, then at least predictable. When we took new guys into their first Rookie Roast, we knew that panic was the greatest hazard our students faced. By extension, it was my greatest hazard as an instructor, as well. (You get in trouble if you actually roast rookies in a Rookie Roast.)

Before you could emerge from the far side of rookie school, you had to prove certain proficiencies. You had to carry a really heavy load from here to there, and you had to navigate a very stressful and confining maze without showing signs of panic, all within a prescribed amount of time. And you had to, you know, raise ladders and put out fires and stuff. There was no faking the practical tests. (One day over a martini, ask me about the time when we had to test all of the battalion chiefs to the rookie standards. That was a hoot!)

I miss the simplicity of those days, when stupid was stupid, ugly was ugly, and if you screwed up, the screw-up was a source of ridicule. I have often said that if you’ve never been chewed out by a fire captain, you’ve only been mollycoddled. The sensibility at the time was that a little embarrassment ensured that mistakes were never repeated, and that as a result, the entire crew had that much better a chance of returning home whole and healthy.

For all the harshness and grab-ass, though, it was a wholesome and nurturing environment. You had to respect people to ride them hard; otherwise, you just ignored them. Mentors were everywhere, just waiting to be asked. There was a tacit, reasonable understanding that experienced firefighters knew more about firefighting than inexperienced ones, and the longer I stayed in, the more I realized how little I understood that when I was a know-it-all rookie. Come to think of it, most rookies are know-it-alls when they are fresh from the exhilaration of rookie school. It was the mentors’ job to help the new guy massage his knowledge into experience.
 I was reminded of these good old days during last week’s dust-up over allegedly mean-spirited critiques. I don’t want to reopen the wound, or even examine the specifics of that particular case, but I was stunned by the vitriol.
 I am the first to admit that I am fully self-taught in this writing gig. I know nouns and verbs and adjectives, but once you get into participles—dangling or otherwise—and pluperfect anything, it’s time for me to leave the table. I don’t know that stuff. I’ve never taken a writing class. I don’t say this with particular pride, but I say it without shame.
 My writing career, then, was built on the principle of rejecting rejection. No one ever told me what I was doing well—truth be told, I already had a good sense for that. Instead, I got rejections, the mere existence of which told me that the aggregate of what I was doing was wrong. The specifics were left to me to figure out.  I sought trusted opinions to help me ferret out the bad stuff. What wasn’t identified as bad was presumed to be good. It worked for me. It continues to work for me.

What I would have given for the kind of critiques that are offered here!  Sure, not all critiques are as helpful as others, but in all fairness, not all submissions give you a lot to work with.

When fellow authors give me a manuscript to beta-read, it never occurs to me to soft-pedal my opinion or to blow even a single ray of sunshine. They give it to me to help them find and disarm the landmines, and by agreeing to do so, I owe them the respect to be brutal. I don’t worry about bruising their fragile egos because professional writers’ egos have turned to stone by the time they’ve got three or four books under their belts.
 I believe that far too many people are lied to by their friends and their families and their teachers. Alternatively, the average friend, family member or teacher wouldn’t know commercial-quality fiction if it bit them on the nose. Either way, there are a lot of marginally talented (or talentless) people out there who are angered and embittered by their first brush with honest critique. I don’t get it. Why ask if you don’t want to hear the answer?
 Better still, why listen to an answer if you think it’s wrong? In a business where there are no rules, all that’s left is opinions. I’ve got mine. Miller’s got ’em too. Jim Bell, Joe Moore and Michelle Gagnon, and all the rest of us denizens of The Killzone have opinions, and look how often we disagree with each other. That’s all a critique is: an opinion.
 If the deliverer of an opinion has a little fun in the process—even if it makes some people squirm—so what?
 The job of a mentor is not to make someone feel good about oneself. The job is help the student master the skills that will lead to him feeling good about himself on his own.


Sometimes—let’s be honest here—that means choosing a different career. As the saying goes, if you can’t stand the heat, flee the burning building.

37 comments:

  1. "I owe them the respect to be brutal."

    That's exactly what I expect from a crit. The Pollyanna stuff doesn't improve my writing.

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  2. My old critic buddies used to call it Bloody-ing the pages". Our red inked comments filled the page. I critique others with the same critical eye as I do my own work. To do less is a waste of time for them and for me. Ultimately what they do with my opinion is up to them, just as it was up to me on what others thought. But I surrounded myself with brutally honest people. And some of them chose really ugly ways to give me their opinion, as far as my ego went, but as long as I perceived them to be helping, I stuck with them. And I quit giving my work to people who were "nice" to me or thought everything I gave them was great. I also NEVER let my family read my stuff.

    Having said this, my method of doing critiques centers on being thorough and asking open ended questions where I allow the author to come up with their solutions without me imposing my writing on them. And I try to be encouraging, because I understand the passion of wanting to write and sell. For me, I had made the decision long ago that it was a quality of life issue--I would write whether I sold or not because I had to.

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  3. John, my son is a firefighter/paramedic so I know what you say is true. A good mentor is priceless.

    I spent 10 years in a critique group meeting every Thursday night for 3.5 hours. There were 5-6 of us, and we read our latest chapter out loud to the group. We were all friends, but the critiques were BRUTAL. Many times, it was hard to take it. But I always found that once I had gone home and thought about the comments, more times than not I would agree that they were right, and I would make the suggested changes. It was still my story, but it became a better story.

    With the critique group it was never personal. We all had a genuine desire to help each other become better writers. And that's exactly why we do these first-page critiques here at TKZ. If one of us can make a comment that causes a light to click on in a writer's head, then we've accomplished our goal of helping others.

    I honestly believe that if I had not had the support of my critique group way back when, I probably would not be published today. A trusted mentor(s) is one of the most treasured assets a writer can have.

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  4. I agree. Telling someone honestly why a piece is bad is a good thing.
    When you screw up as a trainee fire fighter, soldier, nurse, doctor etc - you know why you're being berated.
    But pointing and ridiculing and saying "let's have some fun mocking this loser" without explaining why is counter productive, bullying and just plain nasty.
    Whoever does this should hang their head in shame.
    Hey, but that's just my opinion.

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  5. Very true, Joe. A trusted mentor got me published.

    And thanks for this post, John. It brought back memories--the good, bad, and the ugly.

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  6. So one of the critiques got lambasted?
    Seems perverse you're whining about about a piece of work - which a critique is after all - being treated brutally.
    Critiquing critiques against the rules now?
    Soak it up dude.

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  7. "This is SO bad it MUST be spoof! Ha, ha ha haaa. Aren't we all clever. Let's move along to some quality now, shall we my darlings ..."
    Yes, very helpful.
    Is sure to set the writer on the best path.
    Defending this is ridiculous.
    Please move on.

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  8. I think the messages from both sides are being misunderstood here.

    Writers, by their very nature, are overly emotional creatures, incapable of professionalism. They have to be, or else their work lacks depth. And unfortunately, most everyone on this blog, reading or writing it, styles themselves as such. That's a problem.

    A balance can, and must, be struck between sensitivity and constructive criticism.

    I don't think anyone who was unhappy with the events of last Saturday (and isn't it a coincidence we're having this discussion on the eve of another JRM post) was so because they thought the critique was too negative or harsh. It was because it wasn't professional or constructive. I love ya, JRM, but it's the truth.

    Now, for the most part, this first page process has been incredibly beneficial to all parties involved. However, let's call a spade a spade. There have been times where TKZ's authors, as a group, have failed to give submissions the professional courtesy that they would ask others have of their own work. And it is not anyone here's place to be the gatekeeper to the writing profession, regardless of perceived talent level.

    I am hard-pressed to believe that any TKZer would continue to give their first drafts to beta readers who belittled them and provided no constructive feedback to make them better. And that's the point, the dissenting voices were trying to make last week I think.

    Now, on the other side, we who read this blog need to understand that its authors are providing a free service, more or less a handout. Which I've discovered, in this business, is a rarity. Beggars can't be choosers. And the authors should not have to justify themselves to readers who question their motivations and, at the same time, try to take advantage of their experience. It isn't appropriate. If how they critique bothers you that much, ring out and take your wears elsewhere.

    Trying to justify behavior by invalidating others feelings is not an option here. Acknowledge the opposing view and move on. John's post illustrates that the authors can be just as frustrated by negative feedback.

    If nothing else, everyone should've taken away from last week's debacle that this process is symbiotic. Authors need readers, and vice versa. Going forward, nurturing that relationship should be the focus. Relitigating the event solves nothing. And, quite frankly, I have better shit to do with my time than read about it any more after this post.

    By the way, John, I have to disagree with you, getting yelled at by a fire chief is nothing compared to having a three star, Navy SEAL admiral throw chairs at you and threaten to take your life. But I'll put it back in my trousers and call it even.

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  9. I think some critiquers forget there's a difference between "civil" and "honest." Tell the truth, but there's no need to be a jerk about it. Critiquing each others books should be a learning experience for both.

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  10. Spot on post. Reminded me of the time I was in rehearsals for ELECTRA. We were in the midst of blocking a big scene with lots of characters. The director told a group of women to cross upstage right on a certain line, then focused back on his lead actress. One of the women called out, "But why would my character move away from the action?" The director simply turned to the woman and said, "Figure it out."
    It's one of the best pieces of direction I've ever heard. Whatever craft we're in, it's our responsibility to do the work. To figure it out.
    Thanks for the reminder and the post.

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  11. I had a friend in college--a very talented writer--who won awards as an undergraduate. We were in awe of her, and I was certain she was going to become a famous novelist. Then one day, a professor belittled one of her stories. I don't know exactly what was said, but it really doesn't matter. My friend never wrote fiction again. What a waste, right? Except, it really wasn't. If it hadn't been that professor who destroyed my friend's confidence, it would have been an agent, an editor, or someone else. She didn't have the bulletproof vest you have to wear in this business. There's no shortage of opportunities in the writing game for getting your feelings hurt, or thinking that you didn't get a fair hearing. The first time I got kicked to the curb, it was an agent who did the kicking. She was angry because she thought I'd wasted her time by submitting something inferior. She was right. I learned the lesson, and moved on.

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  12. After the initial sting wore off I looked at my submission with fresh eyes. Had to agree with the opinions that were presented. I found the critique invaluable.

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  13. Well put, Fletch, on all counts. You even win the ass-chewing contest. I can't compete with the chair-throwing, life-threatening three-star.

    It didn't occur to me until I read some of the posted responses that I was, indeed, whining. That wasn't my intent, but intent doesn't matter once the words are committed to the (cyber)page. I am a practitioner of that which I criticize. Who knew?

    Full disclosure: I was going to end this comment at the end of the previous paragraph, but I realized that it would come off as passive-aggressive, and even whinier. I hate whining and whiners. I truly was acknowledging the points made by others.

    And therein lies one of the dangerous downsides to these critiques: the total lack of subtextual communication. A few weeks ago, I had fun critiquing a piece that had issues with pronouns. I did it in a joking manner, and I nearly deleted it rather than posting it. Why? Because I wrote the critiue the way I would have delivered it face-to-face. In the F2F delivery, though, the author would have been laughing, even as I helped him understand what was broken with his piece. In the absence of the smile or the eye-twinkle, I worried that it would come off as intellectually bullying. Maybe it did, maybe it didn't. At the end of the day, I had precious little good to say about the piece, because there was precious little good to say. And I worried about it.

    Fletch is right when he posits that I'm frustrated. My frustration peaked, in fact, when one of the repsonders in last week's dust-up pledged never to buy any books by TKZ authors--and I hadn't even posted anything! Got me to wondering if this whole critique thing doesn't have more downside than up.

    Am I whining again? I suppose, but I'm also being completely honest.

    John Gilstrap
    www.johngilstrap.com

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  14. Here is my personal view of critiquing, FWIW:

    I see my job as trying to help someone get further along from where they are. If somebody desires to be a writer, that's their business, their dream. I've never told anyone to chuck that dream, because I was told it several times when I was flailing around and I bought it for awhile.

    But one day I woke up and decided this is what I wanted to do and I would try to do what so many said couldn't be done: learn to write by studying the craft. It turned out to be my way to the dream.

    So if someone has that same dream, I'm not going to wake them up even if they suck like a Hoover. I am going to find the place I think they need to start improving, and leave it to them to do the work I recommend.

    While I understand the value of the swift kick on occasion, I don't see the value in mockery. Generic fulminating and rants about the craft, sure. I like to foam at the keyboard myself on occasion. And I don't mind strong opinions. It shows we have blood flowing and care what's going on with this thing we love to do. We can all care that much without getting personal, I think.

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  15. All the disagreements about last week's post aside, I think this is a great post. When I finished the first novel that I believed was saleable, I made the mistake of giving it to friends and family and asking them to be brutally honest. They couldn't do it. I didn't even enjoy all the good things they had to say because that wasn't what I was after. I did what I could with it--with no real critique--and sent it off to agents. A lot of agents were gracious enough to give me some in-depth suggestions. One agent in particular tore my book to shreds and it was the best thing that ever happened to me or my book. His critique was spot-on and I knew I could make the book so much better. So I told my family and friends all the things he had said and they all said, "Yeah, I thought that too but didn't say it". Well that's perfectly useless to me. I will never allow a friend or family member to read my work again!
    I think if I had had access to the kind of brutally honest critiques I received from agents BEFORE I started looking for an agent I would have found an agent much more quickly. I wrote for years and never sent anything out because I knew my skin was too thin to take decent criticism. When I reached a point in my writing growth where it didn't bother me to have my work torn apart and stomped on, I decided to go for it. Now, it's not about me as a person, it's only about my work and making it better. I would never have survived the four-year agent search (a seemingly never-ending siege of rejections--although most of them were good ones) if I didn't have that philosophy.
    I wish I had had access to a blog like this five or six years ago when I was starting out.
    Finally, I think you can be brutally honest in a tactful and matter-of-fact way and I wholeheartedly agree with Mr. Bell's comments!

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  16. Fire is scary. I'd wet my jammies if someone told me to go into one.

    Let's call it a draw, John.

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  17. I extend a massive "Thank you" to the TKZ professionals who critiqued my first page. The experience was invaluable, and I will do it again the next time it's offered. My feelings were not hurt by the honest opinions expressed. In fact, I walked away from the evaluation with a smile on my face and an eagerness to open my MS and make some changes.

    I have a couple of faithful non-family beta readers who give me honest opinions, but I'd love to find a mentor, a published author, to help me along with some of the things John wrote about. The question is: How does an unpublished author FIND a mentor?

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  18. Sonja,
    I think that writers' conferences are invaluable in the quest to find help. I think I speak on behalf of most authors who go to those things that we go with the intent of being helpful. Granted, there's a big step between answering a few questions and finding a mentor, but it's all a continuum. Everyone in the room during those conferences is there to improve their craft.

    Also, check out the local chapters of Romance Writers of America or Mystery Writers of America. They hold regular meetings, and typically greet new people with open arms.

    In my experience, people who have difficulty finding help in fact have difficulty asking for it. It's tough to do, but it's generally rewarding.

    John Gilstrap
    www.johngilstrap.com

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  19. John--Loved your comment on finding a mentor. I credit my membership with RWA as the reason I sold so quickly. I belong to a number of professional organizations and all of them provide a great service for different reasons. That's why I still to belong to so many, but RWA is geared for the aspiring author. They have local organizations in many cities, but if you do nothing else, try one of their annual conferences that they move around to different parts of the country. The workshops are AMAZING, offering 100s of topics from research, craft, and bus promotion, plus an author can pitch work to an agent and/or editor. (Those 8 minutes are brutal.) I've turned on a lot of my thriller author friends to this annual event and they've been blown away. And you don't have to write romance to get something from them. As part of a side trip at a conference, the RWA Kiss of Death chapter hosted day trips to the FBI in Quantico, the CIA at Langley, and the State Dept, plus the National US Postal Service. We even shot weapons at the FBI firing range. It was an amazing opportunity and especially fun to visit with other authors. (We ask the weirdest questions.)

    Thanks for asking that question, Sonja. Now I really have to get back to my galley edits. You guys are really making this discussion too interesting to resist.

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  20. The mentor/mentee concept is something that I think carries people through life. If you are willing to learn, there will be someone willing to teach. If they are jerks and offer only screaming fits of snot slinging rage (or in literary circle, constant mockery) without constructive criticism and acknowledgement of success, then move on to the next. I think sometimes it is hard to find a mentor, like it is hard to find a friend. They just happen.

    Myself, I have found this blog to be a group mentoring experience. Gaining knowledge, thickening skin, and bouncing ideas off often without folks even realizing that's what I'm doing (kind'a like a ninja mentee....a menja).

    Raw gold is just a dirty looking rock. Before it has much value it has to be boiled, the crap taken out of it, skimmed, smashed, boiled again etc until it becomes that pretty thing people kill each other for.


    Just like foreign immersion is the fastest way to learn a language, and jumping into a pit with a lion is the fastest way to learn lion taming, tossing one's work in front of folks who will be brutally honest is the best way to wheedle away the dross.

    On the other hand tossing one's cookies onto the literary table of life is not generally a good idea. Make sure not to just puke out stories that smell bad, look all slimy and make people get the heaves.

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  21. What I said above being said, I'd like to take a leap here and make a request/lay my neck across the chopping block/do something potentially silly.

    I need some beta readers willing to take on my WIP and constructively critique. This request goes out to TKZ readers and authors alike, professional and amateur alike, and whoever wants to risk their minds on my current thriller, working title: Cold Summer.

    Genre: Thriller-Terrorist/Espionage/Action/Alaska not comedy if you're wondering...at least not totally comedy

    If you're willing to consider it go to this top secret page at my website and check out the quick synopsis and my contact info.

    Heck...we can even make this a group project and I will buy you all cookies and milk when it's all done.

    Hrm...I'd even be willing to make this a totally open project as a learning experience for everyone here if folks want to do that....

    Anyway, have the people in your head call the people in my head.

    This message will self-destruct in .... doh! ... timer's broken dangit! ... might want to leave ... I don't know when this thing is going off.

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  22. The point many miss is there was no critique.
    Pointing and laughing and baying 'rubbish' is not a critique.
    That's what the lady was upset about.

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  23. What I said above having been said, I'd like to take a leap here and make a request/lay my neck across the chopping block/do something potentially silly.

    I need some beta readers willing to take on my WIP and constructively critique. This request goes out to TKZ readers and authors alike, professional and amateur alike, and whoever wants to risk their minds on my current work.

    Working title: Cold Summer.

    Genre: Thriller-Terrorist/Espionage/Action/Alaska

    I'd be willing to make this an open experience and give it a space on my webpage where a limited sized group Betas / Mentors can swim together, make comments and share the critiqueish love. And the output can be shared by all to see how it all works.

    If you're willing to consider it go to this top secret page at my website and check out the quick synopsis and my contact info.

    This message will self-destruct in .... doh! ... timer's broken dangit! ... might want to leave ... I don't know when this thing is going off.

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  24. I have a semi-related question for the pros regarding these critiques. Several reviewers said great things about my work. I'm an unpublished author. When I'm sending out queries and have nothing substantive to put in the "published works/credits" paragraph, is it okay for me to write "James Scott Bell said ________ about my work," or "Jordan Dane said ________?" It seems like cheating, since JSB and JD didn't know it was ME they were talking about, but at the same time, my work drew the praise of several professionals. So, is it allowed, or is it considered tacky? Thanks.

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  25. Sonja, as long as you stay within the sleeve of the truth, I think that anything goes. Be a little careful, though. The last think to do is find out that the agent you're querying is JSB's best buddy, and when asked about the quote, for him to disavow knowing you.

    Actually, now that I think about it, I think you also need to take care not to misrepresent the nature of the good comments--that they were based on a reading of the first page, not of the enitre story.

    For me, the system works like this: If I really like an author's work, I'll call my agent and tell her to expect the query and encourage her to request the fuller submission packet (whether a few chapters or a whole ms). Essentially, I try to short-circuit the query process. From there, the work has to stand on its own.

    John Gilstrap
    www.johngilstrap.com

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  26. Looking back at my comment, I should have communicated that a little better. I didn't intend to brag about how so-and-so loved my story. More along the lines of, JSB read the first page of this work as an anonymous submission to THE KILL ZONE and said "I'm hooked." Or, Kathryn Lilley read the first page and said, "I liked this piece." Something along those lines. I see how this idea could backfire seriously, too. Thanks for the words of wisdom, John.

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  27. I loved your remark re critiques: "Why ask if you don't want to hear the answer?" That reminds me of a recent incident with a friend, who gave me a choice on something. She got mad when I took the negative option. This happened a second time, and then she wasn't speaking to me. Why ask if she wasn't prepared to accept my decision?

    So I had to laugh at your comment. Obviously plenty of people are out there who ask a question and only want to get the response they like. At least in the writing world, a critique partner's opinion might be validated when an editor rejects the work for the same reasons. Why seek criticism in the first place if you're not prepared to hear the response?

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  28. No fires for me, but I did spend a decade working in New York City as a professional modern dancer. I highly recommend it for anyone trying to develop a thick skin in the face of harsh rejection. No lives were at stake, but I've had my thighs criticized in front of a few hundred people by Paul Taylor, my face by Twyla Tharp, and my overall performance by Judith Jamison.

    And when my first novel was roundly rejected, I picked myself up, dusted myself up, and started over again.
    I harken from the same critiquing school as Jim. I also won't blurb something I don't think is any good, even when it's work written by a close friend. And I agree, we've all taken vastly different approaches to this process. I do think when a reader unilaterally announced that they'll never read any of our work again based on one contributors treatment of a critique is equally harsh (especially since not all of us had the opportunity to weigh in on that particular post). But as with all the other rejections I've sustained in my life, I'll take it in stride and move on.
    I was in a critique group back in 2000. One new novelist brought in his WIP. A large portion of the group loved it. But one participant spent an hour lambasting it. And there were, indeed, some failings in it. But the author kept at it, retooled it, and came away with a very different novel that eventually was sold as THE KITE RUNNER.
    I'm glad that Khaled stuck with it--I know a lot of writers would have given up. And in dance, writing, and life, what I've observed is that in general, the people who make it are those who persevere. I stand in awe on some writers whose work I know mine will never approach the level of. All I can do, all any of us can do, is keep striving.

    Side note: we made a pact at the outset of this blog to never censor a comment, unless it was blatant spam. We have had some issues with Blogger filtering them-but it's never intentional, and it's an issue we're working on. So please, don't ever assume we're deleting comments. We just don't do that.

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  29. Sonja--I know some authors try to get endorsement blurbs before they're published. I can't speak to how industry professionals react to them, but I would never use a quote from another author without their express permission AND for only a page sample. A comment re: one page would probably not put you in a good light. It might look like a deception when you would never have meant it to be.

    Your work should speak for itself. I know this process can be frustrating but the main thing is to keep writing, working on your craft. There just isn't a shortcut. Your work should be what gets you noticed.

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  30. Oh, and one other thing. Sisters in Crime has a subgroup specifically for critiquing and general support for unpublished writers called the "Guppies." And you don't have to be female to join, everyone is welcome. I know a lot of authors who have found it to be invaluable.

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  31. I just wanted to say that in retrospect that I was mocking the entry I critiqued last week, although I did think it was worthy of being mocked because I felt it was not a serious effort. Alas it may have been a serious entry and if I hurt the author's feelings, I am truly sorry. I do hope you will keep writing and not worry that everybody doesn't like what you do or appreciate the effort you put into it. I also mock published authors, whose work I think is a waste of ink, as people certainly don't all enjoy my work, or appreciate the work I put into the craft. Difference is, I could care less. I have never depended on praise, or even being taken seriously. I should know better than to ever be cruel to anyone, ever.

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  32. Jordan, thanks for chiming in. I doubt I'd ever use the comments in a query letter (still feels like cheating to me) but I wanted to know if it was acceptable.

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  33. I'm with the JSB school of critique...and I have been in many classes and groups where I have had to let people down gently. I've never been a firefighter, dancer or Navy Seal and I may be a wimp but I try to treat people the way I would like to be treated and that is rarely with truly brutal honesty. I am honest, but I try to encourage rather than destroy. Kathryn's illustration is sad - although maybe someone else would have destroyed that great writer's ego, we may have also lost a wonderful voice as a result of it. This is a tough industry, there's no denying it, but I don't have to be one of the ones making it worse. I can give people my honest opinion without making them squirm (I hope). Just my opinon...and as with everything here at TKZ, we all differ!

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  34. Clare is right.

    it's better to be honest with your critique and kind.

    Or people can be jerks and rib other's writing even though they aren't close to as good at writing fiction as they think they are.

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  35. Wow, John, our backgrounds are very similar. The writing, I mean, not the firefighting. My degree is in architecture & design, not writing. Writing is very intuitive for me, I think.

    And I agree about the critiquing. My first experience was brutal, bad enough to make me consider quitting. But when I was done crying and thought it all over, I realized that, as tactless as he was, he was right. And my book is much better for it.

    Now, I wonder, what does a girl have to do to get a writer like you or Jim Bell to mentor ME? To read my manuscript? I fear that's only a dream. But I dream big!

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  36. Ok, I keep not chiming in on this, but it is just ridiculous. I knew going in that anyone could be the one to critique me and that I might not like it. I knew going in that John Ramsey Miller could be the one to draw my page and he is old school "if you don't want to risk the black eye, get off of my playground". I also knew no matter who I might draw it would be the unvarnished truth and if I couldn't handle it here, I couldn't handle it anywhere. If we writers didn't know that going in, it's our own fault.

    I have always found that the bright light of truth reigns here and that is one of the reasons I come to TKZ every day and recommend it to other serious writers I come across. I've never found censorship of good or bad items here. I also secretly felt that if any of you only gave me a bloody lip and a black eye, I would still go away smiling. I think the critiques and information here are invaluable and I hope a few lost eggs don't spoil it for the rest of us.

    Can't we all just continue to give each other some latitude to learn, grow, cock-up, and grow up- Oh, and can I ask that we let the poor, old, beat horse just die? Not you JRM ;-)

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  37. I totally agree about mentors. They're here to make you better and to learn. I love the analogy you gave the firefighting school. It's very worth it to realize that writing and learning to write well is just a metaphor for everyday life- learning to roll with the punches and develop a thick skin.

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