Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Why Send Thank You Notes for Critiques?

Anytime our stories leave our hands they are seen by readers. Readers with opinions.

Life would be wonderful if all readers thought our words changed their heart, softened their spirits, and engaged them in a warm connection with our characters.

Sometimes our words will.

Sometimes our words won't.

Standing in the midst of writing contest season, and preparations for this year's conferences, I thought we could talk about thank you notes. The chore we rarely find time to do.

But, today--I will give you some reasons to turn a chore into a blessing.

Here is a tale of two writers:

#1 Recently a new writer joined a crit group.  She said she had so many stories swirling around in her head. She just wanted to tell them. Readers had confirmed her gift for weaving a great plot. Their words energized her desire to get the stories written. 

Her enthusiasm was inspirational. The problem was, she didn't want to take the time to learn the craft. When one of the crit partners pointed out a few issues for writer #1 to work on, she said, "Couldn't I just get one crit partner to help me write my stories? I don't have time for that."

This is where the communication broke down between writer #1 and her crit group.

*Unless we hunger to learn the craft, we will never find the key to open the door for our stories.

You may be wondering what this all has to do with thank you notes. Hold on--there is a point, I promise.

#2 Last year I participated in judging a writing contest. One particular piece had an interesting plot and clearly was written by a novice. I was careful to select only a few pointers for the person, addressing common mistakes beginners make. The writer sent me a thank you note stating she had wanted to write a story for a long time and my comments had encouraged her to study the craft of writing and to work diligently on her story.

In a way I felt quite surprised. I thought about all the times I received comments from judges and crit partners, and how often I only thanked those who gave me the feedback I wanted to hear.  

Writer #2
 taught me a great lesson. 

Sure some crits can be difficult to absorb. But, like a medicine, the eyes of a judge, crit partner, or beta reader can bring light to problems and start the healing process.

How can we receive and benefit from a crit/score sheet?

1. Thank God for the opportunity to learn.
2. Ask God to help you see the changes needed to make your manuscript shine.
3. Address only one crit/comment at a time. Read it thoroughly. Consider why the reader might have viewed the words this way. 
4. Take a big breathe and slowly release the tight grip on the words.
5. Reread the section addressed by the reader out loud. Close your eyes. Try to envision the issue. Do you need to clarify, cut, enhance, breathe life into the portion of words?
6. Reread the reader's comment/crit. 
7. Now decide. 
     Would the recommended change improve your words?
     Should you leave the words the way you had them?

8. Go to the second issue addressed by the reader and repeat the above.

In all truth, I don't think writer #1, the one with stories swirling in her mind and no time to learn the craft, would bother to go through these steps. These efforts would take too much time. She'd much rather pay someone to write her stories, which is okay, if that is what she wants to do.

BUT time invested in pondering judges/crit partners/beta reader's comments helps us see

*dialogue issues
*plot problems
*character flaws
*soggy themes
*grammar mistakes
*sleepy narratives
*telling instead of showing
     and etc.

9. After the last comment/crit issue is addressed, there is one more important task. No matter how sweet or gruff the reader was, a thank you note should be sent. The individual took the time to address issues for you to accept or reject. Who knows. Maybe that person was used by God for such a time as this to polish your words for His glory.

Humbling yourself to send the thank you note finalizes this particular experience. 

It's never too late to send those notes, by the way. I usually work through my crit, or judge's comment sheet then mention at least one area where the person helped me improve my craft. Sending a thank you before going through the crit, and considering the issues may prevent you from seeing the process through and personalizing the note.

Let's talk about thank you notes we've received…for anything.


This blog post is by Mary Vee

Mary has moved to Michigan with her husband, closer to her three college kids. She misses the mountains of Montana, but loves seeing family more often. She writes contemporary and romance Christian fiction, is honing marketing and writing skills, and loves to pen missionary and Bible adventure stories on her ministry blog, God Loves Kids.

Visit Mary at her website and her ministry blog to families: God Loves Kids. Or chat on Facebook or Twitter


Sherrinda Ketchersid said...

Well done, Mary. I have sometimes been lax in my thank yous, but truly, it is important...not just for the person you are thanking, but for You (ME) as well.

Here's to a year of Thank Yous! :)

Mary Vee Writer said...

Yeah. I think one of the reasons we are slack in doing thank you notes is we're thinking of who we are giving them to and not realizing the benefits we ourselves also receive. And there is nothing wrong with that.

It's definitely a two-fee.

Pepper said...

Great post, Mare - and a good reminder.
I think 'thank you' notes have become more important to me since I judged a few contests and realized the time-investment involved.
I received a 'thank you' note once regarding a few songs I'd written and performed several years before. The couple had sought out my parents to purchase a tape so that the music could continue to bless them. I was overwhelmed. Here it thought my little homespun tape and bluegrass music had been a small gift to my family and God used it for a broader audience. It was the BEST thank you note I've ever gotten - and so sweet.

They matter, late or early. The most beautiful heart is a 'grateful one'

Mary Vee Writer said...

First, let me say, blogger corrected my spelling as I hit send. NO THANK YOU blogger. In my comment above I meant "two fer" Even now I am battling with the "helpful program." Hah! I won!

Now, back to you, Pepper.
I can see why the couple would have gone to such lengths to get a copy of your music. I have a few of your songs saved on my computer. The messages are so lovely and honoring to God.

Sometimes I think the late thank you's mean even more. Time has passed, the thought stayed in the writer's heart, and now the words flowing in thanks are extra meaningful.

Jeanne Takenaka said...

Great post, Mary. It's always good to send thank you notes. I am pretty good about doing this both in real life and in writing life. Sometimes, it's been hard when someone is uber-critical. I always try to look at one thing I can thank the judge for that taught me something.

Let's see, thank you's I've received. I haven't received many thank you notes. I did receive an email that thanked me for sharing a little about lessons I've learned on this writing journey that was most encouraging.

Mary Vee Writer said...

It is difficult to send a thank you when someone is uber-critical. I agree.

Most of the times, for me, I find my hurt pride blinds the goodness hidden in those comments. Once I do find one positive component to thank the judge, my eyes seem to open to other helpful comments.

I'm glad you received the email thanking you and wish you'd receive many more because you are a great encouragement to many. :)

Amy Leigh Simpson said...

Writing thank you's was something that was ingrained in me from an early age. It was always a standard in my house. Yes, it can be laborious, but it's also common courtesy that often gets overlooked. Though, I will say oven ever written one for a writing contest, since the only one I entered, the judging was anonymous. Guess I ever thought of it. Great advice!

Karen @ a house full of sunshine said...

I received the most beautiful thank-you note one year when I judged the Genesis. The particular entry in question was pretty rough, but the writing had great atmosphere and showed a lot of promise.

I had to ask myself what would be the most loving and helpful thing I could do for that writer - to give what I considered a fair score (on the lowish side), with little explanation, which would have been confusing for the writer and certainly unhelpful; or to take the time to thoroughly address the issues in the MS in the hope that the writer could learn and improve, or at the very least, understand the score they'd been given.

I chose the latter. I tried to weave encouragement through my comments, but on balance, there was a lot of critique. I wondered how it would be received. I hoped that the writer would understand that it was because the writing showed promise that I was bothering to take the time to address the issues.

Never having been a judge before, I'd never realised the enormous drain on time that it takes to give that level of feedback. It was a real sacrifice of energy and effort, and I really hoped that it would be appreciated and found to be helpful. Still, I knew it would be human for the writer to take offence at the comments and corrections all over the pages. I wavered about it right up until it was time to send.

I can't even explain how surprised and delighted I was to receive the most lovely thank you note from that entrant. She wrote quite a long note saying that even though I'd given her her lowest score, my judge's comments were her very favourite. She expressed her gratitude for the detailed feedback and told me how helpful it was to her at this stage of her journey. She finished by saying that if she could rate the judges' work, she'd give me an A! LOL!

I just loved that. It absolutely made the whole thing worthwhile, all the time away from family, all the evenings spent poring over manuscripts and writing comments. To have a contestant respond with such graciousness and gratitude, even though I'd really been quite hard on her, showed me that writer will go far. With that sort of humility and willingness to learn, the sky is the limit.

It was also a great lesson to me to be gracious in the face of critique. Her amazing attitude taught me a lot. I've never forgotten it, or what that note meant to me.

Mary Vee Writer said...

Thank you notes can be laborious. Time consuming. Difficult to compose. Like you say, though they are a common courtesy.

The current contests recommend sending a thank you to the coordinator who forwarded the judges information to you. By including a judges number that appeared on the score sheet the coordinator will know who to forward your note to. So while they still are anonymous, we can still send a note.

Mary Vee Writer said...

What a lovely testimony of your experience as a judge. You've inspired us to try to respond to positively to judges. Thank you for relating the experience.