Sunday, February 06, 2011

When the Truth Punches You Like a Load of Bricks.......

Be honest. That's a really bad title. I can hear you now... Really, Janelle? A load of bricks? That's just so cliche!

And you, my friends, are so right! So go ahead and tell me.

'Cause I love the truth.

Even when it hurts.

Especially when it hurts.

Because when the truth hurts, it means I'm too close to it. It means I need to take a deep breath. Take a step back. Wait. (Take another deep breath.)

And look again.

Then I can see it.

Usually. ;o)

It's taken a loooooooong time for me to get to this place. A year ago, I may have been a little hurt if you told me that title was cliche. Three years ago, I probably would've run away and cried...

But a lot has changed over the last few years. And today? Tell me the truth!!! Even if you think I won't like it! Because the truth is the only way I'm going to grow. And trust me when I say that I want to grow.

It was probably about a year ago when I first heard the truth about my ms (well, part of it). It had been a while since I had written that part, but it was still hard to hear that I should cut about 20 pages. 20 pages. I died. I died again. Then I waited. I read it again.


That's why.


Now I have to cut (well, cut & rewrite) closer to 150 pages. Yes. 150 freaking pages. But you know what? They need to go. It took me a while to be able to hear that, but I can. *takes deep breath* And it's gonna be a lot of work, but in the end, my book will be so much better because of it.

That said, how do I get myself to a place where I could hear the truth?



And learning about writing.

The more distance I have from what I write, the less attached I am to it. I am able to look at it and see past the "brilliance" I thought it was. I can see the true brilliance it can be. Time works in much the same way. The more time that passes, the easier it is to see what needs to go. As well as what needs to stay.

And despite the fact that rules are made to be broken, when it comes to writing, twenty pages of inner dialogue are Just. Not. Necessary. Learning about writing, honing my craft, is necessary to improve it. Because how can I break the rules if I don't know or understand them? And to be quite frank with you, it takes skill to break rules when it comes to writing.

I also have good, honest critique partners, people I trust, people who will tell me the truth, no matter what. For example, Di will draw hearts and happy faces and squiggly lines all over places she likes and write NO, THANK YOU on things that need to go. I need both. I need to know the stuff that doesn't work so I can fix it and make it better. Because I don't just want to have written a book with some good parts--I want to have written a GOOD book.

As one of my critique partners (and really good friends) once told me, there is a difference between a talented writer and a good writer; a talented writer can write, but a good writer is willing to listen so they will grow and learn how to write well.

I want to be a good writer. I want to grow and change and be the best I can possibly be. (No. I don't want to be in the Army. Wait. I am. I'm in Dumbledore's NaNo Army. Sweet. Okay. I want to be the best I can be.)

In order to do that, I need to be able to hear things that I don't like. To hear that even though I love certain scenes, they just have no bearing on the plot. Really. None. They just need to go. (I keep these in a file so when I'm a hugely famous writer, I can have an outtakes section on my website. What? You don't have dreams?)

And I am able to see it better. I can now go through my ms and cross stuff off and write "Really, Janelle? Really??" and just laugh.

There are two things that go with this: you must have critique partners and betas you trust. Yes. Plural. You need more than one opinion. People who will tell you the truth, both the GOOD and the BAD. (If you are not sure how to find a critique partner, try Or maybe that's what I'll write my next blog on......)

And this does not mean I have to listen to everything that everybody says about my writing! People will have different opinions and tastes and will tell me different things, but only I know what is right for my story. I have the right to say no and keep it the same.

I just keep in mind that if I have five people telling me my dialogue is stiff and unnatural, I may want to look at it again. And again. And again. Then wait, and read it again. I will probably find some (okay--a lot of) truth in their feedback.

I'll leave you with this: it's never easy for me to hear something "bad" or "negative", especially when there is nothing positive to balance it out (which, again, is why it is important to have GOOD critique partners), but there is always something I can take from it. Always.

There is always something I can make better.

So, tell me the truth. Always. It's all I ask of you. (Yes, Di. That reference was for you.)

Have you had to take any rough feedback? Did you learn from it?

And.......... Mini-contest time!!! See? Those of you who put up with my rambling now have a chance to win something!! (Not sure exactly what you will win, but it will be signed... Probably a bookmark or bookplate!) Your task? Re-title this blog in the comments. A good title, not a trite, worn-out cliche like I used. I will pick a winner Monday at 11:59 pm PST. (If I am still awake.......) Make sure you leave your twitter or some way for me to contact you!! The winner is purely subjective on my part.

PS - I asked my crit partner to check this for me before I posted it, and she pointed out a sentence that didn't read right. I couldn't help myself--I texted her back, "But but but!!! It's perfect!!! *wails*" Yeah. I was kidding. We laughed. Then I fixed it. 'Cause she was right. Love you, Di!!!


Janelle Alexander hates writing biographies. So just know that she loves to read and write, especially YA. And she loves her critique partners. And she is as jealous of all of you in your fabulously cold snow as you are of her in her stupid, hot sun.


  1. Great post, Janelle!

    Oh yeah, I think it's really important to have more than one CP.

    This ---> "here is a difference between a talented writer and a good writer; a talented writer can write, but a good writer is willing to listen so they will grow and learn how to write well." is brilliant ;o)

  2. I love being one of your CPs. We help each other :) And I definitely agree about needing more than one CP. It's hard to hear the truth, but you're right, distance helps!

    COOL CONTEST!! I shouldn't enter, because it will look biased if I win ;)

    I laughed when I read the end, because that text did seem to be about exactly on topic!

    *sighh* Christine should have stayed with Phantom.

    P.S.- Go up to Wrightwood for some snow, it's not that far :P

  3. Janelle,
    Never thought I could love you more <3 Look! It's the FoobaConJace girls!!!

  4. What I love about my crit partners/beta readers is that every one of them brings something different to their critiques. Some kick me in the ass on depth, some on continuity, some on my brilliant awkward sentences, and one who makes a point of telling me every thing she finds funny or sexy or awesome.

    And I value EVERY one of them.

    My editor on my YA made me revamp the last third of my book because it was too slow. I had to kill a lot of darlings, but the book is much stronger for both the cuts and the additions.

  5. Wonderful post. I've definitely had my share of rough crits, crits that pretty much tore my work to shreds. I learned, though, that if I wanted to be a writer, I had to suck it up and learn to get stronger. And it really does get easier. You're so right, it's how we grow.

  6. SO TRUE! We need good critters to point out all the stuff we "love"...but probably isn't good. :) They come in to our little manuscript's home, tear it up and leave encouraging notes all around. You know the notes I'm talking 'bout: "You can do this!" or "This doesn't work, but you will find just what does."

    And then we have to suck it up and be willing to do the work to reconstruct the mess, ya know? I have some great "critters" in my little corner of the universe, too. Love them all! So, here is my suggested title on your fab post:

    The Critter Files: The truth is out there. Can you handle it?

  7. My writing/crit group is the most important tool in my writerly toolbox.

    PS I like your blog's title. Why ya changing it? :)

  8. Here's my new titles for you:
    The wounds of a friend are sweeter than the kisses of an enemy.
    This is also my mantra. My crits are never fake, and always blunt. They get the job done! feel free to visit my blogs or twits #hallililburn

  9. Great, thoughtful post. I've been hosting a Publication Party on my blog where recently-published authors tell their journey to publication. What has come out of this is the need for critique partners,and I've been overwhelmed by requests to match people. Rather a daunting task!

    I won't enter into this comp. I just like your post. Your blog title's fine.


  10. oooh.. and JUST in case you like my suggestion, my twitter is @Donna_Earnhardt.

  11. Erica: Thanks!! I'll let my CP know what you said... ;o)

    Di: What would I do without you???? *hugs tightly* And yes, they should've ended up together. And Marius & Eponine.... I'm not mean though, Raoul and Cosette would've made a great couple!!! #shippingmusicalsFTW

    Tina: *hugs* thanks! and glad to see us all together!!

    Sel: hehe Max kinda has that effect on me... Speaking of whom....

    Jennifer: Yes. Honesty is always a good thing!

    Wordwranglernc: Yes! I've had crits that only focused on the "bad"... not the easiest to take...

    Angie: *smiles* I like that! My CPs aare definitely the sharpest tools in the toolbox!! ;o) (and thanks! It was just a game for the title of this post.)

    Phyllis: OOOOO! Love that!!!! It's so true!

    L'Aussie: Thanks! Wow! I can imagine that would be very difficult! Good luck!

    So........ since only two of you actually entered the contest, I'll give you both a little something! Send your mailing address to me at alexanderjanellem at gmail dot com, and I'll send something your way! :o)

    Thanks for reading, and have a great day!!!

  12. I'll email you this weekend. Thank you!