The good stuff

Happy Day After Mother’s Day! Mother’s Day is really “Appreciation Day.” We get to spend the whole day telling Mom what she did well. We send flowers. We eat chocolate. We give her the recognition she deserves.



Today I’d like to take that feeling of appreciation and recognition and apply it to the writing life. The timing works for me! Today is also the first day of my newest online class. During this first week, many good things will happen. We will introduce ourselves. We will start an intense ten week conversation about the craft of writing. We will share our work.  We will become a community.

Last year, I wrote this piece on fostering creativity in an online community. A strong and satisfying online experience definitely begins with trust.

Trust begins with listening. And recognition. And appreciation. (See where I’m going now?)

When it comes to critiquing–possibly the most emotional and potent part of the process–most writers who come to my class have experience. They have already begun to “read like a writer.” They already know that they learn a lot by reading critically. They’re well on their way to completion and publication. But what they often still don’t know how to do is how to hear and expand upon a critique, especially the part we’ll call “the good stuff.”

Are you in that camp? Are you a writer who only wants to hear what is “wrong/bad/not working/could be better????

As a teacher, I work very hard to show writers what they are doing well. I think this is important for the process . . . and the soul. We do this work without the kind of recognition most jobs begin with: money.  It always makes me nervous when  a new writer proclaims: Don’t worry. I can take it. “I have teflon skin.”

(These manuscripts are our babies. We all near to hear they are beautiful!)

I think that knowing what’s right is even more productive.

In class, I try to give them specific examples of great chapters/lines/characters, so that they can build off those strengths. Still, I am no longer surprised when someone will accuse me of making up “the good stuff.” They say to me, “You’re just saying that, so that you can get to the stuff you mean.”

This is not true. And it is not a good practice. It doesn’t make you a vain person to acknowledge that you are successful. At every stage of the process, you must learn to celebrate and build on what you do well. Ask any published writer about editorial letters. You need to know! If you’re not, it’s really hard to go back into the cave of revisions.

Even if you are a writer with teflon ears, here are some tips to help you accept, enjoy and build on the good stuff.

1. Stop reading the critique before the suggestions begin. Enjoy and celebrate the things you do well. Let that feedback settle in. Let that feedback inspire new ideas. Don’t immediately go into fixer mode.

2. Reread the sections your critiquer thinks work. Ask yourself why they are working. Are they active scenes? Does the reader know what your character wants during these moments?

3. Look at the good scenes and ask, “How could this be even better?” Trust me: this works.  It’s easier to begin to re-imagine your novel when you start at scenes that are working well. Chances are they are your favorite scenes. Chances are spending time on them will make some of those harder scenes more fun to revise.

When you can acknowledge your good work and successes, you are more likely to thrive and write well. I know I write my best when I know that someone believes in my story. This kind of confidence can happen at every stage of the journey. When you know what you do well, you will feel better about the work. You’ll write with more confidence. You will be able to hit those all important goals.

May every day be an appreciation day! Have a great writing week!

3 thoughts on “The good stuff”

  1. Caroline says:

    Love this, Sarah! It is SO important to me to hear what’s working in a piece–not to soothe my ego, but to let me know which parts of the story are moving and interacting as I hoped they would. Knowing what’s good helps me understand what needs to change (and how to change it). And as a critiquer, I love pointing out what’s working in other people’s writing because I can always learn something from their expertise.

    1. Sarah Aronson says:

      Yes, yes, yes!!! It is so true! Acknowledging the good bits helps us thrive. In my classes, I always try to find “seeds,” little gems that, if nurtured, can make the story even more powerful.

      Needless to say, in class, I always learn the most. It’s my privilege to read!!!

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