One of the blogs I follow is Miss Snark's First Victim. This is an excellent site that fosters a great community between published and non-published writers alike. Authoress runs a monthly (apart from June and December) contest, 'Are You Hooked?', where 50 first pages – 250 words – are not only critted by fellow blog followers but also a different 'secret agent' each month. Yep you read that right. A real, living, breathing agent who crits every entry. The secret agent is revealed at the end of the contest . Prizes vary and are at the discretion of the agent, but typically involve requested pages. I advise anyone interested in writing to check out this blog. There is plenty to participate in and lots of ways to get feedback, as well as a lovely 'atmosphere'.
The purpose of today's post is not just to big Authoress' blog up (because, hello, no readers here yet!) but to talk about my first ever experience of critiquing for the entries in this month's 'secret agent' contest. I didn't intend to crit all fifty entries but that's exactly what I ended up doing. It took some time but time is something I have plenty of at the moment. The good thing is that one of the rules of the contest is that the MS must be completed, polished and in agent-sending state before the first page can be submitted. I know that the definition of 'polished' can vary but all the entries were of a reasonable standard which definitely helps.
It was quite a lot tougher than I expected. My plan was to say whether the page 'hooked' me or not and to give my reasons. At this stage of my writing 'career' (stop laughing at the back!) I wasn't expecting to be able to offer much more than that. To my surprise there were actually several instances where I was able to suggest a change or two. Of course it's all subjective but at least I had what I considered to be valid reasons for suggesting the changes.
The most difficult entries to critique were the ones that didn't grab me and I couldn't say why. I didn't want to resort to 'This didn't hook me. The end', so I spent a lot of times on those ones trying to work out exactly what it was that I wasn't keen on. I hope that in the end I managed a balanced judgement on all fifty entries and that something I said somewhere helped at least one of those writers.
I learnt a lot by reading other people's critiques too. To start with, I tried not to read any other comments as I didn't want to be influenced, but near the end it became necessary so I didn't just end up repeating what five other people had said. There were a few comments about people's pages that I know I'm guilty of in my own writing too. It's funny how it's easier to spot when it's someone else's work.
This was definitely a constructive exercise for me, and well worth the time it took. If you aren't already a critiquer (I think I just made that word up) then I strongly encourage you to give it a go, either on Authoress' blog or one of the many others that offer similar opportunities. Not only will you be giving a little something back to this great community of ours but you just might pick up some useful pointers along the way.