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Vermont Writing Retreat

Friday – March 19, 2010

Vermont Writing College Conference


Here I am – my second time here at this VT writing conference. The first evening was filled with introductions and the discussions of our current favorite mid-grade and YA titles. (What a list I have…more on that later…)


Joyce Shor Johnson is my roommate – yay! What a lucky draw THAT was. Hilarious & talented…great combination. Also, conveniently enough, I met her at last year’s SCBWI NE conference!


The book discussion ended with a planning period and goal setting presentation by conference co-leader Sarah Aronson. Here’s a summary of the key points about critiquing made by our three presenters:



This is what Roaring Brook Press agent Nancy Mercado gave as advice to writers in critique groups: Be Quiet. When you are receiving a critique…listen.


It makes sense doesn’t it? Have you ever had a discussion or argument with someone and the person isn’t listening to you? You can tell he is merely thinking about the next point he wants to make…or how he is preparing a rebuff of your line of reasoning. You know he will never get what you are trying to communicate because his mind is closed.


If you truly want to learn, listen. Perhaps the ideas or changes may never come to fruition, but don’t negate them immediately.


Mercado illustrated her point with an excellent example of one very smart writer. He told Nancy when she calls or sends him suggestions, he just “pretends she is right.” He listens. Then afterwards, he lets it sit, contemplating her ideas. Later, when he has mulled it over, he takes action, implementing much of what she suggested.


Another presenter, author Emily Lockhart chimed in with being on the receiving end of critiquing. She told us to keep our freak-outs to ourselves. “Get it out of your system” on your own, she advised. Talk to a loved one, writing friend, or yourself. Don’t confront. Don’t try to explain what you meant. After a brief time, go back to your work and first begin fixing the small things with which you agreed. Soon the major issues covered in the critique might make sense to you and you will be able to tackle those, too.


Lastly, author Uma Krishnaswami chimed in with her take on critiquing. She, too, advised us writers to listen. She explained that if a critique partner shows us a problem and then tells us how to fix it, we can use part of the advice. Uma told us to examine the issues in our manuscripts. “Perhaps you will find another way to fix it,” she said. It may not be the way the critiquing partner suggested, but at least you listened enough to hear what was being said.


Next Post: Uma Krishnaswami’s great presentation on “The Heartbeat of Story: Tempo and Rhythm in a Scene”

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