Critical Error

Having your first draft critiqued can be hard, especially if it took some time to complete, but it will only get better if you are positive about its criticism. You can’t improve your writing if you think it’s already perfect.

If it’s the first draft-believe me when I say this-it’s shitty.

I’m sure most people are familiar with the term shitty-first-draft. I would hope people are familiar with it-but just for clarification: your first draft is shitty. It’s an absolute pile of it and it’s not your fault. All first drafts are a huge pile. You know why? Because you know what you meant to write. You let it flow from your head through your fingertips to the keyboard or pen to the computer or paper. You fixed what you thought was ugly and turned it into gold. Problem is, you aren’t an alchemist and writing isn’t good because the writer thinks so-it’s good because the audience thinks so. With that in mind, all writing needs to be seen by a test audience.

Cyanide and Happiness

The key to improving your piece, creative or academic, is being receptive to criticism. Which means the following phrases are off limits:

You just don’t understand it.

welpYes. Exactly. I don’t. And guess what? That’s your problem. If I, as the reader, as the audience, don’t understand what you’ve written than it isn’t written well. It doesn’t mean that you are somehow smarter than me, the reader, or the audience, it means that you have not done a sufficient job of leading me down the intended path.

Well it’s part of a longer piece. This all makes sense if you read the rest of it.

Why am I reading a portion of it in the first place? Granted this situation mostly happens in Creative Writing classes, but I will repeat: Why am I reading a portion? You as the writer have the responsibility to inform me, the reader, the audience, to the situation which you are showing me. Furthermore, you the student have the responsibility to write a new piece for class and not bring in your shitty first drafts to be presented as a piece which you have rigorously edited and revised.

I know it’s a little longer than expected…

DelYou shouldn’t have to apologize for this unless, of course, you have filler material. Do I need to know what color the chair is? Sure. Do I need to know that the character bought it at a yard sale five years ago? Only if it pertains to the plot. Do people sometimes say words like “uh,” “hmm,” “err,” and “oh?” Yes, but it doesn’t need to be in all of your dialogue.

My mother / father / grandma / grandpa / sister / brother / cousin / aunt / uncle / neighbor liked it just fine.

Here are some issues with that:

  1. pthththtThey love you too much to read it closely for errors
  2. Your loved ones do not want to tell you that it’s awful
  3. Chances are they are not trained to edit your material

So let’s call it quits with the excuses. When your piece is receiving criticism, your work shoppers are not doing it to be mean-they are doing it to help you improve the piece.

I’d like to end with a story:

Once upon a semester, there was a young writing arts major who fancied herself a phenomenal writer. She worked hard on her fiction assignment, carefully perusing her computer for a previously written piece because she had forgotten all about the assignment due in just a few short hours. She copied and pasted the last chapter she had written, despite it being seven pages over the limit and emailed it to her class at 11:00pm the night before they had to workshop it.

The girl went about her day, writing in her journal and eating low grade cafeteria food and sauntered over to her class 10 minutes into the period. The class was waiting for her to begin workshopping her piece and so everyone had a printed copy in front of them.

“I don’t get this part,” some of them said.

“We’ve just jumped to a new scene?” said others.

“The spelling errors are so bad I can’t even decipher what some of these sentences were supposed to say,” said one girl.

When her class had finished with the piece they had a list of errors

  • spelling errors
  • cliches
  • poor use of deus ex machina
  • forced, unnatural sounding dialogue
  • grammatical errors
  • formatting issues
  • poorly defined setting

During the time her piece was work shopped, the girl looked at her
phone and read posts on Tumblr, Facebook, and Twitter. She texted her friends and did anything but listen to the workshop. When her class had finished, it was the girl’s turn to defend her piece.

“You just don’t understand, obviously,” said the girl, finally putting her cell phone down. “It’s part of a longer piece that I wrote years ago.”

“Then maybe you could have provided a synopsis of what comes before this at the beginning. We could have used more context.”

“Well, my grandmother thinks it works fine on its own,” said the girl with a huff.

The boy next to her laughed and said “I don’t think she read it then.”

The girl refused to fix the errors in her piece. Refused to even discuss posible changes to the overarching story.

She turned her piece of fiction in without any changes.


Fun Fact: There are 13 different drafts of this post. How many errors did you find? How many phrases would you have changed?

Check out the last Writing Tip Tuesday Post: Try NOT to Edit


By J. M. Tuckerman

J.M.Tuckerman is a neurodivergent writer with a big education. She holds an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults, an MA in Writing, and a BA in Writing Arts (specializing in Creative Writing, New Media Writing, and Publication; concentrating in New Media Production), which she somehow managed to earn despite her three very loud and large dogs. Jessica was lucky enough to intern at Quirk Books and Picador, USA while earning her master’s degrees. Her service dog, Ringo, is very proud of all that she has accomplished and hopes to be on a back cover of a published book with her very soon. An avid reader, writer, and lover of young adult and middle-grade literature, Jessica’s bookshelf is overflowing with hardbacks, paperbacks, and a million half-filled notebooks. She is a proud fur-mommy to two lab/st-bernard littermates, a retriever-mix service dog, and one orange little hobgoblin cat, all of whom have made very audible appearances on the Booked All Night podcast.

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