Saul Aguilar's picture
Saul Aguilar from Tucson, AZ is reading Waking Up October 7, 2011 - 12:15pm

I'm new to writing.  It was until last year that I decided I wanted to take fiction writing more seriously. I signed up on the Cult but only read and memorized Chuck's essays.  Since then I've only produced one piece of fiction, a short story.

Now my question:

I'd really like to take advantage of the resources available here on LitReactor, but I'm not sure how to begin.  Because I'm so inexperienced to the field my dilemma is two-fold: Do I submit first and learn from the suggestions? Or, do I critique other's work despite my lack of experience and then submit later?

Any insight would be really helpful. I'd really like to 1) Be an active member of this community and provide helpful feedback to others and 2) learn as much as possible from what you, the community, has to offer.


Kirk's picture
Kirk from Pingree Grove, IL is reading The Book Of The New Sun October 7, 2011 - 12:26pm

My opinion is that you do both.

When I went to school for design, what helped me a lot was while working on my own stuff, learning how to objectively critique the work of my peers. In fact, the critique process probably helped me more than anything else. Learning how to effectively express what does and doesn't work is very beneficial in improving your own skills.

If you're uncertain about your ability to do so just yet, my suggestion would be to lead into any critique with that as a note. Most people are thankful for any feedback and if they know where you're coming from it is easier for them to consider your comments.

Waterhouse's picture
Waterhouse from Columbus is reading Bullet Park, John Cheever October 7, 2011 - 12:30pm

I am signing up for the whole megillah in the next couple days. I plan on submitting first; I figure I should feel the slings and arrows of constructive feedback before offering constructive criticism of my own. That is just me though-- I prefer to be on the sharp end of the stick at least once before being on the business end; it helps with that whole "empathy" thing people tell me about. Heh.

I have several pieces at a stage I feel are ready for some feedback, though. Do you have something at hand, or would you have to take time in preparing something? If the latter, you might want to wet your toes by helping others while you get yours ready to be submitted.

I am also easing in by posting on various discussion threads, which is giving me a good feel for the community and making me feel more comfortable about submitting.

Jen Todd's picture
Jen Todd is reading your lifeline and all signs are good October 7, 2011 - 1:11pm

Hey there, Saul!

Firstly, I have to tell you I’ve had no interactions on "The Cult" so it’s possible that I’m under-qualified.  Someone a lot more experienced might come by and trump me.  That happens, too! =D

Anyway, in answer to your question, I would say you should do whatever feels comfortable.  Maybe start by reading.  Not necessarily the publications, themselves, but maybe some of the reviews.  There are some reviewers here who are skilled at sharing their thoughts.  Who do it with humility, humor, or an honesty that people can appreciate or identify with.  Being constructive but still relatable.

That's where I'd start if you're interested in getting involved.  Get the feel for critique and then head off for some of your own.  When you feel comfortable enough, put your work out there for review.  You can get a great sense of what the readers (who are reviewing) are after by just looking at the reviews.

I hope that helps!  Ultimately, and I know you're asking so you can enjoy this situation, but I wouldn't really care too much about what other people think.  They're going to think what they think whether you like it or not.  You're not going to change that.

That, and this is the internet.  You never know when people are being real or if when they're just handing you a line! -grin- You're probably just as experienced as 92% of us.  And the rest just make it look good when they're lying.

I hope you get everything from this experience that you can.


pathetique's picture
pathetique from Seattle is reading Dead Stars October 7, 2011 - 12:33pm

I love the workshop process! I'm trying to put my feelers out in the community before I start using the paid workshop features, but I'm really hoping this works out. I agree with Kirk -- just note that you're new at this. The only way to get not-new is to start, right?

Brandon's picture
Brandon from KCMO is reading Made to Break October 7, 2011 - 1:08pm


You're going to have to delve in on all fronts.

1.) Read a lot.  A lot.  And I don't just mean books, either.  The newpaper, magazines, journals, whatever you can get your hands on really.  Whatever you read will ultimately have some kind of influence on you, so it's important that you're getting a little bit of everything.

2.) Critique regularly.  This is hard for beginners because they have this reservation about telling an author what's wrong or what can be improved.  Don't hold back.  More often than not, the author just wants to know what works or what doesn't.  If you read a piece and are truly at a loss as to what to say about it, then maybe move on to the next one.  If you read something and can't find anything wrong, tell the author what they're doing right. Having said that, I would concentrate on being able to critique before submitting.  You'd be surprised how much looking at other people's stuff will help you with your own.

3.) Regarding submissions, do as much as you can yourself before you throw something into the fold.  That means: spelling and grammar, punctuation, and clean formatting.  No one expects perfection, but at bare minimum, have the basics taken care of.  Make sure you specifically ask the questions you want answered in your author's agenda.  If you don't, then don't expect it to be addressed.  Most importantly, stay open-minded.  Critiques will vary greatly from person to person.

If you actively do these three things, your writer IQ will go up, no question.

Hope that helps,


Saul Aguilar's picture
Saul Aguilar from Tucson, AZ is reading Waking Up October 7, 2011 - 2:13pm

Thank you everyone for the advice; it's really helpful and motivating (even though it's a bit intimidating as well).  I'm excited to begin this new step in my life and hoping I'll reap the benefits of engaging with a community of like-minded people!

simon morris's picture
simon morris from Originally, Philadelphia, PA; presently Miami Beach, FL is reading This Body of Death, by Elizabeth George October 17, 2011 - 3:40pm

I agree completely with Kirk. There are no secrets to writing. It is a process that begins with a desire, continues with allowing your thoughts to be transcribed where others can read them and then using others to help you learn how to polish what comes from your creative centers. The process is a dual learning by writing and critiquing the work of others. You learn more with every step you take. You learn to recognize flat writing by seeing contrasting styles. You learn how to spot redundancies that come out when you are writing a first draft. You learn the power of words and how to differentiate between a dead word that fills space and a live one that creates an image in the mind of the reader.

You learn that a story is made up of many facets including but not limited to plot, characters, dialogue, narration. A story has phases and each serves a purpose in storytelling.

The first thing you learn is to trust the process. If there is anyone here mean enough to say bad things about your work without justifying it with a full explanation, report them. "I don't like it" may be fine when you are talking to your mom about Brussels sprouts but has no relevance to a writer when he is trying to learn how to compose a story or why a particular piece doesn't work.

Once you learn the basics, you add ingredients to the stew. You learn how to use conflict and pacing. You learn how to drop a red herring into the mix to keep the reader guessing. You learn to let go of your old way of thinking about language and using it in a more planned manner with your thesaurus and dictionary close at hand and well used.

And you learn when to stop editing and revising and call it complete. That one is simple. When is a story finished? When you discover that you could continue revising it forever.