That First Critique, by Lindsay Bandy

I was in a cold sweat. It was my first SCBWI conference AND my first professional critique. I’d had various relatives read my manuscript, but that was about it. I was afraid I would lose my lunch – and I haven’t done that since the second grade, knock on wood. ( 24 years and going strong! Woo!)

Aside from the general fear that it would’t go well, I felt guilty for spending the money on myself when I was staying home with my kids full-time. But then I realized that the savings bond my great-grandmother gave me at my birth had finally come to maturity. I cashed it in, hoping to make Grammom Klopp proud – though being a child of the Great Depression, she probably would have used it to pay the water bill and buy toilet paper. Anyway, I was going to use it to pay for my very first writer’s conference and professional critique (!!!) and I just hoped nobody would say “Uh, you should have spent your money on toilet paper.” I got up before the crack of dawn and drove to Maryland to find out if I was crazy. (Giving myself that pep talk alone in the car probably didn’t help with the not-looking-crazy thing, though.)

I was scheduled for a critique with the lovely Edie Hemingway. Edie, I don’t know if you remember this or not, but I want you to know that your encouragement and kind words made all the difference. I felt suddenly brave! You made me feel like a writer. You made me feel not-crazy. THANK YOU for that!

After coming home from the conference, I decided to get more involved in my local chapter of SCBWI. I’ve since learned the art of a critique, and come to cherish the questions, concerns, and comments that critique partners give. I’ve found an amazing critique group that gives me feedback, therapy, and friendship. I can even get through a pro critique without fear of breaking my 24-year-no-vomit streak! Go me! And now, as I work through agent revisions and look forward to editors’ notes, I still think of Edie’s gentle gift of encouragement that sent me on my way to believing I could do this for real.

Thinking about the “stepping stones” on your writing/illustrating journey, has anyone given you a similar gift? Please share in the comments. And don’t forget to tag/tweet/e-mail them! The kind words matter!

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4 Responses to That First Critique, by Lindsay Bandy

  1. Yes! I remember my first critique — actually room opened up for two, so last minute I submitted a second MS. Anyway, it was the third conference I ever attended, and I was finally brave enough to submit something for a professional critique. For the first, my critiquer and I chatted about my MS, and she told me she thought the PB story I had submitted might be better suited for a MG instead. For the second, I was pleasantly surprised my critiquer and I had an easy-going, back-and-forth conversation which got my wheels turning again on a MS that was “stuck.” I was shocked when she said she thought I had a good feel for picture books and then asked I was working on anything else. As a relative newbie, I didn’t have much, but I came up with a brief description of what I was also working on. I was floored when she said, “When you think it’s ready, send it to me.”

  2. ediehemingway says:

    Lindsay, thank you for sending me a link to this blog post. You just made my day! How wonderful to think that my encouragement helped you on your way to a writing career. Best of luck to you and please keep me posted!

  3. I was working on two dummies when a friend introduced me to a published author-illustrator. We met in the city for a drink and he was kind enough to offer to look at my work. He really disliked the first dummy I showed him and gave it one of the most negative critiques I’ve ever had. However the next dummy, he thought was quite funny and had potential. The experience helped me realize that, if I get negative feedback, it may really just be that the manuscript wasn’t the right fit for that person, rather than a reflection of my skills as a writer. It also helped me realize that I could receive a negative critique and stay on my feet, ready to march forward.

  4. Susan Sempeles says:

    My first critique was like a gift. Last fall I was able to attend the Crash Course in Publishing Children’s Books presented by the Highlights Foundation. It was my first major conference. Jo Knowles (www.joknowles.com), a terrifically talented author who was part of the faculty, was available for critiques and I submitted the first 10 pages of my MG novel. Jo’s feedback was specific, generous, thought-provoking, encouraging and so very helpful. In fact, I have found the children’s book publishing community as a whole to be quite supportive. Wish all the circles I must travel in were so nice!

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