Monday, February 7, 2011

You Have to Be A Really Good Sifter

It's true. Sure, you have to know how to write first, but we're beyond that, right? Among other things we know all too well, we have to have patience, an open mind, an eye for detail, a voice, etc. Been there, done that, checked it off my list, now what?

We have to be really good sifters. That's what comes after everything we already thought of.

Sifting is a skill required for getting through revisions, edits, critiques, etc.

Actually sifting runs deep. For ladies we are just beginning to learn how to sift when all that baby advice comes into play (do this, don't EVER do that and you'll be just fine). For men, sifting is what you start doing when you get engaged and all your married buddies have all kinds of advice on marriage. You realize at some point (usually years later) that most of the advice didn't really apply to your situation.

If you don't have kids and you aren't married then you might not understand these versions of sifting, don't worry, you're a writer. Your book is like a child and a marriage all wrapped into one. You've likely already been told what to do and what not to do and you've decided there's no way you can get it done without breaking some of those rules or going against parts of that advice, that's when you start sifting.

Let's say you put your query or the first 250 words of your story on a blog fest or forum. You know you're going to get comments and you're pretty sure some of them aren't going to be very nice. That's when you decide that you have to have a thick skin for this business so you'll take whatever you get, or you're waiting for some kind of external approval on your skill and if that means revisions then so be it. Before you go to such extremes think about what kind of commenters you're going to get.

Commenters are such interesting people. Some are doing it because the forum mandates a certain amount of participation via comments. Some commenters just love to go around and create controversy and spark confusion. Some are just being nice and are there solely to show their support so they won't have much in the way of constructive feedback. Some commenters are reading your posting first and some are reading your post after they've already used up all their judicious perspective on 40 other posts before yours. Some are awake and some are half asleep. Some are taking a break from a frustrating part of their own stories and are taking out their frustration on your piece. Some commenters just received seven of their own negative comments and need to prove a point. How can you know for sure what kind of commenter you're getting? BY KEEPING ALL THIS IN MIND AND SIFTING.

While sifting consider these points:
  1. Automatically dismiss any criticism that comes from commenters who replace words like 'the' for 'da' and have nothing but harsh things to say about what you've posted. That's a Keyword Dismissal. It might not be DA that ticks you off it might be some other careless word. Odds are pretty good that commenters that don't use proper English aren't going to have the type of knowledge or opinion that will have much of a bearing on the success of your writing.
  2. Tactless. If your query or portion of your story has been commented on and the commenter has just ripped you apart and shown, in bullet points (who knew a commenter could use bullet points), how you should have done it and they can't find even one good thing in your writing then DISMISS this comment. There's no need for anyone to be harshly critical about something they've only read a snippet of. And if they can't find anything good in your writing but think they could do it better then you know right away they are teachers and not doers. What if they've never even written a book before? What if they're just bloggers and not writers at all? What is their credential? Why should this comment matter to you?
  3. They start with, "I don't read this genre, but. . ." Be wary. They might be nice and they might have some creative advice but if they don't read Sci-Fiction or Paranormal and that's what you write then how do they know for sure your snippet isn't realistic for your character or that parts of your story don't make sense? If a commenter only reads adult fiction then how would they know if your character sounds more MG than YA? SIFT WRITERS SIFT.
  4. Conflicting advice should be taken with a grain of salt as well. The commenter may be too tired from reading several other posts and then reaches yours and gives you two pieces of advice that don't make sense. Realize you're not getting fresh eyes or an open mind and should move on to the next comment.
  5. Short Story Comments. To me, any comment that begs for more information inside of 250 words is a short story commenter. If they wanted to see more of this, or wished the character would hurry and do whatever inside of 250 words, they are, more or less, asking you to sum up thousands of words into a short story. Twilight is the best example for this. During the first 250 words of Twilight we realize the MC is a dark/negative character who is moving away from her "hair-brained mother" to a small town she's always hated just to live with her dad. That's it. A negative girl moving. Inside of 250 words she doesn't tell us why she's moving, what she's leaving behind other than her mother (no boyfriends, friends, etc.), whether or not she has siblings, etc. And who cares? Not me. I'm a patient reader. I know the MC has a purpose, that the story is about to get exciting, that other characters are going to come into play, I trust the writer. I don't need a lot of info in the first 250 words.



  1. Good post. I don't do the blogfests or even post much about my writing because that's work and my blog is more about my break away from work. That said, I enjoyed your post and have been wondering how things are with your mom. I haven't been online that long these days, so please forgive me if I missed a post you wrote about her. Either way, I've been thinking about you and wondering how you are.

    - Ivy

  2. I don't skip comments, although I tend to take "oh wow that is wonderful" at face value.

    On the other hand... I realize how difficult it is for people to be honest about others' works in public.


  3. This is a very important post. It is important to take comments in context but we often don't know what the context is, so we sift!

  4. What terrific advice! I confess I occasionally use "cuz" instead of "cause" but only to underscore that I'm being facetious.

    To be honest, I haven't put much of my original work (what I consider my "real" writing) out there. I guess I prefer to wait for someone in the profession to take a look. Or maybe I'm just chicken. :)

  5. This is great advice. I've only had a couple people look at my work and already I struggle with what to change and what not to!

  6. Articulate, thought provoking, and true.

    You may comment on my blog anytime.... lol


  7. Good post. I love all the advice I get from my critique partners and even on message boards. But yes, you do need to sift. I do take use a lot of the suggestions, but also leave some alone too. Even Stephen King says in his On Writing book, that if the majority say one thing, he'll keep it. If it's a split or less, he keeps it the way he had it. (I'm paraphrasing, can't remember his exact words.)

  8. My favorite comment was one some girl left on my query at Public Query Slushpile. I put up my query for my first book and some people actually left helpful comments. One girl left a comment just saying that maybe I should enroll in a writing course at my local community college. Comments like those are hilarious ... and enfuriating. Sifting is essential.

    Love that you turned this into a post!

  9. This is a thoughtful post, Patricia. So true. I'm sure most of us are half asleep when we're blogging. Not a good time for serious comment which could devastate a newby. That said, some comments are so helpful if you specifically ask for advice. It is so easy just to be nice.

    Happy sifting!


  10. This is great advice! Thanks, Patricia. I'm looking forward to crusading with you! (And 21k in 8 days? You're a legend!!!)

  11. Really sound advice. We can get a bit defensive when it comes to our writing. =)
    Stopping by to introduce myself as a new follower and fellow crusader. Did you find out what group you're in yet?