This interview features published author and editor, Cindy Foley. Cindy has been a member of The Space Coast Writers’ Guild since 2012. She recently finished her term as the Guild President and has also served as treasurer and director of the organization.

What is the necessity of critique?

Cindy: Writing is (usually) an individual craft. The author creates his or her ideas in their own “space” whether it be an office, at a coffee shop, or by the beach. They put the words down, in most cases, by themselves without help from others. Because it is a creative art which we engage in with the hopes that someone else will engage with us (i.e., readers we must have other writers review and “critique” the work before we present it to the general population). This is somewhat similar to employing an editor and is usually free and a little less intimidating.

Why is it important to have the work critiqued?

Cindy: Because writers are “snow blind” to their own work. We know our stories and our characters inside and out. Our brains will fill in missing pieces, even if we have not put them down in words. We may not have described our character because we already know them so well. We may not have included those identifying “differences” which define them and only them. We may miss essential timing incongruities. We may think we’ve resolved secondary plot issues, but possibly we haven’t. A good editor or critic will catch those errors in our writing.

What would you say to writers who feel their editing skills are proficient enough not to require an editor?

Cindy: This may sound snarky but, if your editing skills are good enough, then you shouldn’t have a problem letting someone read your work before publishing. My question is – why don’t you want someone to read your work before you publish? I’ve asked other writers if they belong to a critique group or have had their work read before publishing. Occasionally, I get the answer, “Oh, I couldn’t do that.” In my opinion, work that is published by someone who is afraid to let someone else read it beforehand usually isn’t well-written or has some major flaw that may have been detected and corrected before publication.

Just do it. The more we put our work out there for critique, the easier it gets to do so, and the better our work becomes.

How is editing helpful in getting published?

Cindy: It helps the work to be more polished, more professional. And, it teaches us how to be better at our craft.

Should a writer join a critique group?

Cindy: Simple answer — yes! I belong to a four-member critique group. And, I have a friend who has one writing partner. Work within a set of boundaries that makes you comfortable.

What makes a good critique group?

Cindy: Guidelines. When the guidelines are not followed (with flexibility) the group can fall apart.

  • Stick to a schedule as much as possible.
  • Set a number of pages for each submission. Use elements to guide your critique (i.e., Setting, Flow, Theme, Mood, Conflict, Dialogue, Characters, Point of View, Mechanics, Overall.)
  • Mark the manuscript but don’t waste precious meeting time on punctuation unless it is clearly a learning moment. I’d rather learn a Point Of View lesson than worry about where a comma goes.
  • Use the sandwich method: Start your critique of someone’s work with praise. Then, suggest the noted corrections. End with praise.

My critique group meets on a regular basis, twice a month. Each member of my group submits five to eight pages — cutting the submission off where there is a good stopping point. Allow some flexibility. It’s important to submit at least one week before meeting to allow your critique partners time to do the work.

What is the most challenging aspect of editing?

Cindy: It may be important to consider changing critique groups after a while. There’s something to be said for not getting too close to your group. The closer we get to someone, the harder it is to be objective. If you are paying a professional editor, one would hope that the editor is honest and objective — and uses the sandwich method.

Once you have worked with your critique group or a writing partner, you edit your piece…and edit it again…taking one element at a time and considering it. This takes time. If the critique group no longer is working for you — maybe it’s gotten too large, or you’ve become too personal with its members. Find another one or create one from your peers. That’s why joining groups like the Space Coast Writers’ Guild, the Florida Writers’ Association, or Scribblers of Brevard is a good idea.  

Are there any good books that will help an author with editing?

Cindy: My group uses the Chicago Manual of Style, with exception in dialogue. You can get away with almost everything in dialogue. Another good book is 1,000 Character Reactions from Head to Toe by Valerie Howard. We use this book when we have said “he walked” or “he said” too often rather than using a good tag, which can help identify a character.

Tips for picking an editor?

Cindy: My number one tip is references. Ask a good writer who they use. Often, the writing is good because the writer was willing to listen to an outside opinion and then worked on their piece again, and again, and again. My second tip is to expect honesty. This is key. Too often, people are afraid to give their honest feedback unless they’re paid to do it. Flowery praises will not help a writer learn the craft.

What’s the most important element of a good critique/edit?

Cindy: To me, it’s being able to take criticism of your work. Be open-minded. Listen. Take into consideration what has been said. And remember, you don’t have to make all of the changes.

Who are your favorite authors?

Cindy: James Michener is one. He wrote one of my favorite books, Chesapeake. Another great author is Pulitzer prize winner, Richard Powers. He wrote my all time favorite book The Overstory. Lastly, Louise Penny. She writes in an omniscient point of view…and gets away with it.

Any advice for new authors?

Cindy: Don’t be afraid to put it out there, work with other writers, and be patient with the editing process. The first draft is almost always a good idea regurgitated onto the page. It’s the editing that polishes the story.

Believe in your gift; there’s a reason you love doing it. Just do it.