10 Aug


Those of us who belong to writer’s critique groups may resist the rule of the “Vow of Silence.”  Let’s say someone has read your piece and is giving feedback.  Can you be quiet?  Can you listen?  I know, I know.  It’s darn near impossible to listen to someone who obviously doesn’t understand your piece.  You feel MUST tell them they’re not “getting it,” and besides, they are probably talking about the part that is your favorite part.  Or the part that REALLY happened that way.

I tell my students to wait.  To listen.  To be silent!

Why is that?

When you defend instead of listen you’re going to miss good feedback.

  • Open your notebook, not your mouth.
  • Write down everything your reader says.
  • Clarify any confusion.
  • Say thanks.  Tell them you’ll look at it in the morning.

The next morning may show you that the reader was way off-base (they often are, by the way), but it will also tell you that something  about your writing needs fixing.  Perhaps your words confused him; perhaps your character is acting in an unbelievable way; perhaps you added distracting info that threw your reader off (See the writing prompt below).   In any case, by writing the comments down, your attention was drawn to a section that is possibly flawed.  Now, you can work on fixing whatever wasn’t working.


What is it about compliments that gets us confused and embarrassed?  We say, oh yes, I’m good at dialogue; I don’t need to write that down.  Or we say, they must be kidding about that grand metaphor or those good sensory details.  Please write positive comments down and look at them in the morning along with the comments that weren’t so positive.  Enjoy a compliment.  Learn to recognize and value the good things you do so you can REPEAT them!

What a concept!  Repeating GOOD habits? Am I crazy, or what?


Think of a place you love — a particular beach, a forest, a room, perhaps a place you can no longer go to.  Using lots of sensory details (smells, tastes, touch, sights, and sounds), describe this place in ways that will show the reader how much you love it there.  Do not use the word “love” and do not tell the reader how you feel about this place.  Let him “get it.”


Write again about the same place, but this time notice that it’s no longer pleasant.  (Any location will have details that speak one way to us one day, and another way on another day.)  Perhaps this time you will notice a bad smell, or a disturbing sound that you never noticed before.  Perhaps, there was always decay there, but you overlooked that before.  Show the reader how much you dislike this place without telling him.  Let him “get it” through the sensory details that are in this new piece.


The sensory details we select for our descriptions will influence the reader.  Out of all the possible sensory details you might use, be sure to choose the ones that will do the right work for you — will convey an emotion or evoke a certain response in the reader.


2 Responses to “THE VOW OF SILENCE”

  1. Jason A. Kilgore August 13, 2012 at 1:09 am #

    One of your greatest lessons! I’m guilty of being “in love with my words,” so it’s so valuable for me to keep my mouth closed when receiving critique (and my mind open). It pays off, every time. Even if, after later thought, I still don’t agree with a critique, it always points at areas I need to strengthen to help others see what I’m trying to do with a phrase or theme. Cheers and happy writing!

    • Ann Marie Etheridge August 23, 2012 at 12:32 am #

      I couldn’t agree more, Jason! Also, I find that in my writing group, a section that one reader enjoys may evoke the opposite response from another reader. So just keeping my mouth shut, and taking an honest look the next day, gives me invaluable direction.

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