Guest Blog, Writing

GUEST BLOG: Berry Picking and the Critique Process by Carrie Finison

Today I am delighted to have fellow Poets’ Garage member Carrie Finison as my guest blogger.  Like me, Carrie is passionate about poetry and rhyming. I also recently discovered that we share another love – berry picking. Take it away, Carrie!

When it comes to berry-picking, I’m a lot like Robert McCloskey’s Sal — one for the bucket, three in my mouth. Recently, I started thinking about the parallels between “berrying” (I’ll invoke my poetic license for that one) and the critique process.

You have to look hard to find the best berries.  

Good berry patches are often hidden. But once you discover them you can go back year after year. Similarly, it takes time to find quality critique partners. I’ve gathered mine in several places: community education classes, SCBWI conferences, Verla Kay’s Blueboards, and online challenges like Tara Lazar’s Picture Book Idea Month and Julie Hedlund’s 12×12 Picture Book Challenge.

Some berries (and critiques) are sweet; some are sour.  

Like berries, some critiques ooze sweetness. Some are so sour your lips pucker. The best critiques are a mix of the two — they blend encouragement and specific comments on strengths with constructive criticism and suggestions for improvement. And they taste just right.

Watch out for prickles! 

Sometimes you must guard against prickles when harvesting critique comments. Nobody understood the scene you loved. The words you carefully selected were deemed “bland.” Your main character was not likeable. But press on through these thorns, and learn from them, and your work will be stronger – and you might learn some tricks for avoiding prickles the next time.

Timing is everything. 

Berries are delicious when they’re ripe — but can be inedible when picked too early or too late. I’ve found that my manuscripts also have a ‘right time’ for critiquing. If it’s too early, the comments focus on issues I knew were problematic and should have fixed. If I wait too long, it gets harder to scrap my precious words in favor of another approach.

Take care of your berry patch. A berry patch needs pruning and care to produce great berries. As a writer, I try to take care of my critique partners by making the critiques I give as thoughtful as I can. It has been just as valuable to be on the giving end of critiques as on the receiving end.

Carrie Finison tries to read, write, and rhyme every day. She writes a variety of forms for children and her poems and stories have appeared (or are forthcoming) in Babybug, Ladybug, High Five, and Highlights magazines, and the sports poetry anthology And the Crowd Goes Wild! (August, 2012). In addition, she writes and develops content for educational publishers. She does all this from an ever-shrinking amount of space on her kitchen counter in Arlington, Massachusetts.

19 thoughts on “GUEST BLOG: Berry Picking and the Critique Process by Carrie Finison”

  1. Lovely analogy, Carrie! Alas, I am such an un-prolific writer that I have not inflicted myself on a critique group as yet. But hopefully I’ll grow more berries in the future and will find just the right people to pick (at) them. Analogies are fun!

    I’d also like to know more about the Poets’ Garage — perhaps a post on that? 🙂 Thanks to you both!

    1. Thanks, Renee! I’m also not that prolific, so I hear you. Somehow I’ve found that being in a group actually makes me write more — or at least write down my ideas more regularly and take them more seriously. Let me know if you ever want to swap anything!

      1. Oh, thanks for the offer. I’m always up for swapping! I do swap with one person I met through 12×12 and, like you, find that it gets me writing more. If I ever write another poem, I’ll send it your way (and vice versa!).

  2. I regret that the 3 – yes THREE – raspberries that emerged on my canes this year were plucked away by birds or squirrels before I could harvest them. Ah well, next year another crop, I hope a bigger one. My lame analogy is that we just planted these canes this spring, so much like becoming a strong writer it takes time and care to develop a the foundation for a productive field !

    1. Cathy- my mother-in-law has a huge raspberry patch (our main source) and it has been the same way this summer. Very few berries. It’s soooo disappointing. The fall crop looks good though. I hope yours come in!

  3. Laura, thank you for the opportunity to learn from Carrie!
    Carrie, I loved your “berry” patch analogy…when we lived in Connecticut, we had 100 blueberry bushes…and when they were ripe, they were amazing! I always welcome feedback on anything I write…there are awesome rhymers out there…many times they can direct me on a path I hadn’t thought of before.

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