Writing Excuses 7.10: Importance of Criticism, with David Brin

David Brin joined Mary and Dan at World Fantasy to pound the importance of criticism into our heads. Our episode opens with a discussion of what your first book should be (a murder mystery) and why David recommends this to his students.

And then on to criticism. It’s important for us, as writers, to be criticized because we’re all liars, and criticism is the only way to get decent product quality out of us. Unfortunately, we tend to hate the thing that we need the most. So David, Dan, and Mary discuss how to reconcile these two competing points, and how to seek criticism (and lots of other stuff, including how to learn by re-typing something.)


What if dreams became so much more vivid that when you woke up, for a full hour you didn’t know whether you were still dreaming or not?

Startide Rising, by David Brin, narrated by George Wilson

30 thoughts on “Writing Excuses 7.10: Importance of Criticism, with David Brin”

  1. Fantastic podcast. David made me laugh so hard I almost cried during his introduction

  2. Really great episode. I really enjoyed David Brin. I would love to have him on again at some point.

  3. I’m with Ed. Loving the show but in several of the most recent episodes, it’s been difficult to hear some of the speakers. But after seeing the recording process first hand at Life, The Universe, and Everything 2012, I see what a difficult time Jordo and the gang can have anywhere but their home recording spot. Considering, how at conventions, they have to interface with foreign equipment and have little control over the acoustics of the room, its amazing they turn out as well as they do.

    I’ve meant to read some of Brin’s stuff for years but haven’t gotten around to it. After hearing him talk, I’ll have to bump him up to the top of my reading pile… right after I try out his method of learning the magician’s secrets.

  4. This was a fascinating episode. It starts with the suggestion of writing a mystery, then gives you a mystery to solve. The author immediately admits to having a large ego, but also a sense of humor. So was his constant over-the-top self-aggrandizement real or just some form of satire? We may never know.

    The one thing I can say for sure, though, is that this would make an awesome Saturday Night Live sketch. I can perfectly picture Will Farrell, maybe with a beard and glasses, channelling his James Lipton impersonation, playing the main character.

  5. All of the episodes from World Fantasy will have the same audio problem. Dan and I were going solo and didn’t have Jordo to help us.

    Also, Dan kills microphones like no one I’ve ever known. Seriously. Why is it always his that dies?

  6. I agree with Ricard. This was a fantastic episode. It wasn’t until Mary brought the discussion back on topic that I even realized that the conversation had strayed. David’s verbal incantation had me completely entranced.

  7. I would have like a bit more on how one finds (and/or selects) Alpha and Beta readers. Perhaps a follow-up episode sometime down the road?

  8. Great podcast guys! I’m a regular user of Critters.org and it can be a helpful tool, but you need to take what people say in stride. A general rule of thumb I have is I take note if one person mentions not liking something, I re-examine if two people identify the same thing, and I consider cutting or changing if more than two point something out. Even then, I take what’s said with a grain of salt as not everyone who’s reading my stuff is an editor or even a published author. There are a lot of people in the same boat as me.

  9. I must be initiated into the cryptic ways of becoming one of David Brin’s young author acolytes.


  10. Was I the only one who found Mr. Brin’s voice annoying? I thought it sounded like someone trying their hardest to get a bunch of bored second graders interested in what he had to say. The content was good, but I just felt like he was talking down to all us little people the whole time.

  11. Great ‘cast, as usual! I don’t know if this is the right place to request a can-of-worms, but here goes:

    Would it be possible to do an episode about The Story as a Soapbox? I have a novel that wears its politics on its sleeve, but I’m trying at the same time to tell a story that people of all stripes will enjoy. I know some authors have done this well (Steinbeck and Orwell come to mind), and some have done it poorly (in the tradition of this podcast, they shall remain nameless). I’m very worried that I may have made some rookie mistakes that put me in the latter category. Do you have any suggestions?

  12. I would really champion finding a writing group that meets in your area. I love my group that meets up at a local bookstore. You can submit a work each month, and everyone reviews it. Very handy, and in any city near 250,000 people, you should be able to find a group that’s up your alley.

  13. Most delightful. I can tell Mr. Brin teaches writing. And thanks to Mary and Dan for the interview, even with Dan’s mike-slaying superpowers. I hope there will be a general World Fantasy report from the two of you?

    Yes, typing another author’s words is amazingly helpful, the mechanics do become far more apparent – the pacing, seeing how and what information is revealed. And it translates to how I see things when I type up my own stuff far better – maybe because it slows everything down to my typing speed?

    I have heard excellent things about Critters.org; they look like an excellent outfit. I’d like to put in a word for CritiqueCircle.org as well – they’re all genres, but there’s a heavy SF&F presence, which means you get the fun of someone saying, “I hate fantasy, but I love this.” Both Critters and CritiqueCircle are free and well-monitored.

  14. @Mary Robinette Kowal
    Dan kills microphones because he is a wizard…and probably not a white wizard.

    Also, during the podcast you said something like, “As I was listening to you talk, I was wondering,” and then you paused. My brain inserted, “if you were ever going to stop.”
    David Brin had a lot of great things to say, but he used many words to say them. The normal team is usually much more spare with their discussions. He must not be used to the short format that writing excuses has adopted. I wonder if he’s the type of author that has to cut a lot during revision. It still thoroughly enjoyed the episode.

    David Brin is obviously a teacher and I don’t know if he knows how to turn off his teacher voice. I’ve heard that voice from professors before. It’s not restricted to 2nd grade teachers.

  15. I have noticed that something is wrong with one of your microphones. This week it was David Brin’s mic. When listened through a stereo headphone the feed bounces between left and right. In previous episodes it was someone else.
    David Brin had a great blog and is active on G+.

  16. Thanks, Mary. I was thinking more specifics on how you find them and what kind of attributes they usefully have, but after reading the blog post, I realized the answer is: if they can do what Laura says they should be able to do, then they’re a good alpha-readers. That is, who do you know who won’t be tempted “to fix” (or can at least resist that temptation).

  17. @Klimpaloon I had the very same problem. I had difficulty getting all the way through the podcast because I alternately felt like he was talking down to the audience or trying much too hard to be “on”. Given the rest of the posts I think we may be alone in this.

  18. @Cornan and @Klkimpaloon – you’re not alone. But I’ve seen/heard David Brin before, and he _always_ talks like that, to most any audience, and occassionally will catch himself doing it and lampshade himself. He has a very definite “Great Teacher” vibe, but it mitigates slightly because he’s nearly always right and the usually most knowledgable and experienced guy in the room. It makes for very interesting but always humbling, listening.

  19. The best teachers not only know their subject, but are, in a sense, theatrical performers. Mr. Brin hits on both points. I bet he’s fascinating to watch. I got the feel of a magician up on stage. I’d love you guys to have him back. ^_^

  20. Great podcast – David Brin had some really great stuff to say.

    Although, Mary talked over him at one point and he almost didn’t get to finish a really key thought. Luckily, David can talk for England and managed to get it back on track. It’s best to let a guest finish before you dive in, as Mary got the complete wrong end of the stick in that instance.

  21. Loved the podcast with David Brin. He was so POSITIVE about writing, uplifting with his comments, and generally entertaining to listen to. After listening I felt motivated to go write. Great stuff!

  22. Here is my thing about criticism. It needs to be relevant to what kind of thing your writing.

    For example if your writing a novel about aliens, its obviously not going to make sense to debunk aliens, when what your writing is actually fiction.

    That’s the thing that bugs me more than tactfulness. Making sure they know what your writing is actually fiction, not non fiction.

  23. Another words, its important for a fiction writing to only be critiqued by someone who actually reads fiction, that reasoning behind this is common sense.

    I had a friend once that goes on a debunking campaign, when I have to literally keep telling him “Can you relax? Its fiction!”

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