Because all you want is to be good. 

Short story critique by Steph VanderMeulen

Steve Martin

All writers, no matter who or how seasoned, wonder whether or not their work is good. This is what it means to be a writer: to be in a constant state of doubt while creating anyway.

It’s tiring, but we’re still afraid our writing sucks and sounds amateur, or is somehow wrong, or it sounds too much like we’re copying someone, or we’re afraid we missed something, or someone will hate it in public, or it will be rejected by a publisher as not good enough. We think, who am I to write this, to think I have something to say?

Whenever someone entrusts their story to me, the first thing they say, every time, is something like, “Feel free to tell me it sucks, or to tear it apart.” Yeah. That’s my intro to their work.

I get it. Writing is like sitting on the can naked. Letting someone read what you wrote is like the bathroom door opening before you’re done. Creativity is all about vulnerability. The truth is, to be vulnerable is not weakness. It’s the ultimate display of strength. When we allow it, we allow ourselves to be us. And we allow for excellent writing that is true.

When we doubt ourselves or despair that we’ll never be as good as someone, or good enough, we hide our work in shame. Or we abandon it altogether (and become miserable because we’re not allowing ourselves to follow our impulses and create).

Sometimes we do the opposite and ask as many people as possible to read our writing and provide feedback, for reassurance and ideas. Sometimes that feedback helps; often, too many cooks spoil the broth. I found this out the hard way.

The thing is, it’s damn hard to be objective about our own work. We do need someone else to read it over before we submit. Someone who knows what it means to be a good writer. There’s no guarantee that we’ll believe anyone who says we’re good, but it is almost always the case that we are not as deplorable as we imagine.

It’s important to accept that we’ll never be certain whether or not we’re good. We’re the poorest judges of our own work. So, we stop judging. Instead, we say, “I made this!”

Our task as writers is simply to do our best at telling a good story—and that’s all, I swear.

If you’re having a rough day and your best sucks, it’s okay. Let it suck. It’s not permanent. It was your best for that day.

The significant thing is, you said yes to writing. You showed up. Ultimately, that makes you want to write more. It does! Do that every day, and you’ll have yourself a story. 

This is where I come in.  

I’m not your ma, your doting grandfather, your best pal. If I say it’s good or I like it, I’m telling the truth. I do care, from a professional stance, that your story is good. That you’ll do well. And that means you’ll get honest feedback from me. That may mean more writing or revision is needed. That’s okay. I’m only inviting you to play more and see past your perceived limitations.

Manuscript critique is not copy editing, which is best done after the manuscript has been gone over and improved. Nor does critique mean criticizing.

I read your story keeping in mind its elements—that is, character, dialogue, setting, style, structure, and, perhaps most important, whether or not your story has heart.

Writing well means going deep. It means writing from a place of authenticity and freedom. Through my feedback, I help you identify what your story is really about, point out what’s working, and provide gentle but tough pointers on what and how you can improve.

How it works

  • submit the draft of your short story
  • I will read it and provide detailed comments and suggestions throughout. Copy editing does not happen at this early a stage
  • I mail it back to you
  • 1-hour Skype or Google Hangout session to discuss the story (what it’s about, what’s working, what isn’t) as well as provide guidance through resistance and fear, encouragement, and direction.

§ The fee for this one-on-one work is $300.

What clients have said

“I brought two of my stories to Steph when I was very happy with them and, frankly, quite protective as well. Her feedback was insightful, concise, and thorough. Most importantly though, she delivered it all with such care and thoughtfulness, that I was able to truly receive what she was offering and then fully integrate it into my revisions. By the time we finished working together, my stories had taken on new life and were so much truer to the characters and world I had envisioned in my mind and heart.”

Steven Thomas Saftig, Director of Marketing and Development for Sounds True

I love stories. I think they’re valuable, and should be shared. Don’t be scared to put your work out there. Let’s polish your piece together, so that all you feel is proud.

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After receipt of payment, I’ll be in touch with you via email within the next business day. If you have any problems, please contact me. Thank you!