Pruning away the deadwood

This past week I attended Kathy Temean’s wonderful writers’ retreat in Avalon, NJ. Held each fall, Kathy rents a house and handles all the logistics for a small group of writers and two agents to give each other feedback.

Between the brilliant sunshine and blue skies (at least at first) and the charming company, it was a writers’ dream. Sociability with other children’s writers, good food and wine, and in-depth discussions of each other’s work – who could ask for more?

I did. After a group critique and one by each agent during my session, I paid for a bonus critique by an agent who arrived for the second session.

It was brutal. Instead of the overview and discussion of larger story issues I’d come to expect, it was a sea of red ink washing over my first 35 pages. Line by line, word by word, the agent went over my work with me.

At first, I found myself upset – and I pride myself on being able to take constructive criticism. (And this was constructive criticism.) The sheer volume, though, was overwhelming at first.

But as we continued, and I began to ask questions of my own, we started to better understand each other. The agent thought my work was good – but could be even better.

As for me, I realized it was just like cutting back your rosebushes.

To get lusher blooms and healthier foliage, you have to prune the roses back ruthlessly. All that’s left is a mass of tough canes covered with sharp thorns.


Until next spring.

Then the roses burst forth with thick glossy green leaves and fat buds basking in the sun that open slowly into glorious blossoms.

So, dear agent, thank you for pruning my writing.

Here’s hoping I won’t have to wait till spring to see the results.


(Conservatory Garden at Central Park, New York City.)


7 thoughts on “Pruning away the deadwood

  1. I’ve always been so nervous to get a critique done at a conference/retreat. That said, I did have an edit done by Mary Kole once (noticed the kidlitcom link!). So scary to get critiqued by a professional, especially someone you admire! I’ve also realized how important it is to sift through what feels right and wrong to you. With my first manuscript, a different agent asked me to rewrite a YA ms into an MG ms, and I did it because…agent!! But it felt so wrong and it came out so wrong.

    Thank you for sharing. Hearing someone else braving the critique gives me a little more conviction that I too should be brave at my next conference and finally take the plunge!

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