Self-Editing: The Cringe Test

My writing group met recently for our monthly critiquing love- and slugfest. We know each other well enough to be pretty brutal and frank, and mostly that’s good, because it means that if everyone agrees that something’s finished, you can be sure we aren’t just being polite. 

This month it happens that we’re all revising manuscripts, and we’re all weighing the pressure to be done with it against the wish for it to be perfect. And we discovered that we’ve all had the same experience at some point, of trying to ignore a subpar passage that we hoped would escape our editor’s/agent’s/reader’s notice. 

When you aren’t certain, how do you decide whether a particular chunk is good enough? Some possible cringe tests: 

—Imagine you’re interviewed on Fresh Air and Terry Gross chooses that passage to read out loud.

—Pretend it’s the only passage an old lover will read when he or she happens across it.

—Picture it printed in your obituary. 

You get the idea—and I’ll bet you have some doozies. The point is, although not every passage will turn out to be quote-worthy, none of them should make you cringe.

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