It’s Your Story

My critiquing career started shortly after my writing career. It’s only fair, after all. When you hand out your mss to be read, the expectation is you will read someone else’s in return. That’s when you hand it to another writer, anyway. Naturally, writers are incapable of shutting up about the “flaws” seen in someone else’s work, even though we tend to be completely blind to our own flaws.

TT: Pretty sure Jesus said something about specks and logs in this same vein. Can’t quite remember it, though…


I’ve learned a few things about myself as a “critter.” That’s the nice, slangy way to say “critiquer.” Sounds less critical, doesn’t it? Naturally, the learning took a while because turtles can be a bit dense when it comes to self-awareness, but once I get a concept, it tends to stick.

One, I only have one setting for critting and that’s “thorough.” No matter how hard I try to skim, I end up reading and considering every word, every concept, and every turn of phrase for all possible meanings and permutations. Depending on the wishes of the author, I may not bring up all these observations, but I can’t help having them. Critting and fresh writing take the same amount of time for me.

Two, I have a phrase that comes up, not frequently, but at least once in every mss. That phrase? “It’s your story.” Sometimes, it comes out as “well, it’s your story.” That’s usually over the phone or in an internet chat.

What this phrase actually means is “I think you’re making a mistake but I can’t stop you.”

Sometimes, involuntarily, the phrase comes out as “It’s your story; do what you want.” This usually means “I think you’re about to make a terrible mistake that will haunt you for the rest of your life, but since I can’t stop you, I’m going to make like Pilate washing his hands of the whole thing and move on with my life.”

Those of you who’ve seen this phrase somewhere in your mss already figured this out. It took me longer because, well, turtles are occasionally dense.

It’s important to remember I’m not always right. It’s important to remember God gives each of us different stories to tell. It’s important to remember I will never again bring up anything written in the margins of a critiqued manuscript. You asked for it once, I gave it to you, and that’s the end of it. What happens in a critique stays in a critique, as far as I’m concerned.

You see, I’m not responsible for you or your writing. My opinion is just that – my opinion. It doesn’t have to match yours or one of us isn’t necessary. I don’t expect you to do everything I tell you. I don’t expect you to write your book the way I would write it. I expect you to write your book your way, and I just hope I’ll like it when I turn the last page.

I don’t know if this is apology or epiphany. Maybe a little of both. For those who’ve seen that phrase of mine, I  apologize for not being clearer sooner. I also want you to know I expect great things of you, better things than I expect of myself.

On occasion, the phrase has a third meaning. “I wouldn’t do this because I fear the consequences, but I’m terribly curious to see if you’ll get away with it.” I don’t always know which definition I mean. Maybe a little of both. I leave it to you to decide which meaning you apply.

It’s your story. Do what you want.

About Robynn Tolbert

Born in Kansas and born again at age six, Robynn has published two novels and started her third. Robynn, aka Ranunculus Turtle, lives in Kansas with a clowder of cats, a patient dog and a garden.

4 comments on “It’s Your Story

  1. I have had the unique opportunity of seeing this in action in more than one way. Turtle has critiqued my writing, and I’ve edited someone else’s work “behind her”–so I got to see ALL of her comments on another writer’s work.

    Let me tell you, yes, she is thorough. And, far more often than not, she is right on the money.

    Anyway, I think we ALL use this phrase, even if we word it slightly differently. And if we don’t, we should. As critters we need to be absolutely honest with our comments, but at the same time we *must* accept the fact that the story is someone else’s, and ultimately that person has the right to handle things any way they see fit.

    On the other hand, as writers we really ought to get second opinions on our work sometimes. I recently wrote a short story for Avenir Eclectia. There was a turn of phrase I use that I liked the wording on very much. Two of the three critters in my crit group, however, suggested I change it (both in the same way). I did not. And when I sent it in to Grace, she came back with, “I have one suggestion…” Any bets on which part? Yeah, well, guess what–I changed it. It may be my story, but sometimes, unless I want *my story* to be kept to *myself* I gotta change things I don’t want to.

    Great post, Robynn. Glad to see the density is thinning–cos, yeah, we had it figured out a looooong time ago. 😉

  2. Yep, what Chicky said. I’ve had that line from you a time or two. I’ve also had you challenge my writing in a wonderful way. Keep being the Turtle you are and you don’t have to apologize for it. We know you’re grumpy and cracked and that is what we love about you. Honesty is often frowned on in polite society but writers aren’t polite society and they definitely don’t need anymore ego stroking when it comes to their work. 😛

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