WIP Dream Critique: What Would You Do?

Tour Eiffel (Paris, 2007)

If you could pick just one great writer….

Last night I saw Woody Allen’s movie Midnight in Paris. (If you haven’t seen this movie yet but you plan to, you might want to stop reading now. Although this is not a movie review, I may reveal more about the movie than you want to know.)
The basics of the movie are that a writer (Gil, played by Owen Wilson) goes to Paris and ends up being transported back in time. He meets many writers and artists from the 1920s—what he considers the Golden Age—including Hemingway and Picasso. When Gil meets Hemingway, he asks him if he’ll read his Work in Progress. Hemingway refuses, telling Gil that writers are a competitive bunch…. Hemingway knows he’ll hate the book: if it’s well written he’ll envy Gil; if it’s badly written he’ll hate it for its writing. Instead, Hemingway points Gil to his good friend Gertrude Stein.

Gil is overjoyed at the prospect of Gertrude Stein critiquing his WIP, but he’s not at all intimidated! I’m not sure I could be so casual as he in letting a great writer read my work. Would I have the confidence? If I did, and I had a choice, who would I pick? Gertrude Stein? Woody Allen? Shakespeare? Hemingway?

Right now, because my primary WIP is a mystery, I’d probably pick Agatha Christie or maybe Daphne du Maurier. But if Hemingway or Gertrude Stein wanted to read my WIP, how could I possibly say no?

If you could pick one great writer to read your WIP, who would it be? And why? Would you be intimidated or just excited to have the opportunity? 


p.s. Interesting aside: Gil never once mentions writers’ social networking! So although we never see him on Twitter or blogging, we do see him hanging out in bars and cafes with writers….which arguably could be the social networking of writers in 1920s Paris!


  1. First …. I have to see this movie. Must see it – even with your synopsis (which I don’t think ruins it at all). I think Owen Wilson is a hoot! If a great writer wanted to read my work, I’m pretty sure I’d be sick to my stomach, but what an opportunity — to learn from a great!!?!? It’s simply one you couldn’t pass up. Now as to whom I would choose? Emily Bronte? Maybe even Shakespeare because I admire the man’s talent… or Harper Lee … Mark Twain … Mary Shelly … or … or …

  2. Melissa, I think you’ll enjoy the movie (we did!). Owen Wilson is hilarious and also very convincing. I’m pretty sure I’d be sick to my stomach, too, if I had one of the greats pouring over my manuscripts! I hadn’t thought of Harper Lee — that would be great!

  3. Ann says:

    Well….I’m not technically a writer so much as a cook. My work in progress usually tends to be dinner and a blog.

    If I was going to have anyone critique my work it would be….the obvious answer is Julia Child and I would learn technically from her as well as witness her love for cooking….but honestly, the best critique for me is an empty plate!

    As for my writing (at the risk of sounding like a suck up) I’d choose you & Milli. If someone is going to critique my work, I’d like them to be personable and sensitive. I’d want an honest opinion, but I wouldn’t want to be cut off at the knees!

  4. No argument about it…I’m sure the bars and salons were the social scene for writers back then. How much funner was that? To actually see each other in person and get to drink lattes or booze? In Paris?
    Seriously makes Twitter pale by comparison.
    Love Owen Wilson…gotta see this!
    Fun post, Julia.

  5. What a great idea for both a movie and a blog post!

    I haven’t seen Midnight in Paris yet but you’ve made me want to see it. (I felt you teased me just enough to be hungry to watch it without giving away too much.)

    Can’t wait to see what happens to Gil when he shows his stuff to Gertrude Stein. Knowing Woody A., it’s going to be crazy and then some.

    Gil does sound terribly naive and that makes me think he’s a newbie to writing . . . usually not a good time to show your WIP for critique. I’ve noticed that, until they’ve learned otherwise, some new writers tend to have a romantic idea of what a critique involves. (Maybe some are secretly hoping for praise from a more established writer, so notes on how to improve the MS are a disappointment. Plus so much more work!)

    If I was going to ask someone famous to critique my screenplay, I would pick Carrie Fisher. She, at least, would be snarky funny in conveying all the stuff I might cringe to hear. Plus she understands how crazy the Hollywood system is, and might empathize with a newcomer. Either that, or warn me away from the snake pit ;~)

  6. I LOVED this movie. It actually helped me realize why I was getting stuck on my newest WIP. I was so enchanted by the magical realism in the movie, and how casually it weaves the real with the fantastical (without letting the fantastical elements define the whole work). I’ve always loved writing stories that ask for some suspension of disbelief but are grounded in truth, and I realized that after writing a rather heavy book, I was ready to move on to something with a bit more whimsy in it. So I’ve scratched my initial idea and am working on a new one!

    To answer your question, though, I would be thrilled and incredibly nervous. Still, who could really pass up an opportunity like that? I’d chose Isabel Allende, because she has all the qualities of a writer I hope to have one day.

  7. CMSmith says:

    Possibly Virginia Woolf. She was one smart lady. Tragic, but smart.

    If I was writing a social commentary with humor, I’d definitely hope for Jane Austen.

  8. LOL! Just realized I didn’t go back in time at all with my choice of someone to read my screenplay. so I flunked that part of it, but this was a fun exercise anyway! :~)

  9. Kim Samsin says:

    I would want a good stiff drink before I sat down with Elizabeth Berg and Anita Shreve, because I’d surely hear things that no completely sober person wants to hear. Just the one–I’d want to remember the useful advice!

  10. Nancy Kelley says:

    I of course would want Jane Austen to read my novel. Did I get Darcy right? Does my picture of Pemberley match hers?

    Of course, as Jane had a quip ready for anything, I would be prepared for her to rip me to shreds–all done in a very nice, Regency manner of course.

    Perhaps a wiser choice would be Sir Walter Scott or Rudyard Kipling–both lovers of Jane Austen and notable writers themselves. My vision of Pride and Prejudice would likely never match Austen’s, but if it resonated with those men, I’d be thrilled.

    And now I really have to see this movie–Owen Wilson AND writing? Excellent!

  11. I’d love to get feedback from so many writers: Lorrie Moore, Joan Didion, Raymond Carver (though he’s no longer alive), and especially Tim O’Brien.

    I’ve never seen this movie, but it’s officially on my list now. Thanks! =)

    -Miss GOP

  12. Ann, I’m with you — Believe it or not, I would love to cook with/for Julia Child! I think it would be amazing to work with her in the kitchen, even as a lowly clean up person! While I’m honored that you’d consider me to read/critique your work, I think you’d be better off with Milli! I simply know what I like but am quite bad at predicting what others would like! (but thank you for the wonderful compliment)

    Cynthia, It would be awesome to meet over drinks at the local bar in Paris…. the movie makes it look amazing! No kidding Twitter pales in comparison. :-0 Let me know what you think of the movie!

    Milli, Glad I didn’t give away too much — I hate that! I will be very curious to hear what you think of the movie, let me know! Gil was pretty amusing about the whole thing, no question. Carrie Fisher! Good choice! (And you still might get her, since she’s still around!)

    Natalia, Glad you liked the movie too! It was highly entertaining fantasy, no question! That’s amazing that it was so inspirational to you, how wonderful! And how wonderful that you would choose a living writer as a dream critique– I wouldn’t be a bit surprised if you someday do meet her! Even though it would be nerve wracking! 🙂

    Christine, I actually also thought of Virginia Woolf — I think she might be pretty harsh on me, though 🙂

    Kim, I think regardless of who I sat down with I’d want a stiff drink! But especially so with a writer you really respect and admire the opinion of!

    Nancy, I assumed Jane Austen with you 🙂 but I can also see why you’d choose a reader of Jane Austen! Interesting turn! But as you say, an Austen-fan would know!

    Miss GOP, I’ll be curious to know what you think of the movie, glad it’s on your list! As for the feedback, as you say — a lot easier from living writers!

  13. Debbie Brown says:

    I would stay away from Hemmingway. He would want me to rewrite another 18 times, as he recommended 30. Jane Austen, though, would be a great help. I would actually have her take it over once I’d done my best. 😀

  14. Debbie, Thanks so much for your comment & your visit to my blog! That’s so funny you would say that about Hemingway — did you see the movie!? Too funny about Jane Austen! Undoubtedly she’d be thrilled to have writers so interested in her style and characters — I would be! Thanks again for the visit!

  15. I’m another person who wants to see this film! I like the question, too.

    I’d have to say that my dream critique would come from Joseph Campbell (RIP), Theodore Sturgeon (RIP), or George Lucas.

  16. Mahesh, You’ll have to come back and tell me what you think of the movie — or post on Twitter! As for your dream critique — one of the happiest byproducts of this post is that I’m learning about new writers like Joseph Campbell! Thanks so much for the comment!

  17. Ado says:

    So ironic that you mentioned Hemingway AND Gertrude Stein – just yesterday my friend and I were debating who she should listen to on a 12 hour road trip (she didn’t choose either of them in the end). Although I was an avid Hem fan in my early days of writing (how could you NOT be? he took so much OUT) I have to say I am a bigger fan of Gertrude. She is one of my top 3. I am sure I would have adored her in person. One of my fave books is her autobio (of Alice B. Toklas). If she were to read my writing – I’d work my ass off first and I still wouldn’t be worthy! Another writer I’d be interested in meeting is Chaucer, and of course – Shakespeare. (-: Great post idea thanks. (-:

  18. Ado, Have you seen Midnight in Paris yet? If you haven’t and you like Gertrude Stein, then you really have to see it! Important character! I also was an avid Hemingway (and Faulkner) fan in college! I know EXACTLY what you mean about preparing for the critique then still feeling unworthy… agreed also about Shakespeare, not sure about Chaucer. (p.s. after you see the movie, tell me what you think of Stein & the movie, too!)

  19. Leah says:

    What a great question! I hadn’t thought much about that. Many of the writers I enjoy know are living, so I may go with someone I currently read. Hemingway would be fascinating though. Or F. Scott Fitzgerald. That movie sounds great. Will need to check it out.

  20. Erika Marks says:

    Such a yummy question, Julia!

    For me, I would have to say either Stephen King or Alice Hoffman who are, of course, VERY different writers but both of whom I have tremendous respect for.

    I might add two more favorites, though they are no longer with us, Styron or Capote–simply because I think they would be ruthlessly honest and I think I could take it coming from them.

  21. Leah, I think you would enjoy the movie if you like Hemingway and Fitzgerald! As for who would critique — wouldn’t it be nice if we really could pick and have someone we respected read our work? I think you’ll be amused by the scenario in the movie; glad you enjoyed the question!

    Erika, Glad you like the question! Stephen King would be a natural for us, of course! I like the idea of picking someone who would be ruthlessly honest — I’d want that too if I could get up the nerve. If you see the movie, I think you’ll be amused by how Hemingway says that very thing!

  22. All right, I’m going to have to go with authors today. I love Rick Riordan and Wendy Van Draanen. My books most closely fit with what these two authors write so I’d love a critique from either of them. Though meeting F. Scott Fitzgerald would be awesome! I love The Great Gatsby.

  23. Kelly, I think it’s so great that you would like current authors to read your work — that way you actually have a chance to achieve your dream critique! I haven’t read anything by either of the authors you mentioned, but I’ve heard great things about them, and I checked out their websites — very very cool!

  24. Chris Fries says:

    Really interesting question, Julia!

    I’m not sure I’d want any of the writers I really admire to read my WIP — I’d be too self-conscious and sure they’d consider it hopeless crap. LOL!

    But I’d still love the opportunity to sit and to pick the brains of some of my favorite writers: Bradbury, Chandler, Heinlein, Poe, Azimov, or any of a hundred others. I’d absorb and steal all the tips I could and then go back to my WIP and apply them behind their backs, LOL!

  25. Chris, I know exactly what you mean! I’d be very self conscious myself — in fact I feel that way about blogging! But what a great idea to sit and pick the brains of favorite writers!

  26. Jennifer O. says:

    I want to see this movie!

    I’m officially in love with Owen Wilson since I saw his speech on the pod in “Me and Dupree.”

    The premise is fantastic and since I love the 20s, even more so.

    Who would I ask to critique my WIP?
    While I love a whole slew of other writers, the ones who affect me the most are F. Scott Fitzgerald and W. Somerset Maugham. So it’d be a toss up between the two. I’d say Sylvia Plath or Stanley Kunitz if it were poetry, though…

  27. Jennifer, I think you’d love the movie if you like Owen Wilson and the 1920s too! Great choices for critiques — and I know what you mean about choosing different ones for different genres, me too! Thanks for your comment and your visit to my blog!

  28. Oooooh no, no chance. I don’t let people read my WIP until it’s had an edit or three, then it only goes to my beta readers/editors. I’m just one of those terrible secretive people who can’t unveil work until it’s done (I am the same with paintings! and even a little with sewing projects!).


  29. eeleenlee says:

    I’d be too petrified of asking Ian McEwan or Christopher Hitchens to look at my work

    But a great post too!

  30. Ashlee, I should take a page from your book, Ashlee 🙂 Seriously, what I mean by that in the past when I’ve shown or even told people about my WIPs (and even other projects!) I’m sometimes derailed! If I were more secretive this wouldn’t happen! Thanks for the comment!

    eeleenlee, I hear you — I’d be petrified too, to show work to a writer I respected. On the other hand, how do you pass it by? Thanks so much for your comment and your visit to my blog!

  31. I completely understand what you mean! I am slowly learning that I need to talk some of my WIP “bumps” through, and my husband (as one of my betas anyway) works great to just bounce ideas off if I’m uncertain or getting stuck. I think there’s a very careful line to tread between sharing (and getting input from someone else’s mind), and being secretive with your work. 🙂


  32. I Loooove this topic! I would have to say Stephen King and Jane Austen. I get one alive and one dead, right??

  33. Ashlee, I’m lucky that way too (that my husband will give me great feedback and ideas); definitely a careful line there!

    Stephanie, Yes, one dead and one alive….always glad to see Stephen King, a fellow Mainer, mentioned! Glad you enjoyed the post topic!

  34. I love me some Stephen King. If I lived in Maine I would stalk him until he read my stuff and then he’d have fodder for a new version of Misery. hehehe

  35. An interesting question, Julia! I think I would ask Judy Blume or Rick Riordan to critique my current WIP. They’re both still alive and well, so hmmmm…maybe it will happen? 😉

  36. Amanda, I thought of Judy Blume, too — what a wonderful writer she is, and she also seems to be accessible (she answered a comment I left on her blog — I was so pleasantly shocked!). So I think you’re wise to pick her: incredible writer with the possibility of accessibility! And actually, I wouldn’t be so surprised if it happened some day for you, Amanda!

  37. Lisa Ahn says:

    What a fantastic blog topic!
    As for me, I’d pick Toni Morrison, Anne Patchett, or John Irving, because I love what they achieve with cadence and character. I’d have to agree with Natalia on Allende too though, because I also write magical realism. Oh, and Garcia Marquez! (I didn’t really have a limit, did I??)
    Thanks for the topic!

  38. Lisa, Glad you enjoyed the topic! I don’t think there’s any limit on dreaming — especially because the more possibilities there are, I would think indicates that you’re more open to critique of your work! By the way, great choices!

  39. What a great post. As it so happens, I just saw “Midnight in Paris” last Friday night and thought it was absolutely wonderful.

    I have never considered what great writer I’d like to critique my work, but I know that I would definitely choose different writers for each book, as they’re so different. But for the writing I most like doing, I’m going to go with Charles Dickens & F. Scott Fitzgerald. That is intimidating just THINKING about it!

    Love your blogs, Julia. They’re great.

  40. Lisette, So glad you enjoyed the post & the movie, too! I agree that it would be helpful to have different writers read the different books I’m writing — as mine too are quite different. I also agree that I would be incredibly intimidated to have someone like Dickens or Fitzgerald read something I wrote! Like cooking for Julia Child! 🙂

  41. I am not sure I would have any author read my stuff. I might get banned from a country or something. However, if I was VERY confidant, I would pick either Diana Gabaldon (because I think she is a genius) or Mark Twain. How’s that for a random pairing?

    Great post and now I have new movie to watch! Thanks for the heads up.

  42. Hallie, It would be intimidating to have a well-known author read my writing, so I know exactly what you mean! (Although if you think about it, authors read your — and my — writing on our blogs, so….) In any event, as you say, a random BUT INTERESTING pairing! I think you’ll enjoy the movie, let me know!