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Friday, September 14, 2012

How to Process Critiques

Only the most courageous put their beloved work out into this medium for others to see.

Only the best of us accept what comes back.

So, how to use the whomp upside the head priceless crits?

It is like an exclusive elevator. You start at the bottom with a lot of other folks. The elevator starts up. Sometimes the ride stops and people step off. It stays on some levels for indeterminate periods.

Along the way, as the lights tick up on the elevator panel, the people experience the same reactions.

Levels of the Critique Elevator.

#1.Anger/Hurt Feelings. You’ve worked hard on this manuscript. It is wonderful, perfect, above superlative. Then someone doesn’t ‘get it’.

That elevator stops. Some can’t get past this stage and never move on. They leave. Others stay on, mumbling to themselves.

#2.Acceptance. After a day or two (or three or four, five or six), the critique makes seems. You edit and move to the next floor.

#3.Justification with explaining. Another stop. A crit seems befuddled with your MC’s behavior and, to enlighten them, you explain why she/he reacted as they did. Generally, no one gets off the elevator unless #1 is involved. 

Take note of this fact: The reader is telling you something very, very important. They don’t ‘see’ what you are seeing. Do not take this for granted. It is like pointing to an object below the horizon. You know it is there but your friend can’t see it.

Do not underestimate this type of crit. And do not give in to the temptation of ‘explaining’.

#4.Confusion. A critter makes an impossible suggestion that conflicts with your storyline. Absorb this, file it away for later reference, and move on. It might prove helpful at a later stage.

At this point, some crits may not be useful but accept them anyway. The tools, like a screwdriver, might not be what you require but pick it up, look at it, and decide whether it fits your need. Heaven knows a screwdriver handle works as a hammer sometimes.

#5.Acceptance. This level is the hardest to find. At this point, there are few people left in your elevator. Some are muttering quietly in the corner. Others nod their heads. But all of you are self-absorbed to the point of exclusion.


#6.Light Bulb – Gru, Despicable Me. It hits like a Niagara Falls. You look around the elevator and become aware that everyone is in the same place, following the same journey, with the same goals. Every crit become a precious bit of information given by people with little time or incentive to give it. You realize how priceless this is. Leading to:

#7.Appreciation. How can a simple thank you be enough? This expression of gratitude is too little but it is all we have.

#8.Pay It Forward. Critiques freely given generate a return of the same.

#9.Top floor. Published.

Step on the elevator for the ride of your life, folks. Then stay on.

We’ll get there together.


LD Masterson said...

I think it's helpful to have multiple critiques. If one person doesn't get something, maybe it's them. If several people don't get it, it's time for a re-write.

Ink in the Book said...

I am learning this, even though I don't want to admit that it does really hurt. But in the long run these critiques have moved my writing from, "Oh, that's good. " to, "Wow that awesome!"

Yes. I'm thankful for critiques. :)

Laura Hughes, MittensMorgul said...

I remember the first critiques I ever got. I thought the person giving the advice must be crazy. I'm finally to the point (after a LONG time) where I jump for joy at critique. Someone took their very valuable time to read my novel with a critical eye (not mean, just discerning), and to make useful notes for me on their impressions. The best advice I've ever received was an alert that something pulled them out of the story. Without fail, I'd never noticed the glitches before, but seen through another person's eyes, they're glaring.

And I love the line about a screwdriver handle doubling as a hammer. I do that all the time, to the point I've ruined a few perfectly good screwdrivers! :D

Huntress said...


Huntress said...

It always hurts but now I divert my whine to improving my wip. Yay!

Huntress said...


Aldrea Alien said...

I actually look forward to critiques. At least, now I have a few good partners.
I was really wary about letting anyone read my work after being burned by one guy on this critique site who, despite being right, was really nasty and belittling. Apparently, he was 'just being honest' and 'if I couldn't handle, I shouldn't be writing'. Now honesty I can handle, but ripping into someone's work in the name of saying everything is great steamy piles of excrement ... it's been a few years now and I still want to slap him.

That one is probably the basement stop, yeah?

1000th.monkey said...

I think #3 can actually be a really valuable way to better understand a critique (from either side). If someone totally misses what I'm trying to say, clearing stating the intent and then asking, "where did I go wrong in conveying this?" is often a very good tool to get further feedback.

On the other side, If I am confused/miss something while critiquing for someone else, often having them state what they were trying to do clears up the blockage in my own brain, and I end up being able to better explain where the problem is.

Hurt feelings isn't necessarily an issue. And I think the going-back-and-forth relationship is important.

And yes, Laura Hughes, I totally agree with you :) I'm always incredibly grateful whenever someone uses their precious time to look over/comment on my work.

...please don't misuse you tools like that though!! :D

Dianne K. Salerni said...

It IS very important to get multiple reviews. As LD said above, one person might not get/dislike something while others don't feel the same way. But if you are getting the same feedback from multiple readers, you need to listen.

mshatch said...

I recently did "explain" stuff to one of my CPs and she responded with, well, if this is true then you need to do xyz. And she was right. But it helped to explain what I was aiming for so she could show me why and where it wasn't working for her, AND what I might do to make it better.

Angela Brown said...

On that first level, instead of thinking my MS was just "the greatest", I went through the "I knew this was a bunch of heaping stink. I knew I couldn't write." Yeah, self-destructive in the writing realm.

But I wanted to get better so I stayed on the elevator. I'm doing a bit better now and hoping I've reached higher levels...though I think I sometimes tumble down a vacant shaft and find myself on that first floor lol!

Jeff Hargett said...

hmmm, Nine floors to publication, huh? Please direct me to that elevator! LOL.

I think I reside on the 6th through 8th floors while making pit stops on various others. We all too often take the critique without due gratitude. These people not only read our stories, they give us feedback on them. That's priceless!

Liza said...

Getting ready to send my MMS out to a critique partner. Can't thank you enough for this valuable piece!

Theresa Milstein said...

It is so hard to refrain from explaining. This is such good advice. It hurts to get critiqued because we want our writing to be perfect. The more our pieces are critiqued, the better we take it... usually.

Mark Koopmans said...

OK, so I write this *NOT* because I am better/stronger/wiser or published, 'cos I am none of these things, but to me it honest to goodness seems like an absolute no-brainer to stick your work out there and get some honest feedback.

How else are you going to improve yourself - and your work?

Am I missing something?

(And, again, I am not trying to be facetious (I had to look up the word!) but I obviously don't get the worry/concern... don't we all want our "babies" to be better?

If our real babies are sick, we bring them to an M.D. ... surely a C.P. can help fix any word illness, too?

Madeleine Sara said...

I can identify with those levels. It comes with experience and as you say daring to put your work out there for criticism. Many critiques are useful as they give you a better perspective on your work.

Brooke R. Busse said...

I feel the same way. I don't get upset about critiques. I get excited because I know it's going to allow me to make my work better.

Donna Hole said...

Loved the elevator concept :)