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Friday, August 28, 2015

How to Take Critique

A while ago now, I stumbled upon the blog post of a writer who was concerned about having his/her work critiqued. This writer was worried. Would an honest critique of his/her work devastate him/her? Would he/she take it personally?

I thought it was an interesting question. It is kind of true. It does feel a little odd to ask someone to tear into that piece of writing you've been slaving over for a long time. And the first few times you put yourself out there it can sting. But in the end the whole idea is to make your writing better, and the only way you're going to get better is to hear the things that are wrong with your work.

The question itself is a good indicator of the willingness of the author to send his/her work out there and have it honestly reviewed. It is the authors who think their work is perfect as is who don't belong in critique groups. They'll be the ones to argue and defend their work when all that's being offered is a way to help make it better.

Then there are the people out there who feel like this writing thing is a competition, and they'll seek to "win" by denigrating the writing of others. These are not good people to work with. They're not going to be very helpful.

But so long as those who are critiquing your work are doing it for the right reasons, there are some ways to get through the critiquing process:

  1. Take a deep breath. This is going to be fine.
  2. Listen to what the person is saying. You don't have to react. You don't have to defend. Just listen.
  3. Keep in mind that this is not about who you are as a person. It's only about what was on the page. And sometimes, what you thought was on the page was not.
  4. Thank the person for taking the time to help you make your writing better.
  5. Don't do anything with the comments for at least a day. Let them sit in your subconscious before you tackle any revisions.
  6. You are the writer. While other suggestions might be offered, you are the final determiner of what goes on that page. 
This is something that does get easier the more you do it. Keep in mind that it's all about making the work better, and a polished piece of writing is worth the trouble.

How do you take critique of your work? What tips do you have to offer to someone who's never gone through the process?


Diana Wilder said...

Good post!

I think many of us have had unsolicited 'feedback' from people, often our Nearest and Dearest, along the lines of 'I don't like that at all.'

I've found that even the most negative criticism can turn out to be useful, if only by making you blink, look at your work, consider the criticism and figure out that the person is absolutely wrong. Why, the characters aren't flat at all! ...hmmm... Well, maybe I *could* get a little more into his/her head and give some motives. Come to think of it, *I* know what lies behind her fear of lemonade, but I haven't hinted at it... Hm. Yeah, I could deepen that...

I think you need to have an idea of who you are as a writer, flaws and all, and have a sort of central awareness of what your writing is about. Anything, then, that comes along to help clarify that to yourself, that helps to heighten your ability to convey it, can only be good.

...that said, I'm eyeing my nearly finished WIP and taking a deep breath, preparing to do 'first finished draft' for criticism. (hard to let one's babies go...)
Thanks for the post!

Charity Bradford said...

I've become a critique junkie. Seriously. I've been able to see how honest questions and suggestions about a story help me see what's missing. There have been many times someone didn't get something so I needed to tweak a little. Other times I didn't simply because I understood that reader didn't normally read in my genre. Taking critique is as much about understanding your reader, your genre and your story. And isn't that the point of telling stories anyway?

Liz A. said...

Diana: That's so true. Even just a statement of, "Huh?" is enough to make me take a second look. I must have missed saying something. It only helps the work.

Charity: I hope you don't keep tinkering and tinkering forever ;)

dolorah said...

It does get easier as you embrace the process. The first couple times can be difficult, but keep an open mind and it all will work out. I appreciate my CPs. Thanks for the tips :)

diedre Knight said...

Sure, they can sting. But skinned-up knees never kept me off the bike, in fact I learned something new each time:-)
I think critiques are necessary in order to assure optimum reader enjoyment, not to mention incentive to write better, stronger and longer!

Anonymous said...

Receiving critiques is hard, especially the first few times... because these are your babies, you know? But after a while... you become more open to it. At least from my perspective. Good points though!

Mike said...

I think a lot depends on how it is done. A nicely done you have an error here or the video isn't working is great. However, there is a lot of feedback that requires tougher skin.


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