Three Important Critique Tips

Photo credit: Bunches and Bits {Karina} on Flickr
While we’ve discussed the importance of being critiqued and critiquing others, and we’ve talked about how to be a fabulous critique partner (both seriously and sarcastically), it occurred to me that I haven’t really written in depth about the hardest part of critiquing: that is, reading your critique. 

Asking for a critique is a funny thing: we are, in essence, asking people to read our work with the intention of finding faults. Of pointing out every gaping plot hole and embarrassing word choice that you accidentally repeated six times on the same page. 

And let’s face it—as helpful as it is to have those mistakes pointed out to us, it can sometimes be hard to swallow. No one likes to have their mistakes circled and underlined in blaring red marker, even if it is an important part of developing our craft and improving our stories. 

I’m not promising that these three tips will make all your future critiques feel like butterflies and cotton candy, but if you keep these things in mind, it will (hopefully) make it a little easier. Starting with...

  1. Read it, then PUT IT AWAY. Seriously. I know I’ve mentioned this briefly before, but it’s worth repeating because it helps so much. When you first read a critique, most of us tend to start to feel things. Sometimes is horror, other times it’s embarrassment or anger and sometimes it’s straight-out despair.

    In order to edit in the right frame of mind (or even read your critique in the right frame of mind, for that matter), those emotions need to be put aside, and that can be difficult to do when you first get a critique. So put it aside, eat something delicious or watch your favorite TV show or read a book. Take your mind off the critique and those initial emotions, then come back to it later with the mindset of making your work better.

    It really can make all the difference.

  2. Don’t get defensive. This is a danger that we sometimes see in public critiques or reviews. And it’s understandable—your writing is very personal. It is, in essence, an extension of you, so when people point out the flaws or say it needs work, it can feel like a personal attack.

    The thing to remember is that it’s not a personal attack, and you did ask for this critique. But if you get defensive, there’s no way you’ll be able to switch into the right mindset and learn from the experience of being critiqued—which really is the whole point of this exercise.

    So when you feel the defensive monster raging inside you, tell it to shut up and keep reading.

  3. Not everyone is right. This is important, particularly in public critiques or when dealing with new critique partners and beta readers. The thing is, sometimes well-intentioned people will make bad suggestions, or sometimes people will completely misunderstand your work and make a suggestion that is contrary to your vision. The thing to remember is that not everything that everyone says is right, and in the end you know your work best. 

What tips do you have for receiving critiques? 


E.J. Wesley said...

Loved your #3, Ava. You never want to discredit or devalue a critter's feedback entirely. But you have to know what you're trying to accomplish with a story. Those two things can be fundamentally opposed.

Just because a critter is put off by strong language, doesn't mean it's wrong for your story. A good critter will try to put their biases, etc. aside, but I always encourage my readers to tell me exactly what puts them off--even if it's petty or a 'gut thing'. Sometimes those little details in feedback can reveal big problems or true concerns that need to be addressed. And sometimes they're just nitpicks and prerogative. Knowing the difference is key. :)

Ava Jae said...

Thanks, E.J.! You're entirely right about that last point. It's always important to at least consider every bit of feedback you get, but in the end you don't have to implement everything. You know your work best and you know what will help and what might work against your vision for your work.

Sarah Anne Foster said...

Ugh, I'm having horrible flashbacks to college workshops...

You made some excellent points. It's important not to take the criticism too seriously, especially if it's coming from someone who didn't take your work seriously in the first place. I once received a critique that wasn't helpful at all and was actually insulting, and it took me to a dark place. But you shouldn't let it get to you.

I loved your #3, as well. Sometimes there's gonna be that person who just doesn't get it, or is gonna want you to rewrite the way THEY would have written it. I had someone suggest my first person story be written in third person, probably just because she thought everything should be written in third person. But losing the personal spin of the narrator would have actually made the story kind of creepy and disturbing. Luckily she was the only one who thought that...

Ava Jae said...

That's a shame about that negative critique, Sarah. I'm not sure whether the critique you received was intentionally mean-spirited, but that would definitely be a case where #3 is important to remember, as would the example you gave about switching from first to third person POV. Giving a balanced, thoughtful critique can sometimes be just as difficult as receiving critiques, and sometimes people end up way off the mark. It happens, and it's important to remain aware that not every critique you receive is going to be perfect.

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