Public Critiques: Terrifying and Totally Worth It

Photo credit: Peter Alfred Hess on Flickr
With Write on Con gearing up for their annual online writer’s conference (August 13-14), the critique forums have recently opened. This is a great opportunity for PB, MG, YA and NA writers to get their queries, first 250 words and/or first five pages critiqued, as well as a chance for writers of all genres and categories to practice their critiquing skills

I’ll be the first to admit that for the longest time, I found public critiques enormously intimidating. For years I glanced at forums and online critiques, but I never dared to submit my writing. Truth be told, I was terrified to post my work publicly, only to have it torn apart for all to see. And let’s be honest, it sounds pretty scary. 

But last winter I finally participated in a public critique session, and to my surprise, I loved it. 

The thing is, getting your work critiqued is always scary. Invariably, it stings, and sometimes it makes you want to hide your work in a hole where no one will ever see it again. But receiving and utilizing critiques is the fastest way I know to improve not only the critiqued work, but your level of skill in the craft of writing. 

That being said, public critiques can seem even more terrifying because you’re not just asking one person to tear your work apart—you’re opening it up for anyone who is willing to take the time to point out the flaws in your work. And it’s a little scary, yes, until you consider that you’re all in this together. Every person who critiques your work is looking for a critique as well (and if they critique your work, it’s good etiquette to take the time to critique their entries as well). Everyone is there to learn, and no one is perfect. 

The one downside of public critiques is that sometimes you’ll get conflicting advice—one person will say they love your first line and someone else will say to get rid of it, etc. But every time you show your work to more than one person, there’s a chance that you’ll receive conflicting advice—it’s a hazard of critiquing. In the end, it comes down to you deciding what’s best for your writing. 

I definitely recommend public critiques to writers of all stages. It’s a fantastic learning experience for all involved, and as a very nice bonus, you’ll end up with much stronger work by the end of it. 

Have you ever participated in a public critique? What was your experience like? 

Twitter-sized bites: 
Have you ever participated in a public critique? Here's why one writer swears by them. (Click to tweet
Public critiques may be terrifying, but writer @Ava_Jae believes they're more than worth it. And here's why. (Click to tweet)


Emma Adams said...

Great post! I think all authors get intimidated by the idea of public critiques. For three years, I had my work critiqued weekly in seminars on my creative writing course, and I still find it scary! I'd love to take part in a proper public critique when my current WIP is ready!

Ava Jae said...

Thank you, Emma! I think you're right that it'll always be a little intimidating, but to me, at least, I think it gets a little easier over time. Because once you get over the mental hurdle of being too scared to do it, it becomes a little easier to do it again. :)

MeredithJ said...

I totally agree. It's scary putting your work out there for the sole purpose of getting constructive feedback. But my query went from Meh to Amazing doing it. I am so much better at critiquing other queries than writing my own. Go figure :)

Ava Jae said...

Agreed entirely! I've received some amazing feedback. The writing community is wonderful. :)

As for the critiquing thing, I actually think it's pretty common to find it easier to critique others than to critique your own work. Because you're so close to your work, it's much more difficult to see the flaws and the areas that need improvement. But that's not a problem with someone else's work.

Lauren said...

There is a technique in debate called Piranha Packing. You read your case in front of your club and they tear it to shreds. Despite having done that plenty of times I am still intimidated by having others look at my WIP. I think it might have to do with having strangers critique it instead of friends or acquaintances. Strangers are probably better for writing b/c they tend to give more truthful answers simply because they don't know you and can look at your piece from a non-bias point of view.

Gina Drayer said...

I love critiques. I participate in an online critique group as well as a local writing group. I find the critiques I get to be invaluable. While writing (especially while revising) you're too close to your work to get a good perspective on what is or isn't working. Simply having someone look at my writing and say they just aren't feeling it makes all the difference.

As far as conflicting comments...I tend to go with the rule of three. If more then three people say the same or similar things then it's worth taking a look at, if just one oddball says something that contradicts the other feedback I've gotten then I ignore it as an outlier (unless, it's really good advice, sometimes there will be that one person who picks up on something that everyone else misses.)

When using critiques I always try to keep in mind that it's my story I'm writing and it has to be true to my voice, to my vision. Not everyone is going to like it, but that OK. Don't take critiques personally. Use them to improve the work you love.

Laura Pauling said...

I don't mind public critiques. They're a little scary at first and yes, there is conflicting advice, but that happens regardless. I think it's a good experience for any writer. :)

Ava Jae said...

I do agree that strangers tend to help because they're not afraid to give you an unbiased critique. Other writer CPs can be great too, because they get to know your work, but they don't see it often enough that they're too close to give a distanced critique. But in order to get those CPs, you need to be willing to let strangers see it, too. Scary, but definitely helpful.

Ava Jae said...

I couldn't agree with your more, Gina. When more than one CP mentions the same issue, you know you definitely need to look at whatever it is they're bringing up, but as you said, it's also good to consider what everyone has to say, even if it's something totally off the wall or different from everyone else. And you're right that we can't take critiques personally—they're meant for improvement, and they're essential to really honing in on the story. But in the end, as you said, it comes down to you, the story you're trying to tell, and your voice.

Great insight. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

Ava Jae said...

Agreed! They're more than worth the scariness and occasional conflicting advice. :)

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