Zen and the art of Taking Critiques

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Even the most well meaning and helpful critique can hit us as hard as a strike from a prize fighter.

Think about it. When you ask for a critique, you’re asking to get your heart pulled out of your chest, you are requesting to be belittled, and you are opening yourself up to insult.

You hand over your hard work. Something you have invested blood, sweat, and tears in. You tell the person not to hold back. You ask them to find every fault your work might have.

So with all that in mind, knowing you asked for this, why is taking a hard critique so difficult?

It's because no matter how thick you say your skin is, it's not.

Your work, your short story, novella, or novel is a part of you. Any fault found with it, is the same as finding fault with you.

Or at least that is how we might take it.

Stop right there.

Your work is your creation but it is not you.

It's that kind of thinking; taking anything negative as a personal attack. That's what makes us too pig-headed to accept the help behind what we perceive as scathing words in a critique.

I'm talking real critiques here, not just random opinions on your work. Remember opinions are like A... er, well you know the saying.

A true critique that is meant to help, will be both hard hitting and truthful. It's not a compliment session, it's a "here is what you did wrong," session. It is going to point out every flaw that particular person finds in your writing and it will hurt.

So how do you deal with it?



First... Breath

Find your happy place and calm down. Silence your instinct to defend your work. Shut out the negative thoughts about the person who has just wounded your pride.

Never respond immediately to any critique you are given. Your likely to lash out like a wild jungle cat defending its offspring and that's not going to be a pretty site.

It takes time for you to accept what is being said and to filter out what is actually helpful and what is not.

Think about what has been said or written to you. Look for the positive message.

Are they really telling you they hate your story or are they telling you that your writing is too passive and you need to fix that?

Did they say your character sucked or did they say they needed more information to better understand your character?

Did they say your dialogue is not worth the paper it's written on or did they suggest you might freshen it up a bit?

Critiques always sound hard the first time you read them. You have to really let the words sink in so that you recognize what is being said and what it means.

Only then can you use the critique and improve your work.

So remember, the next time you recieve a particularly harsh critique on your work.

Take a step back,
Breathe,
and really look at what is being said.

Liana Brooks wrote a blog this week along the same subject. She points out what to do after you have gotten a critique, editing letter, or rejection. Definitely worth a look.

Comments

Good points. It's always hard to hear that people don't love everything about our writing. If we can make it better because of a difficult critique, at least the pain was worth it.
Lazy Writer said…
Great post! I'll keep these tips in mind the next time I have someone critique my work. Thanks!
Jessica said…
Wow, the internet just lost my comment. That stinks.
I basically said, Great post! And I never heard your saying before but figured it out thanks to your capital A. :-)
Also, crits are easier when it's an older story. When you're working on something new, it tends to take the stink out of the crit. :-)
Really good advice here.
FictionGroupie said…
Great advice. I find the stepping back thing before you respond is so helpful. Let the defensiveness dissipate. Then let the "I suck and will never be published" feeling pass. After those two phases are over, you can see the gift that is an honest critique.
Danyelle said…
Great points. I think it's important for all things in life, not just writing, to stop and breathe and try not to take things personally. I think this is where having confidence in your writing, and a true sense of what the book is really helps. It helps because you can use it to compare with the things in the critique, making it easier to know which suggestions are spot on (even if they hurt a bit or require more work), or if the reader had a slightly different vision of the story than you did.
Corey Schwartz said…
Yes, good points. And I find that when I'm critiquing I am way more honest with people who are super talented than with those who aren't. I sort of feel like I can rip apart the work because the person is SO good that they wouldn't dream of taking it personally. (That may sound harsher than it is in reality :)
Scott Free said…
Muy helpful, Missus Salidas! I find I need to listen to this more often. *sigh*
Suzette Saxton said…
Good advice. Sometimes well-meaning (or not-so-well-meaning) critiquers offer advice that is not right for your ms. How can you tell the difference? A published writing friend told me that if you feel excited about the changes being proposed, they are right for your ms. If not? Fuhgedaboudit! ;)
T. Anne said…
I take it a lot like that dog in the picture lol! I actually hate neg feedback but in the end it usually pans out to be worth a look and edit. It's not fun but its de. a part of the process. I do respond better to compliments though ;)
Michelle McLean said…
For me it's more the thought of what I'll have to do to fix the problems that were highlighted that puts me into a tailspin. The critiques are usually great and I almost always see the point that is being made...and agree with it. But the thought of the work that will be involved to fix the problem sometime has me hiding under the covers :D
Critiques should be truthful, yes, and no matter how gentle, they always hold an element of pain. Separating yourself from your work is tricky and sometimes feels impossible. I am lucky because my workshops have been professional and positive even though they were also very fruitful. I hope there are no people out there badmouthing other writers, although I have heard the horror stories. I would never want to be a part of that. It's not necessary to be mean to get a point across.
Louise said…
Critiques should be honest, but there is always something to praise too.
I've had a "professional" crit and felt it not worth the money I spent, but I've had other writers do the crit and it's opened up my mind to where I've been going wrong.
So, this leads me to the point, are other writers better at critiquing than these so-called professional you see advertised?