Wednesday, May 15, 2013

How to Handle a Rough Critique

Maybe I should change the title of this post to "How I Handle a Rough Critique" becasue not everyone does it the same.



When I first got serious about writing I expected to be critiqued. After all, I had an awesome English teacher who showed me that writing is better when you have the help of others. Still, I thought I had a pretty good idea and I really hoped people would like the story.

Hahahahahaha (Pause for breath) hahahahahahahaha!

Okay so I was really hurt by my first few critiques and I kinda wanted to quit. Thank goodness I had already started blogging and came 'out of the closet' with the fact that I'm writer, or else I WOULD'VE quit.

Long story short, I've learned a lot these past two years, but sometimes critiques still hurt. Here's what I do to lessen the pain.

1. Walk Away. Whenever I receive a critique I read through the comments, then I set it aside. Especially if there's a lot of red. I cry a little, have imaginary arguments in my head, spend a couple of days justifying myself, and (when I feel ready) I read it again. Usually it doesn't seem so bad the second time around.

2. Pep talks. I don't tell myself I'm the greatest writer ever, that'll get me nowhere. I tell myself things more like, "They're just trying to help you." and, "This is their raw opinion without knowing me." Sometimes it takes the harshness of the words down a notch.

3. I read my previous work. I think it's good when you're feeling down to go back and see how far you've come. Then you'll have the strength to keep improving.

Hopefully you'll think of these the next time you get a hard critique, and if you ever need a shoulder to cry on, you know where to find me. Believe me, I understand!

31 comments:

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Critiques usually don't bother me. Unless it's something I really feel strongly about in a manuscript, I usually think "Yeah, you're right" and make the changes. Fortunately I have some witty critique partners and I spend most of my time chuckling at their comments.

Ava Jae said...

I'm with Alex about critiques not usually bothering me too much. I do find, however, that walking away is helpful regardless, because I'll get into moods where I either a) agree with everything and want to make all of the changes or b) agree with nothing and justify and argue every point in my head. Neither is conducive to a successful revision, so taking a break and coming back to it tends to help.

L.G. Smith said...

I have one critique partner who is a master at slashing all my extra wordiness. Every time I get a critique back I just stare at all the strikeouts and shake my head. He's usually right, so it doesn't really bother me. Until he slashes one of my favorite darling metaphors. Then I get defensive. But then I remember it's my story and I can keep it if I want to. :)

Stina Lindenblatt said...

Usually I go with what feels right. The hardest is when you're not sure what feels right, and you're stuck on the fence, not sure which way to fall. You understand their reasons, but everyone else who has read the book disagrees with the suggested change. That's the hardest critique of all.

S.P. Bowers said...

Great advice. Especially number one. Sometimes we just need time to let go of the sting an see the validity of their thoughts.

Rachel Schieffelbein said...

Maybe it's my speech background, we get and give a lot of critiques, but I haven't had too many critiques get to me. I had one that just totally hated the story and that was hard. But for the most part I'm able to take what I want and leave the rest. :)

Julie Luek said...

I had one critique that just laid me flat and made me feel like the entire premise of my book sucked. Fortunately, I had another reader who loved the book and idea and had helpful suggestions too. Here's the tricky thing, the CP who really ripped at the book had very valid and good suggestions too. I've put the MS away for now for various reasons, none of which have to do with either CP. But I know, if I ever do go back to it, I will find both CPs' feedback helpful and insightful in their own right.

Sarah said...

Good Advice. I feel the same, that difficult critiques are easier to deal with after the second read.

I've come around quite a bit from when I received my first few critiques. I was so defensive then, but a good writer has to be objective about their writing and realize when they can improve. I don't take things so personally anymore. Like you said, they're just trying to help, and that is a valuable service in my book (heehee).

I'm glad you didn't quit. You have come so far, and I can't wait to see where you continue to go from here.

John Wiswell said...

I'm in a place where any rough critique I get is one I've sought out. When I pick a beta reader who I know won't play up the things he liked, I just have to brace myself emotionally before opening the document. I recently applied to Viable Paradise, where, if I get in, I'm sure my feelings won't be spared. But it helps knowing in both the personal and professional circles that negative criticism comes from people who desire to help me.

And when I'm still shaky, yeah, pep talks definitely help the spirits!

Elizabeth Seckman said...

I think that's good advice. I think it's also important to remember, when critiquing a new writer, to keep in mind how long it took to master all the elements and work on it in pieces.

Morgan said...

So great, Jenny!

I also think it's important to get multiple opinions... just because one person thinks one thing doesn't mean it's right. Soooooooo important to trust your gut!

But this whole process really is amazing. It changes us.

ilima said...

I could have used this a year ago. I also think there's a way to critique so that you don't discourage the writer. Writing is too hard to be harsh.

Tyrean Martinson said...

I've had to walk away from a few critiques too. Right now, I feel incredibly blessed to have an awesome, encouraging critique partner that knows how to tell me what needs to be fixed with humor and grace.

After I get a rejection for a poem or a short story (just last Friday), I handle it like a harsh critique. I walk away, I think it over, and I read my successful stuff again . . . and then get back to work at writing.

Sheena-kay Graham said...

Critiques help you improve. Unless they're mean callous critiques. Those just hurt people or piss them off. *Hits virtual meanie reviewer with my virtual punishment stick*

~Sia McKye~ said...

OMG, the first one I got? I thought the MS was going to bleed to death. Talk about a thump to the heart, sheesh. And this was by a published friend who has a good eye and loves my writing. I told her afterward, I'd hate to see what you'd do if you hated my writing or thought it was bad. Her answer? I wouldn't have read beyond the first few chapters.

I've learned to take criticism. No, it's rarely comfortable, yes, it stings, but you know what? Those I use? They want to see me succeed. They're on my side. They're only commenting on those things that need tweaking. AND They're right and I see it once I've applied a tourniquet to stop the bleeding, put bandages on the poor thing and set the pieces aside and then come back to it.

To be a good writer we need good critiquers.

Sia McKye OVER COFFEE

Jenny S. Morris said...

This is great advice. I have a hard time with walking away but it's important. :)

JEFritz said...

Critiques always fill me with anxiety and dread! The secret is knowing that it really does help. I also love the idea of reading previous works to remind you have how far you've come. Yes, I sure have. :)

Cassie Mae said...

After the comment I got that I should quit and think about doing something else, every critique after that has been a breeze, lol.

Haneen I. Adam said...

Number 1 is a rule for me :)

J.L. Campbell said...

Walking away is a good strategy. Gives me time to cool off so I can look at the critique with an unbiased eye.

Trisha F said...

I agree with walking away...although sometimes I haven't been able to leave it TOO long before getting out of bed (at way past bedtime on a "school night") and starting to hack away at my manuscript based on harsh critique that...ouch...actually made good points.

Al Diaz said...

Interesting. I think I'm like Alex. I do not feel that strong about critiques. If they make sense, I listen to them, if they don't, I ignore them. However, I've never received a "harsh" critique. Or one I consider as such.

Kyra Lennon said...

Great tips! This is pretty much exactly how I handle rough critiques! And sometimes, there's chocolate involved :D

Gwen Tolios said...

This is exactly why I always want a work to be read by more than one person. Critiques are opinion, and if I get a bad one it's hard for me to tell if it's a bad story or a personal feeling. Looking at drafts, several beta's side by side, I feel like I get a more balanced picture and am less likely to be bothered by a negative crit.

Heather Holden said...

Great advice! When a critique stings more than normal, I walk away, too. Helps give me perspective whenever I read over the critique again!

Anonymous said...

Great suggestions!

Crystal Collier said...

LOL! I know exactly what you mean, and yes, distance and time will make all good advice just that. Of course, the more you do it, the easier it gets to don elephant skin before facing the red. If the people you're working with sincerely care about you, it's definitely easier to see their advice as an effort to assist rather than a "I'm so awesome, and you're not" commentary. Great advice. ;)

Kami McArthur said...

I have to set it aside for a while as well and get some space from it. When I got back to it, it's not that bad.

klahanie said...

Greetings J.A.,

Oh my, I can certainly understand your thoughtful advice and how you handle such situations.

However, the most important aspect is that you most certainly move on and learn from the experience. Actually, the experience can make for some interesting reading.

It's all about belief in yourself and the encouragement of others. I've never had a negative or constructive criticism critique. Then again, nobody seems to figure out what the heck I'm writing about.

All the best to you and happy writing.

Gary :)

Carrie-Anne said...

I think a lot of critiquers nowadays have this idea that a critique should ONLY mention what you didn't like or think needs work. It won't kill you to mention things you did like about the writing or storyline. A little niceness goes a long way. Friendly yet honest is the best way to go.

Demetria Foster Gray said...

Critiques really don't bother me, mostly because I have an awesome critique group who gives me very wise and constructive criticism.

Maybe earlier in my writing I was a bit more sensitive, but over the years I've developed a thick skin and can now roll with the punches.