As promised over in part one, here is part two on critiques! In this post, I’m going to talk about how to accept a critique. I don’t believe I need to go into the backstory on this one, so let’s jump straight to the five rules of accepting a critique.
1.) We are all writer friends here. Yes, I know, this is almost the same rule number one as the rule number one of the previous post, but that doesn’t make this point any less important. We *are* all friends here, and that’s an important thing to remember because the critique you receive may hurt your feelings. And it won’t be because we *aren’t* friends, but because you have been lead to believe that friends are going to deliver praise and adoration for the things you have written (we’ll get to that in rule number two). But what we are is writer friends. We practice the same craft you do, and we’ve come to a fairly shocking realization…
2.) You can’t trust the opinions of your friends and family. That sounds harsh. It really isn’t meant to be, but you see, we’re used to having our friends and family tell us how awesome we are. It’s one of the great advantages to having supportive friends and family. We write, they read, they rave about how awesome it is, how talented we are, and how we are totally doing great. And man, that feeling is awesome. So you take that story to a writer’s circle, a convention, maybe a workshop…and it bleeds. The red pens fly with frightening fury, and suddenly, your confidence in your work is shattered, as is your faith in the critical opinions of your friends and family. Curious as to how I know? I’ll let you guess…Thing is, you don’t have to lose trust in them. It’s not that your friends or family were trying to be dishonest with you. They most likely legitimately believe what they’ve said. But they love you. And love has a funny way of glossing over the details that would cause someone less emotionally involved to take pause. So love your family and friends. Trust them in all things. Except for writing critiques.
3.) Don’t take it personally. Really, don’t, because it’s not. No matter how your critique turns out, none of it, not a single bit, is a personal attack on you. Now, it may feel a little like it is. If you’re anything like me, your story feels like a part of you. You put time, effort, thought, and emotion into forming it. It is a child of your passion, your delightful madness that makes you take the time to set words to the page. When someone comes in and starts pointing out things that could be better or cleaner or clearer, its hard at first not to get upset by that. But you need not to. That person isn’t attacking you…they’re helping you. They’re not some butcher hacking up your poor story like a cheap cut of meat. They’re a surgeon, attempting to repair, rebuild, and restructure so that your story works better, faster, stronger. They’re doing you a huge favor with their own time and energy and critical eye to detail. And like I learned so many years ago, if they didn’t think it was worth it, they wouldn’t bother critiquing it.
4.) Accept that changes are going to have to be made. I know that the temptation is going to be there to defend every bit of your work. When the critique is telling you that something doesn’t work, you’re going to want to argue why it does. This kind of defeats the purpose of the critique though, doesn’t it? If you didn’t want it to be changed, why are you having someone read it with an editorial eye? The whole point of a critique is to find ways to make your story and work better, more readable, more involving. Your fellow writers, your friends, are trying to help you with that goal. Arguing every suggestion is just a waste of your time and theirs. If you like your story as is, then publish it. Submit it to a publishing house, or a magazine, or put it up on your blog or what have you. Which brings us to the last rule…
5.) You don’t have to follow every suggestion. In the end, the person giving your critique is human. They are bound to make mistakes in understanding and judgment. They are also most likely writers, who also have work that needs to be critiqued. So it is bound to happen that they are going to suggest something at some point that just doesn’t feel like it’s going to work to you. And it’s ok to say “thank you, I’ll take that into consideration” and then leave that part of your work as is. Now, I would definitely seriously consider every suggestion first. Maybe try it out, rework that portion of the story a bit, and see if maybe they didn’t have something there. But keep a copy of the original. You can always go back to it if you just aren’t feeling it.
And that’s that, my friends. Five simple rules to accepting a critique.
Comments and critiques are, of course, welcome. ;)