Thoughts on Critiques

October 23rd, 2011

I wound up having an email conversation with Aimée Carter tonight about critiques and how to take them. And it got me thinking… and in the end, writing about it.

Sure, I may be an unpublished author, but I still know a thing or two about critiques. I spent a year of high school having my work critiqued by the best damn english teacher I could have ever asked for.

Really, in the end, it’s all about attitude you have when getting and receiving a critique. Unless you have the desire to make your work better, a critique from the best editor in the world is worthless. The point of critiques is to point out things that are missing and find ways to make your work even better than it was when you sent it out. Writing is always about improving and making your work the best it can be. If you have no desire to make your work better, then back away from me and my blog right now.

Whoever is giving you a critique of your work isn’t trying to bully you or make you feel bad. They’re looking at your work from an objective point of view and trying to point out things you may have missed. Face it, your work is like your baby and it’s precious to you. When you look at that shiny manuscript in your hands or on your iPad, you’re going to see it as the best thing ever. The thought that there could be something wrong with it? How dare you say such a thing!

Truth of the matter, no one, not even Stephen King is told his first draft is the most amazing thing since sliced bread. Critiques tell you when you’ve missed something, when you have inconsistencies, or when you add a kitchen where there shouldn’t be a kitchen. It’s someone else bringing a pair of fresh eyes to your work.

DOs
* Listen to what they have to say. You may not agree with everything, and that’s okay. It’s one person’s opinion. Have ten people read something, and you’ll get ten different opinions.
* Take time to digest what’s been said. If you’re not used to getting critiques (and I’m not, I admit), read through it, then put it in a folder for a while until you can come back with a clear head. Chances are you’ll look at it a lot kinder a week or two later.

DON’Ts
* Take it personally. Whoever is critiquing, be it a friend or an agent or an editor is not out to get you. They’re trying to help you and make it better. So going off on someone isn’t the way to solve things. A critique is not a reflection on you it’s a reflection on the manuscript.
* Rant about it to the person. Really, it makes you look like an idiot. And how do you think an agent will take it if you tell them “no, you’re wrong!”

Does that mean that whatever someone says in your critique is god and therefore you must incorporate EVERYTHING into your work? No, it doesn’t. You won’t agree with everything and if someone’s only reading a few chapters, they may not have the whole picture and some of what they offer to you won’t be accurate or helpful.

Most importantly? You are allowed to lick your wounds. It’s hard getting a critique back, especially when you’re not used to people being blunt about your work. I got a critique back recently that, yes, sent me into a strop. However, I didn’t yell at she who did my critique, nor did I pitch a fit. I may have whined to a friend, but then I put it away for a week. A week later, I pulled it out, re-read it and found things that I did miss and that I want to incorporate into my first three chapters.

Always remember: critiques are there to help you improve; not to make you feel horrible. Critiques are also the start of the thick skin any artistic professional needs to have in order to survive. Not everyone is going to like your work — so being able to take a critique goes a long way towards being able to stomach a bad review.

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