Critiques: A Writer’s BFF
I have observed some really upset writers after they’ve received written or verbal suggestions about their stories. And I think most writers at least wince (I know I do) when they receive a lot of edits. But you can actually learn to see these as gifts, huge favors, and even unexpected muses instead of personal attacks on you and/or your writing. I’ve used a few famous quotes to help demonstrate my views on how to develop thicker skin by looking at critiques in a different light.
“The first draft of anything is shit.” ― Ernest Hemingway:
I would like to add to this – The second draft is readable. The third draft is better but not perfect. So negative feedback is positive. You want your novel/chapter to come back from your critique partner completely marked up. However, the first reaction to getting your pages back that looks like someone rewrote your story might be either, “I should have caught this; I’m a horrible writer.” or “This is bull. They don’t know what they’re talking about.” These responses are normal, and you’ll probably never be able to completely shut them off. Give yourself that second to pout, but then you have to get over it – you’ve been given a gift that you could never give yourself – another person’s perspective.
“Remember: when people tell you something’s wrong or doesn’t work for them, they are almost always right. When they tell you exactly what they think is wrong and how to fix it, they are almost always wrong.” ― Neil Gaiman
After you’ve read over the critique and are finished cursing, think about any notes as a whole. Mull them over. Do you agree with them?
Yes – Awesome. Do the necessary tweaks.
No? Whatever you do, never completely dismiss a suggestion. If something takes the reader out of the story, makes them stop reading to write a note, then something is wrong.
“In writing, you must kill all your darlings.” ― William Faulkner
You still don’t agree? You might be too close to your story (your baby) to be objective. Ask someone else. If they agree with the critiquer, you really have to consider deleting/changing it. This might take some time. But just keep an open mind, think about it, talk it out, and struggle with it a little bit. You might be surprised with the outcome.
If others agree with you, the critique could still be useful. Turn it into your muse, an idea for a new direction, or fill in a gap somewhere else. On one occasion, I didn’t agree with what a writer friend said about my character’s career choice. I asked several other people, and they agreed with me. But then after weeks of trying to figure out why she thought this way, I decided that my friend’s opinion would work great as the character’s father’s opinion on the same subject. This set a lot of other changes in motion too, which gave my story more depth.
Learn From Your Mistakes: (This is more for the grammar side.) If you don’t know why a critiquer/editor changed something, even something as small as a comma, ask them why they changed it, or, better yet, look it up. Guess what? Sometimes even the grammar pros make mistakes. It is really important that you take control of your story by getting involved in every aspect of your craft. Every correction is a chance to learn. And things are constantly changing, so you might have missed something.
Always Say Thank You: Thank your critiquer as soon as you receive your critique – no matter how crazy you think they are. You asked for the critique, and they used their time (The more marked up the copy the more time they took.) to do you a favor. And if they are a writer, you can always get them back when it’s your turn to critique. Mwah ha ha!
Love and Laughter,