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Friday, August 24, 2012

Critiques, The Good, The Bad and The Ugly


Critique—just the word can make me break out in hives. Don’t get me wrong, I really like to get feedback on my writing, as long as it’s positive. But there’s the rub, nothing but positive critique doesn’t help me grow as a writer. Now, I’m not one of those who believe positive feedback is worthless. I like to know what I’m doing well, so I can do more of it. But, I also want to know where I need improvement.

You might say I’m a glutton for punishment. I regularly enter pieces in contests. I’m a member of a monthly critique group and a member of an intensive, weekly critique group. And that doesn’t count all the rejection letters I have in my files from articles and manuscripts that haven’t made the grade. I’ve definitely had my fair share of painful critiques. But this post isn’t an invitation to a pity party. I just want to share some of my coping techniques when it seems like no one can say anything good about what I’ve written.

  • Take it in, then let it sit – I have to have time to process negative comments. (I don’t seem to need the same time to process the positive ones—go figure). I usually go back and reread the negative comments 48 hours later and that gives me the perspective to know what I need to do to improve.
  • Realize you’re in control – ultimately it’s your story and you can decide what works and what doesn’t. Just because a critique partner says it doesn’t work, doesn’t mean she’s right. You get to make the call.
  • Seek out a second opinion – sometimes I don’t know if a comment is truly valid or not. When that happens, I ask several people I respect for their opinion. If one person stumbles over a sentence, it’s not a big deal. But if half the people you show it to stumble you probably need to do something.
  • Be polite – generally, someone who takes the time to critique your work wants you to succeed. It helps make the negative comments easier to take if you remind yourself of that. Occasionally you’ll run across someone who rips your manuscript to shreds just to prove how smart they are. It happens to all of us and we just have to consider the source of the critique and move on.


So don’t be afraid to show others your work. Ultimately, no matter how painful, it will improve your writing. I’ve had hundreds of articles published through the years, and I can assure you that all those painful critiques are a large part of my success.

Now it’s your turn. What tips do you have for processing a negative critique?

Edie Melson is a freelance writer and editor with years of experience in the publishing industry. She’s a prolific writer, and has a popular writing blog, The Write Conversation. She’s the co-director of the Blue Ridge Mountains Christian Writers Conference, as well as a popular faculty member at numerous others. She’s also the Social Media Coach at My Book Therapy.

20 comments:

Vonda Skelton said...

"But there’s the rub, nothing but positive critique doesn’t help me grow as a writer."

Amen, sister! I feel cheated if someone just says, "That was great."

Bruce Brady - Writer said...

Thanks Edie. As one who's been critiqued by you, my tip would be to seek feedback from one who truly has your best interest and success at heart. Then the pain of negative criticism is sweetened by the knowledge that it's for your own good.

You've sent back my submissions with a lot of red ink, but I thank you because it's resulted in making me a better writer. I've succeeded in being published a few times and I owe that success, in part, to you and the others in a couple of those groups you mentioned.

Ane Mulligan said...

My Cps and I have names for each other ... like Ane the Smiling Butcher and Genghis Griep. But I have to say, when we're through with each other, the work is good!!!!! My CPs make me work harder, think harder, and produce the very best I can. They never accept second best, and I think God for them every day!!

Deborah H. Bateman said...

I have found when negative critiques or reviews come I have to take some time to take it in. At first it may upset me a bit, but then after I consider the person who is giving the comment and the reason behind it, I can look at it more objectively and see what I can learn from it. Blessings, Deborah H. Bateman-Author

Kay Dew Shostak said...

Just get used to it. Best training was working at a newspaper. Every morning started with a hard copy of what I had written the day before waiting on my desk from the copy editors upstairs. They ONLY used red magic markers and did everything fast and big - What????, Doesn't work, Doesn't make sense, Re-do and Need More Info!!!! After a couple years of that everyday, good comments are totally suspect.

Lori Ann Freeland said...

I'm learning that someone, somewhere will ALWAYS find something wrong with your work. And I'm also learning that I can always make it better. The hard part comes in figuring out when to stop :)

Mary said...

I think you have to take into consideration who is doing the critique and what their motivation is. I have entered some contests with a great review from one judge and then a review from another judge that tears my work to pieces. I took those straight to my weekly crit partners and let them help me sort it out. When my crit partners told me they thought the judge with the bad review was trying to show how "smart" he/she was, it put that critique into perspective. I pulled out anything useful and then let the judge's comment roll off my back. (But yes, it hurt.)

As far as my critique partners, I know they have my back. While I get really frustrated with myself for "not getting it right," I know that they want me published with the best possible work.

But I think we as writers always appreciate the positive comments!

Laura McClellan said...

If I disagree with a critique, I let it sit for awhile, come back to it, and look for what might be true about it.

Edie Melson said...

I agree! Thanks for stopping by.

Edie Melson said...

Thanks, Bruce!

Edie Melson said...

I agree, I have a love-hate relationship with my crit buddies. But we've see the fruit from hanging tough.

Edie Melson said...

I definitely have to give the negative crits time to settle before I can pull the good stuff to the top. When I get a bad review or crit, it's like it gives all those negative voices in my head permission to start screaming, "We told you it was junk."

Edie Melson said...

That's so true. I don't think anyone can ever get a perfect critique.

Edie Melson said...

So true, nothing like a professional arena to bring us up to speed!

Where There's a Will There's a Way With Words said...

700 articles in a year ! I don't write that many shopping lists!! I take all criticism as future directed praise...some of it more long term than others...

Edie Melson said...

I love that, all criticism as future directed praise! I'm gonna remember that.

Janice C Johnson said...

Let me know if you figure out when to stop... one of my writing profs said, "Writing is never DONE--it's just DUE."

Raewyn Hewitt said...

I'm always mindful that people who critique for me have taken time out of their schedule to help me. But I'm also careful who I ask to critique for me and give them an idea of what form of feedback I'm looking for.

If I'm at early drafting stage I might ask them not to line edit but just to give feedback whether troublesome scenes work. At a later stage I might ask them not to pull their punches.

Critique is a useful tool, but as you said - it's always up to you whether you take a suggestion on board or not.

Allison Martin said...

I agree with you that if all they say is "That's great," they're probably just trying not to hurt your feelings. However, I also take constructive criticism with a grain of salt. Many comments are more of a personal preference related to the other writer's style, so in the end I have to follow my gut before I change anything.

Laura Hodges Poole said...

Great insight, Edie. I like your response above: When I get a bad review or crit, it's like it gives all those negative voices in my head permission to start screaming, "We told you it was junk." Writers are artists, so criticism can sting. I like the critiques that give me useful information. I've only had one instance of what I'd consider mean-spirited feedback in a contest, but the other two judges said the opposite, so that helped tremendously. And that's why it's so important to seek feedback from more than one source.