Learning how to be critiqued

I feel like there’s a lot of advice out there for writers in critique groups on how to give the most helpful, most sensitive, most comprehensive review of someone else’s work. What seems to be lacking is an understanding of how to take and respond to a critique.

I’ve been involved in various writing groups and classes over the last twenty years or so.  I have developed a very thick skin. But I remember when it was new to me and I was easier to crush. So my first bit of advice is to ease into the process. Start with some critique exchanges on a heavily moderated site like scribophile.com. Getting feedback while remaining anonymous can help you toughen up in private.

There are some things to remember whenever someone is telling you what they think of your work. Even if your reviewer doesn’t acknowledge it, their opinion is only as valuable as one reader. You are free to disregard anything they say.  Keep in mind: they may just not be your audience.

Once you’re brave enough to join an in-person or online critique group – and I believe any writer serious about working toward publication needs to get here – the best advice I can give is to say thank you.

If you have submitted your work for review and someone has been kind enough to spend time reading and offering feedback, be grateful. No matter what they say. Even if you think they’re arrogant and wrong and mean. Say thank you. If you think their advice is bunk, disregard it. But say thank you.

If you get a reputation for arguing with reviewers and getting defensive about your work, it will get harder to find people willing to spend time giving you feedback. The harshest critique of all will have value if only to toughen you up.

Writers need to be tough if they’re going to weather the vague rejections of literary agents, the suggested changes of editors and, harshest of all, the reader reviews on Amazon.

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18 thoughts on “Learning how to be critiqued

  1. Where are places that you would recommend to get critiqued?

  2. This is very sensible I think. I am considering using such websites myself as I am writing a book and would love to get a sense of what people might think of it. I am worried, though, that p

  3. That publishers may not look at it if bits and pieces have been posted online already…

  4. Accepting critique is a hard thing to learn. I’ve found it best to treat it like a story draft – once you have it, review it, then leave it alone for a day or two. Often after a day or two away, the content of the critique appears more reasonable than at first, and I can approach the recommendations more clearly. And I always say thank you.

  5. i found a publisher by posting my work online. i would hesitate to post an entire manuscript, but i can’t imagine a publisher having a problem with excerpts being critiqued. scribophile.com has an excellent critique format, but there are many. authonomy.com can be good if you join a critique group in the forums.

  6. I would honestly rather find a few solid people I could trust to review my work. I’m 54 years old. For years I convinced myself that I “needed to develop a thicker skin” because I’m “too sensitive.” I beat up on myself for this. Finally I learned to accept it. I have mental health issues that contribute to me being this way. I’m not going to beat myself up for being sensitive any more. If that includes protecting myself from people who seem to get off on being unnecessarily harsh, so be it.

  7. Wonderful post, Katie. I wish I’d toughen up. I simply wilt from criticism. It makes me not want to write. I’ve been struggling with that for over a decade.

    Sigh.

  8. No one said it would be easy.

  9. Learning to take criticism is tough, no matter what aspect of life it is: writing, school, work, home… I also struggle when taking POSITIVE feedback. Don’t get me wrong: I want the feedback, good and bad, but I also recognize that I, myself, have a tendency to take the negatives personally and the positives with embarrassment. That’s a “me thing”, I guess, and it is something I had to work hard on to get past it before I started getting stories out there for review and publication. I’m not sure it gets easier, but it definitely gets to feeling more “normal” the more you do it.

  10. I like your rule about saying thank you. Being gracious is a quality we don’t practice enough. Not everyone will like your book, many people will say things that are unhelpful, but acknowledging someone’s effort to read and discuss your work is the minimum for every writer.
    Look how much conversation you’ve generated with your post! Shows how important this topic is.

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