They say authors are their own worst critics. I have found this to be true, not only when it comes to an author critiquing his or her own work, but also when receiving critiques about our work from others — even if those others are people close to us.
My writing group takes turns critiquing each others’ submissions on a regular basis. The submission might be a piece of flash fiction, or it could be a fraction of a larger work, such as my novel-in-progress titled HAUNTED WOMEN OF THE APPALACHIANS.
Critiquing versus Editing
There is a definite line between critiquing and editing. The members of my group not only have different writing styles and genres, but we also have different methods of critiquing each others’ works. This is not a bad thing. In fact, it is kind of an awesome thing.
When submitting something, we have the option to put a notation at the top clearly stating what we’re looking for in the critique. It might be something like:
- I’m looking for egregious errors only.
- Everything from plot holes to pronoun choices.
- I need help with character development.
- I’d like feedback on my scene transitions.
You get the idea, and for the most part this system is pretty flawless. If there is no notation, then the person reading it critiques in whatever style they are most comfortable.
However on one submission in the not-so-distant past, I forgot to put what I was looking for at the top. This piece was already in the hands of my editor. What I really wanted was a general overview, but I didn’t say that. I didn’t say anything.
So what I got from one member of our group was an in-depth critique. It was completely different from my style of critiquing and bordered on editing. Upon first glance, I did not take it well.
What? No! That’s not How it Works!
Thoughts like It’s not what I wanted at all! and How could this person edit my work? It’s mine! ran through my head as I glanced over the comments, each one neatly organized in its own little speech bubble. If I took all the suggestions, it would require me to change a lot of things, and I kind of don’t do well with change.
Here’s a confession: I didn’t even read through them all on the first time around. About halfway through the digital document, I closed it out with plans to revisit it later. The only mention I made of it during our meeting was a request not to edit my work or remove words and phrases, but to strike through or highlight them so I have a clear reference when reading through the comments.
I couldn’t say anything else. There was just too much to digest. When it comes to my writing, I am tenderhearted. My skin is thin as rice paper. These words I put together are like little bits of my soul. To paraphrase a metaphor from Julie
, a friend, home school mom and fellow writer, “When I put my pen to the page, I bleed.” In other words, regardless whether it is literary fiction, non-fiction, or science fiction, we authors put a lot into our work.
Revisiting the Critique
A few days later, armed with a Caramel Ribbon Crunch Frappuccino, I went back and read through the comments again. A lot of the comments brought up good points, such as talking more about the floor plan of the setting to give readers a clearer picture. There were still a few I disagreed with, but this time I didn’t beat myself up over them.
Looking back, I am so glad I didn’t allow my emotions to run my mouth at the meeting. I probably would have hurt someone who I consider a friend.
It was easy to see, after a few days went by, the critique itself wasn’t what bothered me. It was my reaction to it. I took the comments way too personal. They weren’t an attack on my writing. They were just comments from one person’s point of view.
I’m not alone, though. A lot of artists are quite passionate about their work, from painters, to musicians, to writers, to actors, and everyone in between. Even Lucy Lawless (aka Xena, Warrior Princess) isn’t immune to critiques as you can see from this video of her teaming up with Kenny Loggins to turn his hit Footloose into a duet.
As authors, we are not going to please all of the people all of the time. Not everyone will love the things we write. Some of you might be critiquing this blog post as you read it, and that’s okay. (And if you do, please leave a comment below so we can talk about it…in a couple of days. Heh.)
Less Self-Criticism and More Investment
I’m not suggesting we stop critiquing our own works, but that we stop being so critical of ourselves. Instead of writing for other people, write for just one person — you. At the end of the day, you are the person who has to live with the words, phrases, sentences, stories, chapters, and novels you publish for an audience, whether it is a social media status update or New York Times bestseller.
Other people can decide whether or not to invest in your work, but your investment in your work grows whenever you spend time on it. The time you spend beating yourself up because you don’t like what one person has to say during a single moment can be spent doing something more productive, like fixing plot holes.
We need to weather all critiques, both positive and negative ones. In a way it prepares us for the future, when readers publicly review our works on sites like Goodreads and Amazon
. There’s a blog article by Mary Bue MacLean
titled “Thoughts on Success, Failure & Non-Attachment” which explores the concept of recovering from a setback and includes a short, helpful video on the topic.
Let’s Chat about Critiquing!
Have you ever received a critique or review of your writing that made you cringe? How did you handle it? I’d love to discuss this in the comments section below!