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How to take critiques (aka How to take a punch in the gut) -- by Megan Carney

Critique Circle was not my first choice when I started looking for critique groups. The thought of showing people my writing was nerve-wracking enough. Showing my writing to absolute strangers terrified me. Especially considering the typical level of intelligence and tact shown in the average comment on YouTube or your favorite news site.

Nevertheless, I took the leap. Why? Because I had tried local critique writing groups and it never worked well. Finding people who were a good fit for my work AND lived in my area AND had a matching schedule AND an interest in critiquing a full-length novel was a difficult proposition. Keeping that group together for any period of time bordered on the impossible.

For those who have similar fears, let me put your mind to rest. The vast majority of comments I've had on this site were useful. Very few have been rude. I have no scientific evidence for this, but I do think the points and rating system improves people critique skills the longer they're on the site. And, more importantly than all of that, there are enough awesome people here that it's easy to work around a few bad apples.

The one thing I wish I had gone differently about the experience was being able to read this post before I started receiving critiques. Here are a few rules I've worked out for myself over the past couple of years. If you have others, I'd love to hear them in the comments.

1) You don't have to take everyone's advice.

You will click with some critters better than others. That's okay. Actually, I think it's pretty normal. If there's someone who's giving you comments you just don't find useful, rate them honestly. Maybe they'll improve. Maybe they won't. Maybe you weren't meant to work together. (If you have someone who's being downright nasty, that's a different issue. Take advantage of the tools Critique Circle gives you, and the awesome admins.)

2) Learn how to put your hackles down.

Being defensive will kill the usefulness of any critique you're given. Try to understand that most people are just giving you an honest reaction to your work. Everyone brings their own emotional baggage to the table, and you may have touched a nerve. You can choose whether or not to change things based on their comments (see rule 1!), but taking those comments personally will help no one. My own personal coping strategies for this are to use the lessons I've learned in yoga and meditation. I've also come to understand there are days when I'm in no mood to read critiques. On those days, I simply don't. The more experience I get, the fewer of those days I have.

What works for you might be different. However you find your way here, you must learn this skill. Once I did, I discovered something amazing. If I'm not feeling defensive, my reaction to comments will range from How silly of me, of course that's wrong, I should have seen that earlier to This is the way I need to tell my story, I'm sorry it doesn't work for you.

Which brings me to my next rule.

3) It's your story.

Remember how I said you don't have to take everyone's advice? You don't have to anyone's advice. Ultimately, it's your work. If you're writing for publication, the choices you make will affect the marketability of your work, but it's still your choice. Personally, I think if you try to write in someone else's voice, you won't sell many copies anyway.

4) Show, don't tell is for critters too.

I've found that I need to read between the lines to get the most out of my critiques. For instance, on the book I'm currently prepping for publishing the editor I hired added a line in one scene that said 'I look in the bathroom mirror'. The book is in first person, so there are is a lot of 'I look' and 'I say', etc. I didn't want to add another sentence like that. Still, I reread the paragraph several times, and then saw my editor's point. I needed a transition. Maybe not that transition, but I needed to bring the reader into the physical description of the narrator more slowly.

5) The more eyes you have read your work, the better.

Averaging the comments of several people is a lot more useful than just trying to interpret one person's critique.

Often, I'll have five different people make five different comments on the same paragraph with five different suggestions for fixing it. And as it turns out, they're all correct in pointing out that something is wrong, but the real fix is a change in the previous chapter. As an added bonus, you'll find a delightful range in the expertise of your critters. I've had OR nurses point out errors in operating room protocol, and a ceramics expert point out that blood mixed in a glaze would NOT contain DNA after firing due to the heat of the kiln. (That last one I should have thought of myself, but that's why we have critters.)

Hopefully some of this advice has helped you. If not, in the spirit of rule 1, feel free to ignore me.

Megan Carney



Posted by Megan Carney 18 Nov 2014 at 00:04
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