Critiques Make Your Writing Better, So Grin and Bear Them
It seems like every writer wants someone to read his or her work and provide feedback so they can make their writing better.
Trouble is, many writers want nothing more than praise. When they hear that their writing could actually use some work, some writers freeze up. Others go through the feedback and argue it point by point. A few will even launch into a tirade of sobbing or screaming.
Critiques are designed to help writers, not to offend them or make them feel unworthy. But the human ego is a fragile and funny thing. Some folks simply can’t handle the notion that despite all their hard work, the project they’ve written is less than perfect.
As a writer, you have to decide whether you truly want to excel at your craft. If you do, then you need to put your ego aside and learn how to accept critiques graciously. If you can’t do that, there’s a good chance that your writing will never improve and your work will always be mediocre.
The Importance of Critiques
Critiques are not tools of torture. They are meant to help writers. If the critique is put together in a thoughtful and meaningful way, it should lift the writer’s spirits by pointing out strengths in the piece, but it should also raise some red flags by marking areas that need improvement.
Usually, critiques sting a little. That’s okay. Sometimes, you’ll get lucky and your suspicions about what is weak in your writing will only be confirmed. Other times, you’ll be surprised that the critic found weaknesses in parts of the work that you thought were the strongest.
With practice and by following the tips below, you’ll learn how to overcome your own ego, how to obtain a beneficial critique and evaluate it objectively, apply it to your writing smartly, and for all that, you’ll be a better writer.
Tips for Accepting Writing Critiques, and then Writing Better
- Find someone who is well-read, tactful, honest, and knowledgeable about writing. If you can find a critic who possesses all these traits, then you have overcome the first hurdle.
- Polish your work as much as you can before handing it over. Do not send a rough draft to someone who will be critiquing your work, otherwise much of the feedback you get may address problems you could have found and addressed yourself. The point of a critique is to step beyond your own perspective and abilities. Note: some writers use alpha readers who read the rough draft and then give feedback on the content, usually the story. This is not a critique in the traditional sense. It’s more for testing general ideas.
- Don’t harass the person who is critiquing your work by calling them every day, especially if they’re doing you a favor. If you are working under any kind of deadline, plan accordingly.
- If possible, do not review the critique in the presence of the person who prepared it. The best way to first review a critique is to set aside some time alone.
- You may have an emotional reaction. Some of the feedback may make you angry or despondent. Know that this is normal and it will pass.
- After you review the critique, let it sit for a day or two. In time, your emotions will subside and your intellect will take over. The reasonable part of your brain will step in and you’ll be able to absorb the feedback objectively.
- Revisit the critique with an open mind. Try to treat your own writing as if it were not yours at all. As you review it, ask yourself how the suggestions provided can be applied and envision how they will make your work better.
- Figure out what is objective and what is personal in the critique. Critics are human. Some of their findings may be technical, mistakes that you should definitely fix. Other findings will be highly subjective (this character is unlikable, this dialogue is unclear, etc.). You may have to make judgment calls to determine where the critic is inserting his or her personal tastes.
- Decide what you’ll use and what you’ll discard. Remember that the critic is not in your head and may not see the big picture of your project.
- Thank the critic. After all, he or she took the time to help you, and even if you didn’t like what they had to say or how they said it–even if the critique itself was weak–just be gracious, say thanks, and move on.
- Revise. Now you can take the feedback you’ve received and apply it to your work. Edit and tweak the project based on the suggestions that you think will best benefit the piece.
- Long-term applications: you can apply the feedback to future projects too. Take what you learned from this critique and use it when you’re working on your next project. In this way, your writing (not just a single project) will consistently improve.
In some cases, you may not have any control over who critiques your work. If it’s published, then anyone can assess it. If you’re taking a class or workshop, then peer-to-peer critiques may be required. In cases like these, it’s essential that you keep a cool head. Even if someone is unnecessarily harsh or rude in their (uninvited) delivery, respond tactfully and diplomatically.
If you can obtain useful critiques and apply the feedback to your work, your writing will dramatically improve. Critiques are one of the most effective and fastest tracks to making your writing better. But they won’t help you one bit if you can’t accept them graciously.
Good luck with your critiques, and keep writing.