Creative Writing and Criticism: Getting Critiques
If you want to be a better writer, you have to be able to handle criticism, even if it’s not constructive. There will be times when less-than-tactful or totally useless feedback falls into your lap, and you can either become defensive or you can read between the insults and find glittering gems of advice.
Everybody has an ego, and writers often find themselves in an usual position to receive reams of criticism. When your mom says she loves your short story, you feel special. When a literary agent tells you it’s garbage, you stifle a sob. When some bloke tells you you’re a hack, what you’d like to do is whip out your hacksaw. But should you use it on your critic or on your own writing?
The sad truth is that nine times out of ten, the negative feedback you receive will be far more accurate and beneficial than the positive.
The Scenario: Getting Feedback on Creative Writing
You post a poem on a creative writing forum and hope for the best. Then, you sit there refreshing the window every thirty seconds as you wait for someone to come by and give you some valuable input — something you can use; something that makes you feel hopeful. Over the course of a week, you receive the following four comments:
- Wow. Great rhymes. This poem is amazing!!!
- This poem uses alliteration well. The rhymes could be more sophisticated.
- You’re a terrible poet. Don’t quit your day job.
- The alliteration distracts the reader from the fact that this poem is suffering from adjective addiction. Less description, more action. You tell and poets must show. Plus, the subject matter is trite and trendy.
The first three commentators didn’t give you a whole lot. Number one stroked your ego. Number two was in a hurry, and number three was a flame-thrower. Number four took the time to read your piece but was somewhat nasty, haughty, and left you feeling defensive and offended. You work hard at alliteration, and you love adjectives. And what does everyone mean by show don’t tell?
Five Types of Critics
Let’s look five different types of critics to find out who can help you the most and who won’t offer anything useful. We’ll look at friends and family, fly-by reviewers, flamers, tactless critics, and experts.
The Five F’s: Friends & Family Find Few Faults
There are some people, and most of them are your friends and family, who will never find fault with your work. Maybe it’s because they love you. Maybe it’s because they don’t have the backbone to tell you your story sucks. Or, maybe they know you’ve got a gnarly ego and might lash out at them if they honestly criticize your work. If you need a spiritual lift, go ahead and ask mom, but if you want to become a better writer, you’ll have to go outside of your inner circle.
You can get a writing critique in an online forum, in a writing workshop, or you can hire a professional to do a critique of your work. If you’re lucky, you might receive helpful feedback from an editor to whom you’ve submitted a piece of writing. But don’t count on loved ones for objective criticism because they are ill-equipped to be truly objective.
Some folks are just too busy. Sure, I’ll review your poem. Here, let me have a look. Great, good job, work on your rhymes. Have a nice day. You need a critic who’s going to tell you exactly what’s wrong with your writing. Otherwise, how are you going to fix it? Find someone who will take the time to work with you and elaborate on what you need to work on.
Ignore the Idiots
You know the type – never has anything nice to say about anyone or anything. The punk-ass who could use a few courses in anger management. These flamers abound in online forums and message boards because they can spew their venom behind anonymity and disguise it as a creative writing critique. They’re not going to offer much other than you suck and so does your poem. Even if this is true, the feedback is useless because there’s nothing in it that you can use to make improvements, and therefore you cannot grow as an artist. Don’t get caught up in the drama! Ignore and move on.
Tolerating the Tactless
The tactless critic has valuable feedback but overlooks the positive aspects of your work. This individual will give you a thorough writing critique complete with grammar and punctuation advice. The drawback is that these people lack sensitivity and cannot see the good in others. They probably suffer from a severe case of insecurity coupled with a sense of entitlement or intellectual elitism. The good news is that they’re great at pinpointing problems in others, which is why you need to harness your ego, reign in your emotions, and accept what they say with tight lips and a thank you.
Embrace the Experts
Experts will take the time to really read your work. Their feedback will be a healthy mixture explaining both the good and bad qualities of your writing, and they’ll never criticize you – just your work, and that’s important. Adore them, bake them cookies, and buy them lots of gifts. Keep them close and write down everything they say. Then, incorporate their feedback into your writing. That’s when you’ll truly start to understand the value of constructive criticism.
Be Receptive to Critiques – Not Defensive
Ultimately, your job during the critique process is to listen and be receptive. If mom says it’s great, smile and say thank you. Don’t go trying to get her to find the flaws. Don’t even bother with the fly-bys, since they have better things to do anyway. Whatever you do, never get sucked into any type of flame war that involves personal insults. Better to ignore meanies and walk away with your head held high and the knowledge that they are total neanderthals.
Look instead to the people who actually have something negative but helpful to say. In other words, look for people who are constructive. These might be rude people who can’t find anything redeeming about your creative writing or they might be considerate individuals who know the glass is both half full and half empty. It is, however, the negative feedback that will help you hone your craft and give you the tools you need to target troubled areas of your writing, which are the areas that you should focus on improving.
Have you ever given or received helpful writing critiques? Do you have any special techniques or strategies that you use when you receive harsh feedback (or when you have to give it)? Who do you turn to when you need to get your creative writing critiqued? Share your thoughts, insights, and experiences in the comments.