Taking a knife to the kidneys with grace is an art form. And by knife to the kidneys I mean, of course, taking a critique. I’ve ranted before on the different type of critiquers and how some of them honestly just aren’t helpful and I still believe that. Critiquing is an art that’s learned, (a talk for another time.) Unfortunately for all of us who spend gratuitous amounts of time giving thoughtful critiques, accepting criticism is also an art form.
So, what not to do when receiving a critique (some of these are obvious, some less so.)
- Never argue why you’re right and they are wrong. There is no need to change for their opinion, but they took the time to give it. Calling them out on being incorrect is unappreciative, rude and shouts to the world that you think you know best already (and if that’s true why did you ask for a crit?)
- Don’t Insult or depreciate the critique in any way. Even if they are downright rude to you. Starting a firefight won’t help you. Realizing they are wrong and you don’t have to listen… that will help. But you don’t need to tell them that, in fact, you shouldn’t.
- Don’t take advice by the letter. Guess what? If you are getting peer critiques, chances are they don’t know any more than you do. So if the advice doesn’t gel or disagrees with the advice of others, ponder it, tuck it away for later and then forget it. And it’s just fine to take pieces of advice and not others.
- Don’t inform them what other critiquers think. I’ve noticed a trend of authors defending themselves (not saying they are right, but holding up a shield) saying “my other critiquers didn’t think this.” Okay… fine… What’s your goal in telling your critiquer this? Either you make the critquer feel bad because you’ve essentially just told them their opinion is wrong. If they choose to crit again, they will feel self-conscious and not do as good of a job. Or you’re insulting other critiquers to them by calling them unobservant. Which makes your critiquer wonder what you say about their crits behind their back. Point is, yes a little complaining about crits is okay, but you don’t do it in direct response to a comment in another critique.
- Remember that everyone is in a different stage in their writing and critiquing abilities. Don’t assume because something is short it didn’t take effort. Or discount all their advice because they quoted grammar rules incorrectly. They may not be grammar geniuses, but I bet they know how a piece of work makes them feel.
Now, if I do a list of don’ts, there must be a list of dos, so here goes.
- Do say thank you. Even if you didn’t find a single thing of use (you may when you look back, or you may not. Still thank them.) And take the time in your thank you to let them know you read the crit and heard what they said (unless you have a prior relationship established and feel it isn’t needed.)
- Keep in mind that writers helping each other is reciprocal. Does that mean you need to crit for crit? No. But it does mean that as a member of the writing community you should try and honestly give back as good or better than you receive.
- Expect it to hurt. Yup. Even glowing kind crits… hurt. Especially if they are good. The pain doesn’t mean you’re a bad writer or that they are critiquing badly. As writers, words are your babies… It’s going to hurt having someone tell you when they are wrong.
- Appreciate quality partners. I know I have a good crit partner when for two weeks they’ll send me rave reviews on chapters (notes on punctuation, repeated words, a sentence that didn’t flow, reminders about paragraph breaks but overall wonderful.) Then on the third week they’ll rip the chapter to shreds. It means that they aren’t looking to tear me apart, but they also aren’t throwing marshmallows at me. I would swim upstream the Nile river surrounded by crocodiles for these folks.
- Be clear when requesting critiques what you want help with. If you have done this and people ignore your requests, put the advice you didn’t ask for aside. Use the advice you did ask for. It is that simple.
- If someone goes above and beyond for you, let them know you appreciate it. I put this separate from basic thank yous because it is. I had a crit partner online pick up my story when it was halfway through on the website’s cycle. She took the trouble to go back and read (and do light crits) on the first ten chapters in order to give better crits going forward. Again…Nile River and crocodiles. These people are irreplaceable and hard to find and should be treated that way.
That is my take on receiving a blade to the gut. I know that there will be points of dissension. A lot of that comes from each writer appreciating different things. I will try to go into that more when I talk about giving critiques- it’s all tied in together.