As a group of imperfect writers, we all know the value of a good critique. It’s the way we measure ourselves and have regular reality checks about our work. But let’s be honest, subjecting ourselves, our main characters and their stories to the criticism of others is scary and often (OK, always) painful. So when I receive a critique, whether it’s from my writing partner, through a contest, or as feedback from a query, how do I get out from under the bus I feel like I’ve been thrown under? Well after 20-plus years in this business, I’ve developed a few tricks to keep me sane and submitting! Here are my best tips, guaranteed to stop you from eating way too much chocolate and get yourself out from under the bus and back to work:
- Grow a thick skin. As harsh as it may seem, part of writing for kids, or in any genre for that matter, means developing a level of insensitivity to the words of others. And I don’t mean ignoring what others say about your writing. If that were the case then there would be no point in submitting or getting involved in a critique group. What I mean is you must learn to unclench your fists and not take criticism personally. It’s hard in the beginning, and for some, the way you respond can mean the difference between using what you’ve learned and letting your manuscript sit while you lick your wounds. Don’t do it! Let a scar form and move forward. You’ll be glad you did.
- Take what helps and throw out the rest. I know that’s blunt, but not every word of every critique is going to help you. Look for repetition in your feedback. If one critiquer says you need to completely change your main character’s personality or point of view that’s one person’s opinion. But if three people say it, you need to take a serious look at that character and do some much-needed surgery.
- Remember critiques are subjective. Not everyone is going to get you as a writer, and not every reader will identify with your story. That doesn’t mean the critique isn’t valuable or that you’re a bad writer. It does mean you need to see your work through the eyes of the critiquer and look for ways to make your story click with more people than just your mom or your kids.
- Choose critique partners carefully. Look for people to critique your work that do what you do. That involves doing your homework about your genre and making sure your story does what it’s supposed to do before you let anyone else see it. I never send a story to my critique partner or anyone else unless I’ve revised it at least three times myself (and most of the time I have five revisions before sending it out).
- Be specific about what you need. Tell your critiquer where you’re having trouble so he or she can offer specifics about what to do to make your story stronger. This takes more work on your part to develop a keen editorial eye for what’s wrong in your writing, but it’s just a part of the work you need to put in before showing your work to someone else. Don’t cut corners or expect someone else to do for you what you must learn to do for yourself.
- Let it simmer. Never make changes to your story immediately after receiving a critique. Read the comments and let them sink in for a few days before revising. It takes at least that long to get over the anger or disappointment of not writing the perfect story the first time (and you know we all feel that way). Go back to the critique in a few days with fresh eyes and apply what you’ve learned.
Are you out from under the bus yet? C’mon, I can see you peaking out from behind that tire! Just remember, getting feedback is part of the writing process, and it won’t kill you, I promise. It may sting a little, but in the end, your work will be much stronger and much closer to being in the hands of a happy reader!
Sensibility- Writing is a painfully-beautiful process. Smile and consider yourself blessed to be able to do something you love to bring light and joy to the world.
Sense- Love your characters and your words, but don’t get attached to them. It takes the sting out of the critique and makes revising much easier!
How do you apply what you learn from the feedback of others?
2 thoughts on “Get Out From Under the Bus! Making Critiques Work for You”
I didn’t let my crit partner see my first story until it had gone through lots of revisions. Now that I’m starting a new story, I ‘m letting them see it earlier in the process. One advantage of that is they can let me know if I’m on the right track before I get too far into a flawed story.
You’re so right Ken! As you and your writing partner/partners get to know each other better, it can get easier to let them in on your process earlier to avoid completely going down the wrong path! Thanks for that insight!