Tuesday, April 3, 2012

C is for Critique

Maybe in the beginning I hated it. Okay, there's no maybe about it. I've always hated getting a crit. I remember being in art school, with my work hanging on the wall and everyone walking around it like it's an alien specimen. I still get slightly ill when I think about it.

But I had to put my big girl pants on when I started writing seriously three years ago. I had to let my work out there because I knew that it was the only way to get better. I think that's one of the differences between hobbyist writers and real writers. It's not a matter of quality or talent, necessarily. It's an openness to grow - painfully if that's what it takes - and to take on board criticism of your work.

The feedback I get from my writing group is priceless. As is the accountability of meeting every two weeks. It keeps me focused and thinking, thinking about my writing. It keeps me honest.

Two huge things I've learned from being in a writing group and routinely getting feedback:
First, consider the source. Every reader has an angle, a set of characteristics. Sure, we're all supposed to put our personal biases aside when giving a crit, but who can, really? One member of your group might dislike paranormal elements and you'll end up with notes in the margin like "doesn't feel realistic." Which might be true or might be them projecting their preferences on your work. Do not throw the baby out with the bath water and dismiss the comment, just consider the source.

Secondly, I always pay close attention to feedback I don't agree with. Maybe that's perverse, but if my initial instinct is to reject a piece of feedback as "no, that's not what's happening here" I make myself stop and look more closely at the comment and why I'm rejecting it so quickly? Half the time there's something there that I don't want to see but absolutely need to see. Understand that you have angles and biases too. Be open.

And what if you don't have a writers group? YOU NEED ONE. It can be online, informal, at a coffee shop, small or large. I put our group together after NaNoWriMo meet ups. You need to be a part of a larger community of serious writers.

Oh, and you need this book. It's genius.

By Becky Levine

And C is for Clap Your Hands Say Yeah.


  1. It's the same in the world of visual art. You find a forum where every one says "oh how pretty" "beautiful" "nice brush strokes" but no one will CRITIQUE what you did. A person who is not afraid to do that for you is a rare gem indeed.

    Mimi Torchia Boothby Watercolors

  2. What an excellent post! I agree, crits are so invaluable! I had not thought of going in knowing that everyone has biases - it's a great point. I'll remember that for my next meeting. More importantly, I'll remember to check my biases (about my work and other's) at the door. Thanks!

  3. Critiques can be hard but I kind of like this part of the process.

  4. I love my CP's. It took me a long time to find them, but I am happy to have them!!

  5. Good choice. I'm fortunate to belong to a fabulous online critique group. They've taught me SO much about writing.

  6. Wonderful thoughts. I'm a lover of critiques, giving and getting, and I agree that looking at ALL the feedback, even the one you disagree with, is worthwhile.

  7. Hi, I couldn't agree more! I also listen to advice that I initially cringe from hearing. Often it's what I need to do with my story that involves the most "surgery", and I'm feeling overwhelmed and even lazy!
    I went to art school as well, and those review boards were always h*ll.

  8. Once I have a novel that I'm prepared to show people, I'll have to consider critique groups/partners. They sound great for improving your writing skills.

    The Golden Eagle
    The Eagle's Aerial Perspective

  9. Crits are def. invaluable, but man, it's hard to get used to having people tear apart something you love. I'm getting better about taking it with dignity and using it as a learning experience.

    My C

  10. Yup, my writers' support group has become very important to me. If someone in the small group doesn't get something, I can be sure a huge chunk of real readers won't either. I'm trying to visit all the A-Z Challenge blogs in April.

  11. Good suggestions! I like the tip about paying the most attention to the critique you don't agree with. My problem is dismissing suggestions for major change. I'm all about making small changes, but suggestions that would require a lot of work tend to go in one ear and out the other! Can't imagine why...

  12. I've recently started checking out writing groups again. I haven't had a proper critique of that sort done since college. I've always had a thick skin when having my work critiqued, but I'll admit I'm feeling a little nervous after so long. Your tips for approaching critiques are spot-on.

    I look forward to the rest of your posts for the A to Z Challenge.

  13. Yes to writing groups. I'm currently active in the online Internet Writers Workshop and have gained so much from feedback. It's still difficult to get my work posted for review (and disheartening when critters don't dig in). But I love working with writers who care about writing, about the process, no matter how long it takes. Nice to meet you on A to Z Challenge.

  14. I agree that it's important to consider the source when you get feedback. I find that sometimes feedback, even when it's given with good intentions, might not always be useful. So it's up to me to pick and choose what to take to heart and what to overlook.

  15. great post! found you on the a to z, and will defintiely be back to read more of your great writing! (also, I like your bookshelf on the bottom of your page.)

    I am writing a travel-type blog (personal memories) and would love it if you have time to stop by and check it out:


  16. 100% agree here, Alex. Lately on my writing group there's been some discussion about what a "harsh" critique is and whether it has any value. In my opinion, those are the ones that do the most good--*if* (and it's a big IF) the writer can set their ego aside for a moment and consider 1) the source, and 2) the reasons for that gut reaction. You put your finger on it: the quick reaction, the scoff and dismissal, is a symptom that, when studied, reveals powerful stuff that *needs* to be looked at, evaluated and assessed... And which will make our writing better. Great, great post!

  17. One of the best comments I received on my novel was when someone who doesn't usually read the genre told me she was turning pages, wanting to know what happens next. And if you tell your CPs/beta readers to be honest with their criticisms, it's only fair for you to then take their comments seriously, and not take them personally (as hard as that is). You asked for it, after all. And they're only doing it because they care about your work being the best it can be. Good article, Alex!

  18. Definitely agree with this. It's so hard to see our own flaws and mistakes. It's sometimes just as hard to see what we've done well :-)

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