Monday, July 19, 2010

Critiques - The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

Critique—just mention of the word can make me break out in hives. Don’t get me wrong, I really like to get feedback on my writing, as long as it’s positive. But there’s the rub, a steady diet of positive critiques alone doesn’t help me grow as a writer. Now, I’m not one of those who believe positive feedback is worthless. I like to know what I’m doing well, so I can do more of it. But, I also want to know where I need improvement.

You might say I’m a glutton for punishment. I regularly enter pieces in contests. I’m a member of a monthly critique group and a member of an intensive, weekly critique group. And that doesn’t count all the rejection letters I have in my files from articles and manuscripts that haven’t made the grade. I’ve definitely had my fair share of painful critiques. But this post isn’t an invitation to a pity party. I just want to share some of my coping techniques when it seems like no one can say anything good about what I’ve written.

  • Take it in, then let it sit – I have to have time to process negative comments. (I don’t seem to need the same time to process the positive ones—go figure). I usually go back and reread the negative comments 48 hours later and that gives me the perspective to know what I need to do to improve.
  • Realize you’re in control – ultimately it’s your story and you can decide what works and what doesn’t. Just because a critique partner says it doesn’t work, doesn’t mean she’s right. You get to make the call.
  • Seek out a second opinion – sometimes I don’t know if a comment is truly valid or not. When that happens, I ask several people I respect for their opinion. If one person stumbles over a sentence, it’s not a big deal. But if half the people you show it to stumble, you probably need to do something.
  • Be polite – generally, someone who takes the time to critique your work wants you to succeed. It helps make the negative comments easier to take if you remind yourself of that. Occasionally you’ll run across someone who rips your manuscript to shreds just to prove how smart they are. It happens to all of us and we just have to consider the source of the critique and move on.

So don’t be afraid to show others your work. Ultimately, no matter how painful, it will improve your writing. I’ve had over 700 articles published this year and I can assure you that all those painful critiques are a large part of my success.

Now it’s your turn. What tips do you have for processing a negative critique?
Don’t forget to join the conversation!


  1. I'm someone prone to break out in hives during a critique!

    But, I find it helps to remember that no one becomes a good writer in a vacuum. We need the input of others who have walked this path before us. Or whose path has taken them in a different direction and allowed them to learn something we haven't come across yet.

    I also try to remember that the sooner someone points out a major flaw in my writing technique, the sooner I can fix it and the less time I'll spend fixing it in the future.

    Of course, I find it easier to remember these things after eating an entire pan of brownies!

  2. Great post, Edie! Yes, even after all these years of writing, critiques can be difficult to handle.

    But I've come to realize that when someone just hands my piece back and tells me how wonderful it is, it doesn't help me. I KNOW there has to be something that could be improved on!

    And yes, like you said, every suggestion shouldn't be taken as gospel. But if someone stumbles--for whatever reason--that's a cue to me to take a really close look at it. I may or may not make changes, but I have to take an unbiased look and consider their concerns.

    And right or wrong, the final decision is mine.

    Thanks for your wise words of instruction!