Friday, June 6, 2014

Life Lessons—Finding the Good in a Bad Critique

by Edie Melson

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.

To that end, 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 that I use for finding the good in a bad critique.
  • 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  published four books and thousands of articles. 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. When you seek help and someone offers to do it, make sure you show up on time. I learnt this lesson the hard way at BRMCWC. However it made me do what you said, take it in and let it soak. I dug back to your post on hyperlinks and after watching the help video. I DID IT. My first use of it is in my latest blog post title "The Conference" and links to BRMCWC, which is fitting. The conferences have been a real blessing to me and so has your blog. This year especially so.. Yes the blog is "long," but it is how writing is comfortable for me. Thanks for all your help.and God Bless and keep you. P.S. Your mentioned in the post a couple times.

    1. Ric you're an inspiration to many of us! You're welcome to email me for help when things come up. Thanks so much for your kind words! Blessings, E

  2. It took me a long time to learn that red marks aren't personal. After all, someone's criticizing my baby I and I had a long, hard labor! I slowly learned that the reviewer spent their valuable time reading my manuscript. They want to make it better. I've gone from offended to grateful.

  3. Writing isn't something that just happens, and good/great writing doesn't suddenly flash on to a page. I am very analytical, and when my work is critiqued I tend to analyze both the advice and the subject. Two things I'm not real cool with is when someone arbitrarily changes my writing--no matter what I think--and personal criticism that attacks me personally.

  4. Thanks for this good encouragement, Edie . . . I have a great critique group (extremely versatile) and not a pat-on-the-manuscript kind of gang. We meet every two weeks. I'm so grateful to have this group that meets at Marlene Bagnull's every two weeks to help me . . . well, excel. That's just what they try and do for each other. Love your post!