What’s the right way to respond to a critique?

“Thank you.” Nothing more, nothing less.

Are they attacking me personally?

Eh, sometimes. Face it, there are some real wheezbags who, for any number of reasons, enjoy ripping the heart out of writers  – anyone seen Authonomy lately?. Maybe they were dropped on their heads at birth. Who knows? Regardless of their motives, they took the time to read your work. Don’t own those critiques, even when they’re good. It’s one opinion of many. Look beyond the sting or the joy, and see if they may have a valid point. If they do, great. If they don’t, great.

The long and short of crits is that they are designed to point out flaws that the reader felt existed. Remember, our writing doesn’t come directly from the hands of the Great Cosmic Muffin, and we all need to be critiqued and edited.

Am I ready for crits?

My philosophy is that anyone who reads crits and goes into the fetal position and cries while sucking on a pound of chocolate may not be ready to put their work out there. The only time you’re allowed to drink heavily, eat pounds of chocolate, and cry is when you’re writing your book and when you get your edits back from your editor. Everyone else is navel lint and not worth expending such emotion. [Edited to add: Ok, fetal position, drinking, eating chocolate is also allowed with crits PROVIDED you understand you’re being unreasonable] …thanks, Pelo.

I remember one a friend of mine blew his stack over a tepid review from Publishers Weekly. He was ready to contact the reviewer and read him the riot act. I told him that under no circumstances would he do anything of the sort. First off, the reviewer took his time to read the book. Secondly, out of the thousands of books that come into the magazine each week, he chose his book. That’s nothing to sneeze at.

Do they have a point?

In between blowing your nose and ranting, you need to consider whether the person critiquing you has a point. It could be their delivery is rather severe, but that shouldn’t discount what they’ve said – unless they simply say, “Your writing sucks stale Twinkie cream.” Those crits should be handed to the beagle, where she will rip them to shreds and send out her buddies, The German Shepherd Hit Squad. They wear lots of leather and growl in German.

Hearing that your writing is less than NY Times bestselling stuff stings, but you need to keep your eye on your goal; writing a damn good book. How can you do that if you ignore crits because they hurt your little feelings? Buck up, mate.

Toughen that hide, baby

This is a tough, tough business, and writers need to have the skin of an alligator. Growing a tougher hide means looking at your work objectively. It means understanding that this isn’t about you, but how effectively you communicate what’s in your heart to paper. You’d think the transition would be easy, and if it were, we’d all be bestselling authors, right? Thoughts that rummage through our cerebral hard drive don’t always translate well when they hit the pages – and maybe we can’t see that.

If you’re looking for people to coddle you and tell you how mahvelous you are, then go no further than your mother. Mom always loves my work, bless her soul. I’ve considered the possibility that yes, Gertrude, I’m really that good. And then I wake up from my deep sleep and know that Mom will never tell me I suck.

Having a tough hide means looking at your writing as a business. It takes experience and gritting your teeth. It takes appreciation that you desire to be a better writer and the only way to do that is to stick your big toe into the shark-infested waters and let ‘er rip. If you don’t, how will you ever know if you’re any good?

So no matter if someone told you your main character has the personality of a lima bean and your plot is as thin as shredded wheat, you smile and say “thank you.” Because maybe somewhere, deep inside the sting are some words that will turn your story into the stuff that auctions are made of.

8 Responses to What’s the right way to respond to a critique?

  1. Pelotard says:

    Hey, I was dropped on the head as a baby, I resent that 🙂 (Mum insists I jumped. There were no witnesses. She might have dreamt the whole thing.)

    I must disagree with you on one point: I say you’re allowed fetal positions and chocolate binges, as long as you’re aware you’re being unreasonable. Face it, many of us will never even get feedback from an editor, so why waste the opportunity 😉

    But I agree whole-heartedly with this one: “Because maybe somewhere, deep inside the sting are some words that will turn your story into the stuff that auctions are made of.” The more I crit, the more I realise what a thin line it is between the dull, mundane, unimpressive – and the absolutely brilliant. My job as a critter is to see the brilliance, no matter how well it’s been hidden, and explain how it can be polished for best effect.

  2. I say you’re allowed fetal positions and chocolate binges, as long as you’re aware you’re being unreasonable.

    I stand corrected, Pelo. You’re quite right. I’ll go in and edit my post.

  3. Voidwalker says:

    I’ve had to keep quiet when having my work critiqued. It’s hard, but I think if you want to get better, you have to be open to hear why your work may not be as good as you think it is.

    I’m not that thick skinned yet, but I hope to be when I’m done writing my novel!

  4. Miladysa says:

    @Pelotard “My job as a critter is to see the brilliance, no matter how well it’s been hidden, and explain how it can be polished for best effect.”

    The road to plummeting chocolate sales & happy writers 😉

  5. Allen Parker says:

    I just received 5 crits for a story I really liked. Having had a couple of crits on this site before, I expected some suggestions that might help, but nothing like I received. They were hard, pointed remarks that hit some deep writing problems. They hurt. They especially hurt as I was carving up my story to fix the problems mentioned in the crits. What didn’t hurt was how much better the story was after the changes.

    I always wait until I have reviewed the changes and related them to my story before responding to the crit person. I find I am in a much better mood. As for reviews as crits, I try to relate them to my future work before I pass judgment.

    As an aside, yes, I celebrate when I realize the person passing judgment on me didn’t have a clue and I was right.

    As a group, writers don’t always thank the people who take their time out to read our work and give good advice. The one time I received a rejection from Lynn, she gave me good advice on how to make the story better. For that, Thank You, Lynn.

    Next time I won’t make that same mistake. Look for the others. 😉

  6. Pelo: “My job as a critter is to see the brilliance, no matter how well it’s been hidden, and explain how it can be polished for best effect.”

    I admire your perspective, Pelo. Then again, you’ve always been a cool-headed bloke. I’m sad to say that there have been too many times when the writer’s brilliance was so well-hidden that I was at a loss as to what or where they should begin polishing – short of dumping the entire piece. The best thing I could say was that the author strung together some verbs and nouns. In those cases I either don’t crit – if I’m on a writer’s board – or send a form rejection letter.

  7. Amber Forbes says:

    I have never, ever felt that way when taking critiques. In fact, if my beta reader points out a flaw that I can’t figure out how to change, I readily send her an e-mail, eager to receive a reply for how I can fix things.

    Maybe I just have a really thick skin, but the crits I receive don’t hurt me. Sure, I’m super nervous when I get them because I’m afraid I’ll have to make major changes that might mean scrapping half the novel, but in the end, I’m really grateful for them. Sometimes I get stressed out over crits if they’re things I can’t fix right away because the critter may have to read ahead to help me (I’m very OCD and love to fix things right then and there).

    But all in all, I don’t get hurt. In fact, it’s almost strange to me why anyone would get hurt. If you have a polite critter who knows how to point out weaknesses and strengths, I don’t see why a crit from those types of people would hurt.

  8. Jim Ryan says:

    I have to agree wholeheartedly. The whole point of a critique is to help the writer figure out what needs to be fixed so that they can then fix it! To completely shut down if bad things are pointed out totally defeats the whole purpose. If someone critiques my work and gives it nothing but glowing praise I usually worry that they’ve missed something.

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