Bring On the Pain


I’m a glutton for pain. I must be.

Getting a manuscript ready to release into the world involves revision and feedback, but how much is enough? Critique groups, contest judges, strangers on the internet—some chapters of my book have had dozens of eyes on them. The rest have been read by my go-to critique partners, the two most thorough, insightful and brutally honest reviewers I could find. These ladies know how to make me cry.

That means I’ve had a lot of practice lately accepting criticism. I thought I’d share a few lessons I’ve learned along the way.

Don’t Respond

One of the rules in the Ozarks Romance Authors’ critique group is that the author listens and does not speak. That’s a hard rule to follow, but a good one.

Sometimes we want to explain the bit the reader didn’t understand or why we wrote that passage the way we did. Don’t. If it requires an explanation, it doesn’t work. The writing must stand or fall on its own.

Other times we want to argue and show the critics why they’re wrong. Definite no-no. Hearing criticism of our work is painful, and the natural reaction is to become defensive. Remember that the people offering feedback have given their time and creative energy to help make your work better. Be grateful for that gift, even if you don’t like what they have to say.

Don’t Follow Every Piece of Advice

Although you shouldn’t tell your critique partners they’re wrong, sometimes they will be. Some suggestions won’t be right for your voice, your genre or your characters. Some advice will be just plain bad. Trust yourself. Trust your instincts. Trust your vision for your book.

However . . .

Don’t Dismiss Good Advice Too Quickly

Some critiques are easy. We know the commenter is right, and the change is quick and simple. Or we know the suggestion is wrong for our book, and we can ignore it.

A lot of comments require a tough judgment call, though. Maybe they’ve pointed out a real weakness, but we’re not sure how, or whether, we can fix it. Or maybe we’re not sure whether we should use the suggestion or not. That’s when things get tricky.

Give yourself time to let your knee-jerk defensive reaction fade before you make a decision. The comments that made me the angriest often led to the best revisions. I think that’s because, deep down, I knew the criticism was valid, but I didn’t want to face the problem. Make sure you’re not dismissing valuable comments based on wounded feelings.

And finally . . .

Don’t Take it Personally

They’re critiquing the writing in front of them, not your value as a writer. You WANT them to find problems. That’s what helps you make it better. You didn’t think it was perfect, did you? If you did, why did you ask for feedback in the first place?

I’m going to keep repeating these phrases to myself, because an important lesson I still need to master is how to take in all this criticism without becoming discouraged. You’d think with all the supportive encouragement, positive agent feedback and competition successes I’ve had lately, I’d be immune to self-doubt. Not so much. Although my work may be good, it can be better. And I’m going to make that happen.

What about you? What are your experiences with critiques? What do you struggle with?


36 thoughts on “Bring On the Pain

    1. S. D. Keeling Post author

      I like e-mailing chapters and getting written comments back, but sometimes it takes weeks or months to get feedback that way since people are busy and things without deadlines get pushed aside. I’m so grateful for my critique partners, even if they do make me cry. 🙂

  1. Lisa Medley, Author

    I just got back round two edits on book two. I’m looking at line edits and EVEN MORE structural edits thinking… I must really suck! BUT, the good news is, I have a second chance now to improve. And a third. I can’t even imagine how mortifying it would have been to send this book, which I thought was FINE, out into the world as it was. I’m gloriously thankful for all of the criticism and editing that has and continues to go into this book. Amen, sister. Bring on the pain.

  2. Chuck Robertson

    Actually, I disagree. It’s my duty to tell everyone who fails to recognize my literary genius why they are wrong.

  3. barbarabettis1

    Critiquing is hard, because you never want to hurt anyone’s feelings, nor do you want to tinker with their individual voices, but that said, it’s so important to get other opinions on what you’ve done. We do have do develop thick skin, but personally, I really hope those who crit me are brutally honest and mention anything that might not ring right for them. Great post, Sharon!

  4. Chris Cannon

    I’ve belonged to two very different types of critique groups. One, Like yours didn’t allow talking. My problem with that approach was I wanted to ask questions to clarify the comments. My other critique group allows you to ask those questions, but some people abuse that system by arguing the critique. There needs to be a happy medium.

  5. Beth Carter

    Great post. I first used a focus group of several women who were readers (not writers), then hired a professional editor to give me an overall evaluation. She gave me many pages of suggestions which I incorporated (well, most of them). I entered my ms into a couple of contests and got some good, constructive feedback. Then, I had a couple of beta readers give me feedback. Now, it’s in the hands of my publisher and they’ve been editing for three weeks! I haven’t heard a word and wonder if they are slashing it to bits or working on several books at once. I’m holding my breath and will soon feel Lisa’s pain, I imagine. lol.

    You made several great points about developing thick skin and not getting defensive. It is hard. You also made a good point about the feedback not always being right for your work and your voice. I totally agree with that. Some people never write, yet think they know everything about writing. Weird. We need to take the good critiques and suggestions and weigh them against the feedback we don’t agree with. I must start going to the ORA critique group again! I used to go often.

  6. Vera Jane Goodin Schultz

    Great blog on how to view and take a critique. Yes, stepping away from the critique is a good thing. I’ve had to distance myself, then come back a few days later when my feelings smarted less and do what needed to be done. They were often right, but I needed ‘new eyes’ to see it. Bless those who tell us the truth. 🙂

  7. Cara Bristol

    It is MUCH better to have a critique partner/beta reader/editor catch your mistake so you can fix it than to have it appear in print and have reviewers point it out. That’s my philosophy.


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