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.
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?