Monday, July 23, 2012

The Proper Care and Receiving of Criticism

As writers, we are constantly putting our writing out there for critique. We have writing groups, beta-readers, we win a critique from someone, we get a rejection letter enumerating all that is wrong with our story. It's a tough business and we need a thick skin.

So let's talk a little about how to receive criticism. Some of it is valuable, some of it--not so much. How do you know what to accept and what to reject?

First of all, consider the source. If an agent or editor tells you the story is too slow or the voice is off, listen. Agent feedback is valuable and almost always spot on.

When it comes to your writing group, some might feel it is their job to point out as many problems as possible. If they have no negative feedback they feel they are failing at their responsibility so they may dwell on the nit-picky. As we say in my group, scraping the bottom of the barrel. Stew on their advice and then go with your gut reaction.

Non-writer feedback can be useful because they tend to look at the story as a whole. But if your writing falls outside of their preferred genre, their feedback could mean nothing.

Second, pay attention to the feedback's level. Criticism that considers the story as a whole is more valuable than the nit-picky. If a reader mentions overall plot issues, says the story didn't hook them, it was confusing, didn't care about the main characters, too much repetition, too slow--those are red flags. Listen up and fix it.

If the feed back is full of nit-picky small stuff then those are the kinds of changes you think about and then go with what you feel is right for your story.

If a reader says your story just really isn't their thing, no problem. Move on. They are not the target audience.

In the end, all criticism is based on personal opinion and should be carefully considered. Most writers and readers that offer feedback are well-meaning and want to help you write the best story you can, so don't get offended or disheartened by negative comments. Listen to them, think about why that person said what they did, and then use those comments to strengthen your writing.

What are your tips for receiving (or giving) criticism?

Coincidentally, Mary Kole wrote an excellent article on agent vs. paid editorial feedback and why agents say the things they do. Check it out.