Treading the line between blind acceptance and knee-jerk rejection
Receiving critiques of your work is difficult as an author. First you have to get past the idea that your writing has problems, because almost all writing does. Or perhaps you have the opposite problem, and will need to get used to the idea that your writing has good points. That sounds like it’d be a lot easier to do, but sometimes it can be quite challenging.
In any case, learning to take critiques well is something you’ll need to do quite soon as a budding author. Even if you never plan on publishing, and are content to write fanfiction (or whatever) for the love of the craft, critics are a dime a dozen. And as the old Dr Demento song goes, I’m looking for the guy who’s applying the dime.
When you first get the critique, it can be tempting just to ignore the whole thing. Obviously the critic has no idea of the work you put into the story they just tore to shreds, the tears of blood you shed as you penned out your masterpiece of the heart! What do they know? They’re just some [loser on the internet / talentless hack critic / guy on the street / creative writing teacher]! They wouldn’t know the work of an author if it hit them in the face, right?
Well, not quite. As author, it’s part of your job to respond to criticism in a way that improves your work. Otherwise, what’s the point? More so, when still unpublished, you should look at critiques as a way of gauging audience reaction, and as a trial-by-fire for that scary day when you’ll send your manuscript off to an agent. A few painful suggestions now is worth a “We would like to publish your novel,” isn’t it?
This can be hard, especially when the critic isn’t particularly tactful. But in all except the worst of critiques, you can find something to take home with you. It may not be something you enjoy learning, but it will be something.
Of course, that doesn’t mean you should just blindly accept whatever anybody says about your story, either. That way lies madness and endless revisions, a never-ending cycle of bitterness and “improvement” that usually leaves a manuscript even more mangled than when it started life.
You have to pick and choose what’s useful and what’s not. Remember that you as the author of your story are the only person who’s… well, the author of your story. What everybody else is telling you is just a suggestion. Don’t blindly change everything people bring up, or you’ll lose that control.
So how do you walk the line between these two extremes? With extreme caution, that’s how.
Or there’s always the strength by numbers method: If one person says they don’t like something, and you liked it, by all means leave it. If five or six people say the same thing, though, it might be time to break out that red pen and mark a line through it. It will hurt to do, but if it’s not working for that many people, it likely won’t work for many others, either.
Tags: Using critiques