Saturday, April 27, 2013

Tips on Taking Critique

For writers who are new to critique, this process is daunting. Not only do we have to put up our writing to ask other people to take axes to it, but they do take axes to it, and that doesn’t often feel good.

But, it’s a necessary process—not only to make your story the best it can be, but to improve your skills as a writer. Receiving good, effective writing critique opens up our brains to new ways of thinking and approaching how we write. Receiving bad critique that sounds good, however, can do just the opposite. Only through surviving the process of critique can we learn how to handle and what to do with it.

Here are some tips on taking critique:

Steel yourself, especially if you’re new to taking critique. A tough hide is vital. If you let yourself see feedback as ridicule or an attack on your writing ability, you’ll crumble and fall into bad places. This defeats the purpose of critique. You’ve written a story, and now you need good, effective critique partners to tell you how to make it even better. Critique partners are there to help you tell the best story you can possibly tell, so don’t punish yourself by thinking otherwise.

Be open. You might be offered suggestions that would take your story in a way different direction and result in a lot more work. You might be offered suggestions that will have you consider changing the POV or taking a character out entirely. Don’t shoot these suggestions down. Weigh everything you’re told, sleep on it, brush your teeth on it, shower on it, give it time to digest so you can remove your own personal writerly bias. You might then see some promise, or you might not. Either is okay because it’s your story and you decide what happens to it.

Listen. Make note of everything your critique partner said, even if it sounds wrong. When they state what bothered them, they might be noticing an effect of what happened earlier. “I didn’t like how this character reacted at all” might actually be a cause of something the character did or didn’t do several chapters ago. Conversely, your partner might just be mistaking personal opinion for legitimate advice. “I don’t like this character and I think it would be cooler if you—” Always listen first and know that you have the power to say no.

Don’t take offense. It’s easy to get upset when a critique partner says they thought a particular scene felt like it went on forever. The important thing is to take a breath, let it out, and look at the scene in question. It might have been one of those scenes that you hated writing anyway—which is often a sign that something’s wrong—and you discover that it actually does read slow. Now, if a partner says something that is actually insensitive (whether intentionally or not), which might often start out like, “Not to be mean or anything,” and might proceed into something along the lines of, “but your writing is like the third grade level,” keep your cool, know that personal opinion is not legitimate advice, and don’t ask them for help again.

Don’t defend yourself or your writing. “My character reacted like this because—” Nope. Don’t do it. If you find yourself needing to defend or explain your writing, then it’s very possible you need to go back through your story and figure out why your readers seemingly aren’t reading what you had intended. If your partner asks for clarification on a certain part, the same applies.

Ask questions. If you’re confused or need clarification, always ask questions, and don’t ask them defensively. “Well, since you thought my character should have reacted differently—” Still nope. Instead, ask for their overall opinion on a character, see where you need to look for tweaks or additions. Don’t be afraid to ask for further elaboration. Wring everything you can out of your critique partner.

Thank everyone. Because everyone likes to be thanked. Reading other work critically takes a lot of time and brain cells, so be gracious and open to helping your critique partners in return.

All critique is biased. As your critique partners report back to you, you’re going to get similar feedback, and you’re going to get feedback that clashes hard enough to leave you with more questions than you began. That’s why having multiple partners is the best thing you can do for your story. Always seek out additional opinions, just know that, ultimately, your story belongs to you and the decisions are all yours to make.

(cross-posted from KSW on Tumblr)

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