Coping with Criticism as a Writer
The value of a critique is to grow as a writer
By Eliza Peake
We’ve all been there. You finish that story, giving it all your time, love, and attention. Your kids think your laptop is an extension of your hands, the household has run out of clean underwear, and you have survived via coffee IV and chocolate.
With adrenaline coursing through your veins, you relinquish the story to your editor. You’re absolutely convinced that you have blessed her with the next great American novel. Like Ralphie in A Christmas Story, you expect her to dance around the room singing your praises after reading your masterpiece. There’s no way there will be anything but love for your story.
When your manuscript is returned, you wait with baited breath as your file opens, ready to read the glowing comments.
Only they don’t glow.
A dying flashlight gives off more light.
Yep, that’s your momentum that just hit the brick wall.
Let’s be honest. No one likes criticism, constructive or otherwise.
Some put a positive spin on it and learn to grow from critique, having “Why didn’t I think of that?” kind of moments. Others take it as a personal affront, certain that their editors wouldn’t know a good story if it bit them in the…well, you get the idea.
When it comes to our writing, our labor of love, we writers are a protective lot.
However defensive we may be, having your work critiqued is an integral piece of a writer’s puzzle. When you’re in the moment and the words are flowing, do you really think about whether or not that comma is being used correctly? What if your story is set in a cold weather climate and you insert an animal that would never survive the cold?
These are just a couple of examples that can manifest themselves with another set of eyes gazing upon the fruit of your labor. Personally, I would rather my reviewer, or beta, find these things before I query my manuscript.
Fellow writers, it’s imperative to keep in mind a few points when facing the dreaded commentary:
- 1. Take the comments as suggestions, not commands. After all, the writer makes the final call. You aren’t going to make everyone happy. Most copy edits and major research inconsistencies should be heeded and corrected. Story edits require a more in depth look. A writer should take note as to what the suggestions are and ascertain what the problem could be potentially. Writers want to use their creative licenses’ and have fun entertaining the masses, but the masses should feel satisfied, not confused.
- 2. Don’t be afraid to ask for help in order to make it better. Writing is like anything else in life. There is always room for improvement and you can learn something new every day. Often times, we don’t learn from being alone, but from interacting with others. Which brings me to my next point…
- 3. Different points of view can be helpful. Another set of eyes can lift the writer out of the minutia of the story. Taking a step back can be useful in self-editing, but that can prove to be challenging. To have someone go over your story is one of the best ways to find out if the story you’re weaving is translating onto the paper. I have found that having someone from your target audience read the material is also helpful. It gives a glimpse to see if you can capture that audience down the road.
- 4. Know how to defend your story the right way. No one will fault you for defending your story, but there’s a fine line between passionate defense of your story and unyielding cut-your-nose-off-to-spite-your-face dogma. You have to stay on the right side of that line. If you feel someone is attacking your work, it is to your advantage to ask why the reader feels that way. Telling a reader the way it is will make them feel that you’re closed off to other ideas. In the end, making statements, as opposed to asking questions, could result in a critique that has less honest feedback and more false accolades.
- 5. Finally, don’t be difficult. To be difficult with someone that is ultimately trying to help you falls under the biting-the-hand-that-feeds-you category. It’s never smart. There’s no incentive for an editor to take time out to critique your work and be honest if their suggestions are met with bitterness. The writer will always be victorious, but it doesn’t always make them a winner. Because until you are selling millions of copies of your manuscript and/or raking in the dough for a large publishing house, “frustrating”, “hard to deal with”, or “exasperating” are not words you want associated with you. No one will want to work with you or for you.
It goes without saying that having someone tear up your work is not the most fun you’ll ever have in your writing journey.
But as the saying goes, “it’s the journey, not the destination.”