Monday, June 27, 2011

Advice for Receiving Critiques

So, we've now discussed the value of critiques, critiquing gold and pillows, and now it's time for another post on critique receivees. It is as follows:

As you might be able to tell by now, I'm not only an active writer: I am an active critiquer. And just as critiquers can be mist-wrapped dark strangers who hurl bricks at your foot and then run away, writers can be the must UNgrateful creatures. As we've (hopefully) established by now, critiques hurt. So, sometimes, we lash out.

So, let's pretend you've just had a "really mean" critique. Before you respond, here are some things to consider.

1. Usually the "meaner" the critique, the more time it took to compose it. (This is excluding the people who simply say "ur bok sucks".) If there are 12 comments on EVERY page...this person took a LOT of time to put into your book. If you haven't ever critiqued something very carefully, I suggest you stop right now, get out there, and do it. I'll put this post on pause until you do so. Mostly, this means: do NOT devalue the time of the critique, even if you don't care for it!

2. One BIG thing that writers like to do is instantly jump in and start throwing the critiquers' words back at their face. We start making excuses: "if I didn't have that adverb there, I would die", "I know this character's name is hard to pronounce, but I CAN'T change it because she's been named Bodeauoigfd since I was 4 years old", "you don't understand this because I'm going to explain it later." Etc. Often, these defenses are legitimate. But restrain yourself. There is nothing more discouraging for a critiquer than having all of their advice bounced back at them. Excuses like this say: "thanks, but no thanks, I have it ALL under control and don't need your help, you over-critical lord of darkness." I'm not saying don't ever attempt to explain something you were trying to do in the book, but rather, if you must explain, explain like this: "I named her Bodeauoigfd because I thought it would be interesting for a heroine to have a really ugly name. Do you think I'm compromising it with the unpronounceablity?" This kind of response accepts the critiquer's point and then explains your own. If you really must address something of this sort, I HIGHLY suggest this format.

3. As the last example shows, ENGAGE your critiquer. Show that their advice HAS helped and that you will do your best to apply it. BY NO MEANS am I saying "take all the advice a critiquer ever gives you" because that will end with a motley and lopsided work in the end. Take what you need, and if you have questions about making something better or clarification, ask them about it. This shows that they have spent their time well--because the author is really USING the advice. Making critiquers feel needed and appreciated is what keeps them coming back.

4. This is the most important thing. Always say thank you. ALWAYS. ALWAYS ALWAYS ALWAYS ALWAYS. (Get it yet?)

Even if you can't think how to engage the critiquer, or how to respond, or even if you're steaming mad at them for calling the name Bodeauoigfd "idiotic," or it was even just the tiniest bit of advice or even praise--ALWAYS SAY THANK YOU!

If you're a serious writer, you need people to critique your work. No way around it. Zilch. Realize their importance and then don't kill them when they tell you that your work is perfect. Heck, you're a writer--you already know it's not perfect! (Or you're not a writer.)

So, appreciate every single one--and make them FEEL appreciated. Not only is this just common courtesy and Christ-like behavior--you're likely to keep 'em coming back for more.


Both images found via Google Images, no copyright infringement intended.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thanks for this blog series! It's really challenging and helpful. I definitely need to work on taking critiques as well as I hope from the people for whom I critique.

There's one novel I'm critiquing and the writer is SO patient, always says thank you and isn't bothered by the fact that he isn't getting many critiques (I'm the only one who's worked on it past chapter 3 thus far) at all. He's amazing to work with, and it really does make a difference with wanting to critique for him more.

Again, thanks for this series. Super helpful. =)


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