Having fellow writers and professionals read and critique your work is a necessary step on the way to publication, but hearing all that is wrong with the words you poured your heart and soul into can feel stressful and disheartening. It doesn’t have to be this way. When you embrace the critique with resilience (the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties), a possibly stressful situation can turn into a learning opportunity and launch you onto the path to becoming a better writer.
Here are ten tips on how to receive critique with resilience:
1. Listen to Learn
Really listen to the comments offered. You don’t have to agree with what is said, but pay attention and let the commenter finish. Don’t try to rebut the criticism.
Instead, listen for the underlying issue.
For example, a reader might say, “The main character should have told her husband she was leaving for a work trip. That seemed out of character for her and it confused me.” You know she did tell her husband in chapter 3 (you wrote a whole scene about it), but pointing that out and arguing about it will not be helpful. Recognize what the reader is really saying is that she was confused.
Make note of that scene and revisit the dialogue, action, and description. Can you clarify it?
2. Ask for Specifics
Attempt to identify the basic concern by asking for specific examples and using probing questions. For example, a reader says, “I didn’t like chapter 4.” Initially, he may not know why that chapter didn’t work for him, but by asking for details and specifics, you can often uncover the issue. Identifying specifics will help you focus on strategies to make it better and avoid the same issue in the future.
3. Pick Out the Positives
Focusing on negative comments can be exhausting. Listen to the positive comments to buoy you up. Remember your strengths as a writer and the things you are good at. Don’t be afraid to ask the reader what they liked about the manuscript. One way to focus on the positive is to change negative critique to a positive criticism. For example, your reader says, “Your hero shouldn’t be so wimpy.” Rephrase this comment to, “My hero will be more effective when he takes stronger action.”
4. Look for Truths
Readers sometimes have a lot to say. Keep what is true (even if it hurts), and throw out what isn’t. If two or three readers in your beta reading group bring up the same issue, it’s probably something that needs editing. The truth about your writing may be hard to take, but if you go in to the critique process with an open mind and ready to listen, the comments will be easier to process.
5. Don’t Take it Personally
Try to remember that the critique is about your words, not you as a person. This is incredibly difficult to do as there’s often a part of you in your characters and stories. This takes a lot of patience and practice, but will improve the critique process immensely if you can recognize this fact. There may be times when you receive personal attacks, especially on social media. Please try to ignore these. They are neither constructive nor beneficial in improving your writing. Prepare mentally for hearing critique. Removing as much emotion as possible beforehand will smooth the critique process and help you to be more collected and rational as you digest the information.
6. Consider the Source
Asking these questions will help you determine whether to validate the proffered criticism or not:
- Who is giving the criticism? What is their experience? (i.e. Literary professional, writer, editor, friend, family member, social media commenter).
- Are they coming from a position of wanting to help or to harm? Again, ignore personal attacks or remarks.
- Would you ask advice of this person?
- Was the critique sought out or unsolicited?
Creative works are subjective. Some people just won’t like your writing style or genre. They may not like a character or plot point or any number of things that you have written. That’s okay and it doesn’t mean your writing is bad. People will always have opinions on your work and remember it’s just that – an opinion. Don’t make major edits to your manuscript in order to please everyone. Stay true to your own creative vision.
8. Keep Notes and Wait
Keeping notes shows you’re listening, and helps you to process the information. Notes are an excellent resource to look back on when you are ready to edit. They also help to keep the emotion of the critique from overwhelming you. Wait to act on your notes. Let the critique simmer for a day or two before going back to the manuscript. Fresh eyes and an open mind provide clarity when working on your edits. With time, negative emotions will settle, and revisions can proceed unhindered.
9. Be Grateful
Recognize all the hard work it took to get to this point. You completed a manuscript that is ready for beta readers. Congratulations! Be grateful for the opportunity to share your work with others. It’s difficult to put yourself out there and humbling to have your words analyzed. This is just the next step toward growing into a better writer.
10. Remember it’s Part of the Process
Mistakes are a part of life. Learning to correct them makes you better. Critique is a powerful resource to help you improve your manuscript for the reader. Remember, you won’t write the “perfect” story. As Jean Renoir, the celebrated French filmmaker said, “Perfection is an ideal. It exists only in the mind, not in reality.” Until you learn what’s wrong with your writing, you can’t make it better. Critique is a necessary step to improve your writing. When you receive critique with resilience you can reinforce your strengths, fix your weaknesses, and continue developing into a confident and skilled writer.
Allison Gorner has been a librarian, production assistant, art director, and coalminer. She has diplomas in Cinema, Television, Stage & Radio, and Writing For Children, and is a member of Alberta Romance Writers’ Association (ARWA) and Calgary Society of Independent Filmmakers (CSIF).