Now, I don’t have much experience with public critics such as websites and blogs, yet. However, I do have experience with more personal critics, words from people you know. They may be people from a class you’re taking, or a group you’ve joined, even a friend or colleague.
But when you ask someone to read something you’ve written, it places you in an extremely vulnerable place. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t share your work, or that you should hoard it away and hide it from the world. Not at all. Part of being a writer is sharing your work , wanting or even needing to share it. So, being vulnerable isn’t a bad thing. Actually, it’s the best thing for us to be as we write, in my opinion. It makes our stories authentic, the worlds’ that much more interesting and engaging, and the characters relatable, or at least understandable in their actions. And this is even without putting truthful, based-on-your-life facts in them.
Don’t let the world vulnerable fool you.
It’s not a weak state to be in, at all.
And sure, when you share your stories, you may find people who just have nothing good to say. Sometimes, you may feel like the person critiquing your story doesn’t really ‘understand’, they don’t really ‘get’ what you’re trying to say. You may feel the need to explain yourself (Don’t), or to fix every single thing they said was wrong (again, don’t), or even quit (Never do this.)
I remember when I received what I consider to be my first ‘real critique’. It was in my first year of college, a fiction workshop, and all eyes were on me. We took the week to read my story and one other person’s, but all I could think about was that strangers were going to judge me. I was excited, but also a bit afraid to hear what they had to say. I didn’t know these people in the class. Sure, we talked a bit, were all first years in college, and had a bit in common, but still….
It was the first time someone other than my mother, or my sister, or my closest friends told me something wasn’t right with my story (because my family and friends surely did so when I asked for it). Either the character actions, or the descriptions, or worldbuilding. Something was wrong. I didn’t hear any of the compliments. I didn’t hear that, hey, they loved my characters’ voices, or that they were truly into the creatures I had created, or even that they enjoyed reading it. All I heard was that I did something wrong. It wasn’t perfect.
I don’t remember actually crying in the class, but I do remember feeling the tears, the achy feeling you get in your throat when you’re about to cry. I remember swallowing deeply, and nodding with a smile, taking it in. And I also remember telling myself over and over after that day that, the reason their critiques were so thorough was not because I was a bad writer, but because they cared enough about me, saw enough good in my work to want better. To expect and demand better, because they believed in me. I had to.
So the next time I went into the workshop, I was ready. When they laughed at something I didn’t see as funny, made jokes about it, I had to remind myself they didn’t have malicious intent (because it can be so easy to think you’re being attacked). I laughed with them, and actually saw the humor in it too. When they pointed out a character was a bit annoying, I looked at it from their perspective and understood.
And even when one girl in the class was critiquing with negative intentions, giving little to no positive feedback and constantly criticizing the story, I didn’t take her words too seriously.
Because I knew she wasn’t saying those things to make me a better writer, to show me where I went wrong and how to fix it. She wanted to hurt me, or at least to prove something to someone.
So recently, a girl in a group I’m in received some harsh critiques from professionals through a contest she won. And I told her this: Even if it hurts to hear it, you have to remember that these people have good intentions. For her situation, if she won a contest and they critiqued her work, she wouldn’t have one in the first place if they didn’t see something good in her stories. They would’ve chosen someone else to receive their critique. But she told me thank you and said that even though this was good advice, it didn’t apply to her situation.
I left it alone.
I knew it worked for me, and I knew other people would read the comment I made. Someone who needed to hear that would receive the message and it would help them. Maybe when their teachers are reading their stories, or close friends who have a lot to say. I’m sure of it.
Speaking of friends critiquing your stories, sometimes you may come across that person (or persons) who know what they’re talking about. They know what needs to be fixed, know what’s really good in your writing, and tell you so.
And sometimes… they don’t.
You don’t have to point this out every time. You don’t have to make a habit of defending your story, the thing you’ve probably poured your heart and soul into. Let it go, take what you need and forget the rest. And this goes for all advice, really.
I don’t know if it’s the same in all workshops (it should be), but with the two I’ve taken so far, we have this rule where you’re not allowed to talk at all when your story is critiqued. It forces you to listen, instead of preparing your defense so that you can counter their words with some of your own. All you have to do is listen. And again, take what you need, and let the rest go.
It’s not a attack against you, not always. And if it is, if you really feel like your being attacked? Ignore it, and move on.
I wanna hear from you all, now. What are your experiences with critiques? Tell me about a good (or bad) moment with them and how you dealt with it. Do you agree with me? Or do you have your own ideas about handling critiques?
Let me know~