When I was in high school, I took two Creative Writing classes. Since I’d devoted myself to writing every spare moment I had since the eighth grade, by the time I took these classes in my final two years of high school, I’d honed my craft more than most of my peers. I’m not saying I was better than them—I was just more dedicated than most.
So when time came to give critiques to my classmates, I’d sit down with my colored pen and makes notes all over the page. I underlined, circled, crossed out and made as many annotations as I could think of.
Then I’d receive my work back and look at my critique. Nine out of ten times it said: “Great job,” or “I like it.”
I’d stare at the page and wonder what the hell I could do with that. Great job? Yeah, ok, I was glad they liked it, but “great job” didn’t tell me what needed fixing. “I like it” is not a critique.
High school aside, I think it was that experience that made me appreciate critiques the way that I do today. Do I still occasionally get feedback that although makes me feel all fuzzy inside, doesn't help me edit my work in the slightest? Absolutely. But when I receive a “harsh” critique, I get excited. I tell the whiny, insecure part of me to shut up and turn on the editor. I attack my writing and look over the critique notes until I’m sure I've tackled every issue.
But I know not everyone shares my competitive nature, so not everyone sees the critique as a challenge like I do.
Does it hurt to swallow an honest critique? Yes. But the most helpful ones aren’t the ones that are easy to take.
If you look at a critique and want to hide, that means your crit partner has done their job.
Let me clarify: I don’t mean that your critique partner should be a jerk; I mean they should be honest. When you get back a chapter or manuscript or whatever it is and see notes all over the page with suggestions, it can be daunting. But it’s good.
Repeat after me: dripping red ink is good.
Here are some tips that have helped me review critiques without wanting to drown myself in confetti and cupcakes:
- Read it. Then put it away. This is especially helpful if the critique has made you emotional in any way. Emotional editing is dangerous and often unproductive. Read your critique, then put it away. Let it sit for an hour, a day, however long you need. Set your emotions aside, then come back and look at the notes again before you dive into edits. Remember this will make your work better. It will. I promise.
- Take it in pieces. I know when I read critiques for the first time, with every suggestion or weakness that’s pointed out, I saw it added to this mountain in my head of things that need changing. Don’t let the mountain overwhelm you. When it starts to feel like too much, close your eyes, take a deep breath and if you need to, take a break. Go do something else. Relax. Then come back and tackle one issue at a time. Don’t worry about the rest. Pick one thing to focus on and cross it off the list, then move on to the next.
- Remember perfection is not the goal. This is a big one for me. If you've read more than two of my posts, you know I’m a perfectionist. I have to remind myself that perfection is not the goal just about every time I sit down to edit. Guess what? Not all good books are well written and not all well written books are good. Your goal should be to make your book the best you can. Tell the story, make your characters alive, make your readers care.
- Then move on and tell the next story. One book doesn't make a career. You have more stories to tell. Go write them.
So that's my take on critiques. What tips do you have?