Get ready for a critical hit!
I was planning on posting about all the fantastic writing tools I thought could help you out on your journey this week but it’s turning into a monster. I promise we’ll get there but I want it to be worthy, unlike that drunk bastard Thor. Instead, I wanted to talk a bit about something I’ve noticed in some of my classes and writing groups I’ve been a part of on this path to becoming a writer. I’m going to focus on something near and dear to every writer’s heart…the critique.
One of the things you should engage in as you progress in your skills is to learn how to both give and take criticism of your work.
This is a good practice because you learn how to look at writing from an objective viewpoint and maybe you see some of your own mistakes as well. That being said, I’ve noticed what I perceive as a negative trend. Everybody wants to be nice.
When I critique, I’m very honest.
I point out both the things I like and the things I don’t like. I’ve been doing this a while now and I love the craft. I’ve dedicated a lot of free time learning about it. I’ve submitted work and received rejections. Some were harsh, others not so much, but they taught me something every time. I’m a professional when I critique. I’m also blunt. I tell people what works for me and what doesn’t. I can read something and tell when it’s rushed and little thought was into it. I point that out. I can tell when the writer needs a lot more practice at conveying their ideas. I point that out. I can tell when a writer doesn’t give a damn about proper punctuation. I point that out.
Here is where a lot of people lose their damn mind.
People don’t like criticism most of the time. They feel like it’s a personal insult when you tell them something doesn’t work based on your preferences. Look, I get it, this is your baby. You devoted a lot of time to crafting this awesome story for everyone to love. You know it’s great and you’re ready to have adoration showered on you. Then, someone delivers a negative comment about your work. You get infuriated. You don’t realize how they don’t see your genius. YOU HAVE WRITTEN A CLASSIC THAT DESERVES RESPECT. YOU HAVE SLAPPED THE SHIT OUT OF YOUR MUSE AND MADE THEM WORD VOMIT FOR YOU AND IT IS SPLENDIFEROUS!
Whoa, right? Seems like a bit of an overreaction, yeah?
Now to share some things with you I’ve learned over time:
- Your work isn’t as good as you imagine it. You can always improve. If you want to write professionally, you should expect some negative criticism. If it’s constructive, learn from it and improve. If it’s not constructive, learn from it and improve.
- You need to drop your ego at the door. They are not critiquing you as a person. They are critiquing your work. Even though you may have invested a lot of personal emotion into it, they are not judging you.
- Ignoring their comments is unprofessional. You will never get respect from anyone if you don’t acknowledge their reaction. You don’t have to agree with it, nor do you have to follow it, but you should damn well say thanks to them for even taking the time to offer an opinion. Unless they’re assholes about it. You can suggest a game of Hide and Go Fuck Yourself to assholes.
- Your first draft sucks. I don’t care how gifted you are unless your name is Stephen King, it sucks. Read it again. Read it out loud. Read it to your cat, your hamster, or your taco. If you read it that many times and you still think it’s awesome sauce, then just self-publish it as is. Let me know how many people invest in reading your work and then leave snarky comments on whatever platform you published on.
- Just because you receive negative feedback DOESN’T mean you suck as a writer. It means you need to practice, you need to grow, you need to learn, and you need to remain open to the fact that not everyone is going to love your work. They don’t hand out awards to everyone in the real world. Not everybody wins all the time. If you practice, though, you will eventually get the recognitions you want.
- Don’t beat yourself up over a critique. Use what you’re given and be better so it’s harder for them to find fault next time. Nothing worth doing is easy.
I used to get mad at critiques.
I felt like they didn’t see my genius. Yeah, that’s just a nice way of fooling yourself. Now I get mad when people don’t offer any good advice when critiquing. Just remember, your first draft of anything is shit. It’s always going to be because it’s still the germ of an idea. Writing is work. If it’s going to be good, you’ll have to put the work in.
This article wouldn’t be complete without going over how to GIVE a good critique, as well.
If you don’t want to be one of those aforementioned assholes above, I suggest learning a bit of etiquette.
- Keep in mind that the person on the other side of your story is a human being. There’s absolutely no need to completely rip someone apart just because they were brave enough to share something they created. While no one should take critiques too seriously you should also keep in mind to have some common courtesy and not treat people like shit.
- Don’t blow smoke. If you didn’t read it, don’t offer an opinion. It’s not useful in the slightest if you remain ignorant of the story itself.
- Keep it balanced. For everything you find that you don’t like about the story, you should also find something you do like. I’ve never read anything that didn’t have something redeemable about it.
- Be honest. If you’re finding some serious flaws, let the writer know. You don’t have to be rude to do this. I have a personal rule: for every problem I bring you, I will also attempt to bring a solution.
That’s it for this week.
Don’t forget to check out the rest of the Writer’s Corner series for more tips. I’ll see you all next week. Fly safe! o7
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Also published on Medium.