EVEN WHEN THEY ARE WRONG; THEY ARE RIGHT: THE ART OF RECEIVING CRITIQUE

EVEN WHEN THEY ARE WRONG; THEY ARE RIGHT: THE ART OF RECEIVING CRITIQUE

All written words receive critique in one form or another. Critiques come from mass-market readers – even if they don’t leave a review for your story. When they buy your next book, they have given you a favorable critique.

If you have an agent, you are receiving a critique from the agent’s point of view. An editor will critique from an editor’s point-of-view. Your mother’s critique brings a totally different tone to the ‘criticism’ that is critique.

There are self-published authors who write totally alone, so that the first person who shares their words is a reader. Readers might pre-order your next book and leave a 5 star review – positive critiques that let the world know they enjoyed your book. Or you might never hear from them and they never buy another of your titles – a bad critique. Critiques at this level are pretty much out of a writer’s control.

Some of us choose to work with a critique partner or critique group – these critiques are often presented in weekly sessions as you are writing the story. Critique groups can also act as brainstorming sessions when you hit that block and can’t figure out what happens next. The most important thing to consider when forming a critique group is trust and respect. If you don’t trust your partners to always tell you the truth, your arrangement is doomed before it starts. Sometimes the truth hurts – it is still their job to tell you the truth. It is your job to receive that truth with an open mind and you must never take it personally! You must respect them as an individual and as a writer. Working with someone you don’t respect as a writer is a waste of time for both of you.

I currently critique in a group of four. Each of my critique partners bring their own strength to the art of critique. I’m really good at catching time-line and continuity issues. But I suck at grammar and commas.

I’ve also critiqued with just one other person – both arrangements bring value to the table, but have extremely different time commitments. The size of group and the number of pages you agree to critique will greatly impact the amount of time required to be a good partner.

In our group, the person receiving the critique isn’t allowed to speak (and trust me, I suck at this, but I do try my best.) Receiving a critique is as much an art as giving a critique. First, remember that you are not there to defend what you wrote, the way you wrote it, etc. You are there to receive input from others, and to do that you must listen with an open mind and closed mouth.

They have read your words and are providing fair and honest comments based on what they read. If what they read is not what you intended, that’s on you. However, always, always, always remember this is YOUR story. First, foremost and always be true to your story!

As a good critique partner, you have an obligation to evaluate every comment made – but you do not have an obligation to agree! Although, assuming you are working with individuals you respect as writers and as readers, then your job is to evaluate why they made the comment. What part of what they read (not what you wrote – what they read – a very important distinction when receiving critique) caused them to pause in the reading and make a comment.

Perhaps the phrase or sentence where they made the comment isn’t the problem at all. Perhaps you have altered the pacing, or maybe you’ve thrown a very formal phrase into a casual story. Maybe you have created an expectation for something that is completely different from what actually made it to the page.

Being a good critique partner does not mean you make every change suggested. It does not mean you agree with every comment. Just because they said it, doesn’t make it right – it also doesn’t make it wrong. Examine what they said, and then dig deeper to find the reason behind the comment. Why did they make this comment at this particular place? What was it that stopped them while reading this sentence or paragraph?

A good critique partner evaluates every comment. Sometimes, suggestions are spot on and that is great! Sometimes, suggestions help you realize that you missed an opportunity to delve deeper into character or plot development. Or maybe what is missing is a deep point of view that you innately have because you know these characters inside and out — but perhaps the words you put on the page did not make it into deep point of view and move the story forward in the direction you want it to go.

Even if what they say is wrong, they are always right to say it! It is now your job to discover the underlying issue that caused your readers to pause and make a comment.

Have you written today?

Terri Rich

Terri Richison (writing as Terri Rich) lives in Clear Lake City, TX with her husband and a giant Great Dane (giant even by Great Dane standards). She is working on self-publishing women’s fiction and avoiding getting a pie in the face if she doesn’t produce pages for every critique session! PIES OR PAGES! Terri started telling stories almost as soon as she could talk – she learned everything she needed to know about storytelling at her grandmother’s knee. Craft however, is something she is still learning – those damn commas give me nightmares!

4 thoughts on “EVEN WHEN THEY ARE WRONG; THEY ARE RIGHT: THE ART OF RECEIVING CRITIQUE

  1. You forgot the part where since, as a good Crit Partner, we comment on your pages, we also feel obliged to comment on your life in general. Hee hee!!! IMO, there ain’t nuthang like having an extra set of eyes on your pages. You remember long ago in BK’s class when I had written (so I thought) a brother waking up his sister. What everybody else heard was a brother and sister in bed together. Whoopsie daisies!

  2. Critique groups/partnerships are like any other deeply personal relationship. They take time and trust to develop. When a couple first begins dating, they know that their end goal is a tight-knit marriage, but they also realize they won’t reach that stage at the end of the first date. But with critique relationships, people often think they should be able to start at that tight-knit stage, but in reality, forming a quality critique group isn’t too far off from building a strong marriage.

    You need to begin with common interests and compatible personalities while bringing in enough differences to add spice. Then you need good communication: goals, expectations, and a blunt, no-holds barred talk about what has worked for you in the past and what hasn’t, what you’ve tried and liked and what you’re interested in trying in the future, and what’s on your hard-no list. Sounds like a sexual discussion, but it’s just a basic discussion about physical comforts.

    I intend to be completely honest with you, but do you need my opinions cushioned in kindness or can you handle it when I hammer you over the head with truth? Do you need humor? Wine? Chocolate? Kleenex?

    I remember talking to Terri, after one of our first meetings at her house, and she told me her husband was a bit upset/worried/bothered by how harsh our critique of Lorinda’s pages had been. From the outside, and without the benefit of our years of trust and knowing that everything we said came from a place of love and helpfulness, Rick thought we were being mean. In reality, we were giving Lorinda the information she needed, in a format we knew she could handle.

    Of course, we always make a point to find something to praise. Honesty is good, but kindness should always come first!

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