Finding value in a critique…
As a writer, if you ever want to publish – be it indie or traditional – you are going to need feedback on whether your novel works or doesn’t work. Critiques can be hard to take, and here’s some tips from our President, Judy Mohr, on how to find the value in even the harshest analysis.
Dealing With Criticism
“If you show someone something you’ve written, you give them a sharpened stake,
lie down in your coffin, and say, ‘When you’re ready’.”
― David Mitchell, Black Swan Green
Like any creative endeavour, we have a strong personal attachment to what we’ve written, and having someone comment on it can be a significantly pleasurable or painful experience. Here are some things that I have found helpful when dealing with criticism of my written work:
Firstly, before you read any feedback on your work take a deep breath and accept two things:
- Not everyone will like your work. Even professional best-selling authors get negative criticism.
- Feedback is as much about the person who gave it, as it is about your work (or you) i.e. it comes from where they are at. Everyone speaks from their own life bubble which is made up of their experiences, what they’ve been taught, their personality and even where they are at emotionally at that particular time.
Once you’ve prepared yourself with those two understandings then you will be more emotionally ready to consider feedback on your work and respond to it constructively. Here are some tips to help you get the most out of any criticism you receive:
Take some time: Avoid responding to feedback immediately. You are likely to be quite emotional when you first read feedback and may either miss-read what was written or write an emotionally driven reply that you will later regret. Sometimes going for a walk or watching a movie and having a good cathartic cry can help you see things from a more balanced perspective.
Take Action (or not): Once you have settled with a negative feedback comment, take a considered look at it. Decide whether it has any validity to it and whether there is anything you need to respond to, or take action on. Is the feedback just opinion, or does it contain specific, substantiated points? Recognise that feedback that is opinion based is just one person’s point of view and probably best not responded to in any way by you. Also consider whether the person making the comments is connected to your target audience. Sometimes someone doesn’t ‘get’ your work because it is not for them.
Alternatively, does the criticism contain information you can use to improve your writing? Hard as it is to have someone point out your weaknesses, see it as a flag for things you need to work on if you believe the criticism is justified. Sometimes after considering a negative comment we don’t think that it is valid, and not all comments will be. It is wise to consider all feedback, but that doesn’t mean that you have to accept it all as true. If the person giving the feedback has been inaccurate in some way then a calm, correcting response TO THE CONTENT, not the person, may be needed. Sometimes, we just need to let negative feedback lie and do our best to let it go.
Take Away the Positive: While any positive feedback makes you feel good, think about how much weight to assign to it. For instance, a comment from your mum gushing “This is awesome honey, I’m so proud of you. You’re an amazing writer!”, while nice to receive should not be given as much weight as an experienced book reviewer noting “A solid first novel with some interesting plot twists and well-developed characters.” Take note of specific aspects of your work that are applauded such as “this writer is skilled in the art of suspense” or “she writes with a lyrical beauty that suits the fairy-tale nature of her stories”.
View feedback as a tool to help you become a better writer. Take the valid points and use them to identify your skills, and strengthen your weaknesses. Receiving feedback can be scary, but it can also be extremely helpful so put on your big boy pants and dive in!
Janine Lattimore has been an avid reader and writer since she was very young. She primarily writes poetry and children’s literature but has also written two books with a natural health focus and has had several articles published in the Tots to Teens magazine. Janine currently blogs as The Happy Homemaker.
Resource Review: Scribophile
Scribophile: An On-line Critiquing Site
Review by Judy L Mohr
At some point in every writer’s career, one needs to get the feedback of others. Does your story make any sense? Are there glaring plot holes that need to be filled in? Are you using the correct grammar and sentence construction to get your ideas across? Some will say that this is what an editor is for, but editors don’t come cheap. The next best thing is to get the critiques of others, but friends and family rarely provide constructive, objective advice. You need other writers to read your work.
Scribophile (http://www.scribophile.com) is an on-line critiquing site dedicated to helping writers improve their stories and develop their writing in a supportive environment. All members of the site are writers, new and experienced.
How does the site work?
Scribophile works on a karma points system. If you want others to critique your work, you first need to critique the work of others. Longer critiques will earn more points, and you will earn even more points if another member likes your comments, or finds them constructive, encouraging, enlightening or thorough.
It takes 5 karma points to post a work for critique, which normally takes 3 to 5 critiques to earn. However, critiques are not the only way to earn karma points; you can also earn them through competitions and occasionally another member gifts you some.
On the site, there are also many discussion forums and groups. Some groups are genre specific (e.g. Celtic Romance, Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers Anonymous, Fight Club), while others are for the purpose of connecting writers of all genres together (e.g. One-For-One, The Novel Exchange, On the Tip of My Tongue).
Posts to forums and discussion groups will earn reputation points. A large number of reputation points earned over a short period will propel your posted works into member spotlight, alerting the membership to your writing, increasing your opportunities for critiques from a variety of writers.
Why does it work?
To be a good writer, one must be a good reader.
Many of us have heard this said often, but here’s what it means in my mind. While reading the works of others, we often see things that don’t work for us as a reader and we start to see those aspects in our own writing, along with how to correct them. So on a site like Scribophile, if all you do is read, never posting your own work, you are still learning about your craft.
What does it take to be a member?
It is free to join Scribophile, however free membership will restrict the number of works that you can post on the site for critiquing to only three. There are other restrictions on your posted works too, but this one is the biggy.
Premium membership costs $65 USD, which roughly converts to $90 NZD. Those who take part in NaNoWriMo are typically offered discounts to the site. In 2014, winners were offered two months of free Premium membership. (Yet, another incentive to achieve your NaNoWriMo goals.)
Who can benefit from this site? And are there any downsides to the site?
Every writer, at any stage of their career, can benefit from Scribophile. As I said above, you don’t need to post your work to keep learning from others.
The one thing to remember about Scribophile is that it is open to anyone. As such, any posted works you have up for critiquing will be looked at by a variety of people, and not everyone will like what you have written. As long as you keep in mind that even a bad critique can provide insight into how your writing is being perceived and what you might do to improve it, then you will find the Scribophile site a good resource.
For more information on Scribophile visit their site at www.scribophile.com
Kiwi Judy L Mohr writes fantasy and science fiction filled with adventure, dark monsters, humour and romance. She is also a freelance editor, working on projects from writers around the world. Judy is currently the president of the Christchurch Writers’ Guild, but is also a member of SpecFic New Zealand and the Scribophile on-line writing community. Recently, she was appointed one of the NaNoWriMo Municipal Leaders for our region. You can visit her at http://judylmohr.com, or follow her on twitter (@JudyLMohr).