If you’re one of the rare writers who doesn’t flinch when turning a story or manuscript over for constructive criticism, good for you. But for the rest of us, the critique process can be a hand wringing experience. You’ve spent months, maybe even years, pouring over page after page and now it’s time to place your words under a microscope for flaws.
This can be emotional and intellectual battle. In your mind, you know that constructive criticism is key to continued improvement as a writer. But your heart may be in turmoil. This is your blood, sweat and tears out on the chopping block! If you’re going to put yourself through this grueling process (and you should!), be sure to make the most of it. Here are some tips to help you survive your critics with your ego in check.
Include a letter of intent: At the start of any critique, your critic must understand your objectives. Without a rationale for your work, he or she may suggest improvements that run counter to what you’re trying to achieve. Answer questions like: Who is your ideal reader? What do you want your reader to take away from the experience? What’s different about your writing style? What’s so intriguing about your characters?
Request a multi-audience critique: Invite a few different audiences to review your work. Only in this way can you ensure a well-rounded critique. Seek out a group of third-party strangers (perfect for posting on writingroom.com!), an industry professional and a trusted friend. Each of these groups will provide distinct, yet valuable perspective. One may shoot holes in your plot. Another can catch style and grammar problems. Friends may suggest changes that are anchored in praise and encouragement.
Absorb the commentary: Fight the urge to accept, reject or argue the feedback right away. Open your mind and attempt to listen without judgment. Take note and step away for a day or two if you have the option. When you return, you’re much more likely to be objective.
Ask for clarity: If you’re in an open discussion, explain to your critic what you were trying to do and ask how he or she would have done it better. (ex: I thought this detail would help build character development. Do you have any ideas on how I can make it more meaningful to you?) After all, this is constructive criticism, so potential problems should be presented with solutions.
Be decisive: At the end of the day, you are in control of this process. Take the advice or leave it. But really consider the potential of each and every comment before dismissing it.
Remember, every critique makes you a stronger writer! And, when it comes down to it, wouldn’t you rather glean insight from a few trusted critics in private, than have an editor notice flaws and reject your story?