Receiving a critique is a lot like drinking lemonade – ya gotta take the sour with the sweet. Rob Sanders is doing a whole week of posts on critiquing picture books on Picture This! and just this weekend, Kathy Temean had a great guest post about receiving critiques at conferences. But honestly, critiquing is on my mind right now because I’m taking a brief break from the online group I participate in, The Yellow Brick Road.
I feel horrible. Participating in a critique group is a wonderful way of gaining feedback on your own writing while improving your craft by reading others’. By joining a group, online or in person, you create a social contract. I’ll help you while you help me. Taking a break to focus on one’s own projects is sometimes necessary, but to me, it always feels like I’m shirking my duty. After all, it’s just reading a piece of work – in my case, two every two weeks, each with a word count not to exceed 1,000 words – and writing a helpful review. Right?
Wrong. Critiquing requires careful reading and even more careful writing (and sometimes editing). The best critiques give helpful, constructive criticism while emphasizing highlights as well as pointing out flaws. And like all art, flaws are in the eye of the beholder. One person may hate your villain, claiming they’re one-sided and melodramatic. Another may love them for the same reason, claiming they were able to better empathize with your hero. What’s a writer to do?
Well, take time off when you need to focus on a deadline! Second, remember the spirit in which a critique is offered. Kathy Temean often points out that if you receive a critique from an agent or editor, and that person doesn’t want to buy your work, you’d best take advantage of every last spot of red ink or comment to be able to utilize the critique to its fullest. That’s not to say everyone who critiques your work is right. But it’s far better for you as a writer to take a deep breath and see each crit as an opportunity to improve your craft, than to immediately dismiss negative feedback. I believe that the same goes for your colleagues.
Criticism is like all advice; you can take it or leave it. But it never hurts to try using it – you can always return to your original path if the new one doesn’t work. And oftentimes, a new perspective shows us the way to something better. Likewise, when giving criticism, remember that the writer on the other end is doing their best at that moment. Your job is to treat that piece with respect, which requires time and effort on your part.
Thus, my current break. I need to put my effort into my SCBWI Work-in-Progress Grant application, which requires writing a synopsis, completing the actual application, and revising and polishing a sample from my historical novel. As I continue this process, I thank my colleagues at the Yellow Brick Road and my writing friends, especially Susan Banghart, for their thoughtful advice and feedback. If I succeed, a huge chunk of the credit will go to them for all they do to help me along my way.
Thank you – and may your lemonade always taste more sweet than sour!