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Wednesday, December 30, 2009

What I've learned in 2009, Part 3

These boots have thick skins. When we put our work out there to be critiqued, our skin needs to be just as thick. One of the greatest lessons I learned over the past year is that my mom and my daughter telling me my writing is fabulous means nothing. An objective eye is key. Having fellow writers read my work was the best thing I ever did. Here is a post I did after putting my writing out there for scrutiny: Do you remember the episode of Seinfeld when they go visit a couple who has just had a new baby? The parents gush over how beautiful the baby is, and Jerry, Elaine, and George are polite and agree, even though the baby is the ugliest baby they've ever seen. Finally, Kramer says the truth. Now, I'm not saying our writing is the ugliest thing ever, but it is flawed, and we all need a Kramer to read it--someone honest enough to tell us the truth (perhaps in a kinder, gentler way than Kramer), even if it isn't what we want to hear. This is what our critique partners are for. That being said, we need to be prepared for the negative. We need to thicken up our skin and be willing to take the bad comments right along with the good. I'm not going to lie here; the first negative comment stings like the devil, but after you step back for a little bit, you can look more objectively at it. Without the negative comments, we can't improve. Those are what drive us to do better, to try harder, to pay more attention to our weaknesses. The negative comments are what make us better writers. For those of you who have been involved in a critique group, do you embrace the bad comments? For those who haven't hit the critiquing stage, how do you envision yourself reacting to the negative?

35 comments:

sherrinda said...

Yes, Yes, Yes! We have to learn to "learn" from the critiquers! We need an open mind and a willingness to learn if we are ever going to make it as writers. Great post!

Kristen Torres-Toro said...

I try to handle it well. Usually I have to walk away and leave it, then come back. It doesn't hurt as badly the second time. We need the brutal honesty; it makes us better. If only it didn't hurt as much!

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

I agree but would like to critique the word "negative." I think the most helpful critique is constructive criticism, which offers explanation and perhaps suggestions. To me, negative is just nay-saying, which isn't so helpful.
It's the difference between someone saying 'this scene is boring' or saying 'this scene doesn't work for me because it's not moving the story forward.'
Either way, though, we need to have tough skins and realize we can always get better.

laurel said...

Critiquers are like having extra hands helping you weed the garden. Your manuscript gets clean so much faster with help.

I think one of the trickiest things is knowing how to spin a "nicey-nice" comment into an action plan. For example, one of my first draft readers noted "your style changes here"--it took me almost a year to figure out she meant the plot came to a grinding halt! I'd rather have the red pen and "this isn't working". At least it gives me something to latch on to.

Anyway, I try to approach critiques by looking to create an action plan from them. For example, a reader says he doesn't buy the characterization in a scene. I'll ask him to point of where it's pushing credibility so I can focus on fixing the problem.

Rebecca L Sutton said...

Awesome post! You are dead on with the thick skin thing. It's a must for someone who wants to be a truly great writer. Some days are easier than others, that's for sure.

I seek out the negative comments from my critique partners and beta readers as much as I do the positives. I know I have a lot of room to grow and without their help on what it is I can improve I won't move an inch. With that being said, I'm also a firm believer in saying both positive and negative things about someone's work. Hearing what you are doing right makes it a heck of a lot easier to swallow the bad stuff and pull up your boots and make it right!

Matthew Delman said...

I'm with Kristen on this. I have to leave the comments and then come back to them later before I'm ready to actually accept (or possibly reject) what they're saying should be changed.

I'm getting better though, and asking for feedback earlier than normal too. But that's for logic holes and not actual writing. :)

lauraabest said...

You are so right about showing work to family members or friends of course they're going to love anything you write..or at least tell you they do. I really feel you learn more from the negative comments than the ones made by those who would love any dribble so long as I wrote it. Another good post!!

Dominique said...

I try to take it in stride. Sometimes better than others. Once I got the note, "Your MC sounds stupid." I took that one a little personally. My bad. Nothing is personal in critique work.

Girl in My Own World said...

OMG!!! Love the Seinfield episode!!! Yes, you are very write. I had a professor who was majorly and I do mean majorly critical of my work and up until that time no one had really ever done that to me with my fiction wriring Now papers were a different story and not to say that I did not care, but my fiction was like my baby and so having someone tear up apart like that really messed with my head. However, I have learned that everyone will not always like my work and that is fine. God will put us all where we need to be at the time that we need to be there. Grreeeaaaat post!!! :o)

Girl in My Own World said...

omg. why did I spell right as write. sorry. lol. On a side note - I have seriously been thinking that I really need a pocket editor (by that I truly mean an editor that I can stick in my pocket and carry around). If only... :oP

Tamika: said...

Thick skin is definitely what I'm developing. This year will mean the beginning of critiquing for me. Scary. Necessary.

It means seeing past the surface, that is what I want my readers to do. So it makes sense that it must start with me.

destrella said...

You have a very encouraging ability about your work. I could see you as an instructor of sorts. Very well organized thoughts and writing. Hugs! :O)

Catherine Denton said...

My critique group comments on the good before we comment on the bad which softens it a little. Hearing it a few years ago would get me down. But now, it sets me to work.

Patti said...

Although it may hurt, critiques are the only way to learn.

Deb@RGRamblings said...

I'm all for constructive criticism!

Roni @ FictionGroupie said...

I think as long as the comments or crits are framed in a constructive way, I can take it. Although, you're right, the first time it does sting.

btw, I hope to be back on top of beta reading for you as soon as the holidays wrap up. :)

MG Higgins said...

Well said! I love the Kramers in my life.

Caroline Starr Rose said...

One word: breathtaking! :)

Mary said...

I agree with you. I learned so much when a blogging buddy took my work and broke it down line by line instructing me on what needed fixing. It was painful, but it was also awesome. I appreciated her honesty.

storyqueen said...

I fear the Kramer!! And yet......

Natalie said...

I SO agree! Nice comments may make me feel good, but they do nothing to make my writing better. I love a great critique from someone who isn't afraid to tell me a scene sucks (and is specific about why) or a plot element doesn't work.

Kristi Faith said...

although I do have an initial reaction to "negative" (helpful!) comments with "Oh no, I'm no good." I bounce back and always make my story better and am thankful for those Kramer like folks that read my work! :)

Megan Petty said...

I haven't experienced the critique stage yet but I imagine when I do and I get that first critical comment it's going to kill me. But I would rather have someone tell me that something I've written is no good and tell me WHY and give me suggestions on how to change it than to lie to me, tell me it's good, and leave it the way it is. I will never grow as writer that way.

At what point in writing a book should the critiquing stage come into play?

staceyjwarner said...

i always find it fascinating who hates and likes my work. most of the time the person who doesn't like my writing, i don't like theirs, our writing styles are just different...

i'm taking a class in january and looking forward to getting back in the saddle.

much love

Amy Tate said...

Oh yes! I love my new group. We've exchanged manuscripts twice, and I can already tell that these gals are going to take me to the next level. I've been working on revisions this afternoon from the comments they made. It's exciting to feel like things are moving forward.

Kaylie said...

I think critique groups are great. And if you can't handle critiques from your friends, how are you going to deal with critiques from agents, editors, reviewers, and readers later on? They don't care about being nice to you.

ElanaJ said...

I love that Seinfeld episode!! It's one of my faves.

And I do like getting bloodied up at crit group. It's so hard to see our work with fresh eyes -- real reader eyes -- when we've worked on it for so long.

And if you have good crit buddies, they usually point out what IS working as well as what isn't.

Melanie's Randomness said...

I recently joined a Writers group of about 7 people I've never met in my life. It's probably the best thing Ive ever done in my pseudo new writing career. I'm the youngest one but the ages are 24-at least 60. It's such a variety that we really get un-biased opinions. I know my mom will love anything I write but to have that outside opinion is just wonderful. I felt bad telling a guy in the group that his two character names where almost the EXACT same names as a book I had just read, but he was grateful I told him. He was like I had no idea. It was negative criticism but he needed it. We need that outside opinion.

I've never met you Mrs. Mills but I like your blog, you write so crisp & clean & to the point. It's refreshing & ever soo helpful. I'd miss ya if you stopped blogging.

Terri Tiffany said...

What I like about you is your blunt honesty as you blog:) You are never afraid to say how you feel even about critiquers. Abnd yes, I would really prefer someone honestly tell me what they like or don't like about my work. It's the only way I grow as a writer!

#167 Dad said...

Finding good readers is tough.I've had some bad experiences with writng classes and critique circles.

Need More Words said...

It hurts but then you give it a little time and look at it again and see that what you heard and read is to make your writing better.
Diane

Stephanie Thornton said...

I love that episode of Seinfeld! And you're entirely right- having writers critique my manuscript has been soooooooo helpful. It's wonderful to have cheerleaders and reader friends who can give you a boost and point out major issues, but having writers dissect your work is priceless.

Hmmm... Maybe Mastercard should make that into a commercial. :)

Happy New Year!

Just Joany said...

Can't we just accept the nice words and go ahead and get published? I like that scenario sooooo much better. :-)

Happy New Year! May all your shoes bring compliments and all your words be met with approval and publication.

~ Just Joany
Red Wagon Flights

Angie Muresan said...

I had joined an online class earlier in the year but didn't like it too much. I felt people weren't real in expressing their opinions, saying what they felt should be said, rather than what needed to be said. There were too many compliments.

Heather Sunseri said...

I am blessed to have the most awesome person ever be my first critiquer (is that a word?) of my writing. She has pointed out my weaknesses in a way that has contributed astronomically to increasing my strength as a writer. It was definitely the best thing I did for my writing in 2009. I love her! Wink. Wink!