Tuesday, September 1, 2009

These Boots Have A Thick Skin!

And when we put our work out there to be critiqued, our skin needs to be just as thick. 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?


storyqueen said...

Critiquing is just pretty darn subjective. Heck, just read the reviews of a book you love on amazon....half of the people agree with you, half don't. That's why it's good to know something about your critique partners, so you can take whatever they say within in the context of who they are as a reader.

It's hard both to give and take critique.....but extremely necessary.


Janna Leadbetter said...

It can be subjective, and I've learned you sometimes have to filter the readers' opinions out from the true constructive criticism. And it can sting like the dickens! But I agree with you; once you step back to realize your critiquer isn't attacking you - but trying to help your writing be its best! - you can attack it with new vigor and carry on. Easier said than done, sometimes. And I'm at a stage in my WIP that's far from critiquing stages. But it has to be done at some point. And thick skin will certainly help.

Katie Salidas said...

I read bad comments and try to let the hurt roll off of my back. I remind myself that critiques are supposed to find the mistakes. And lastly, I never respond to a crit untill I have given myself time to cool down. Crits can hurt and we as writers can be very mean when someone, well meaning or not, talks bad about our little babies. LoL.

Heather Sunseri said...

Great post, Susan! You are so right. We must have thick skin and the faith to know we've worked hard and can accept even the harshest critiques with knowledge that we will rise above and grow even stronger.

Kristen Torres-Toro said...

I think critiquing is like exercise (for me). You need it; you appreciate it. After it's over, you're so glad you got it! But during the process (partularly the feedback phase--or while I'm actually exercising), you remember how much you hate it. :0) Actually, that might be where the analogy falls apart. I don't hate critiquing, but I really hate exercising!

Anonymous said...

In my critique group we make sure to give bad and good comments and to frame them in a way that is constructive.

Also, I much rather have critiques than comments like "that is nice" or "that's good". Those aren't useful either.

J.B. Chicoine said...

Timely post, Susan!
I remember the first objective feedback I received on my opening chapter of Story for a Shipwright; Colossal Ouch! Fortunately, there were some nice things sandwiched in there, but I had an instant stomachache. When other critiques concurred, I had to make a decision. Is this about writing well, or about ego; I chose the former. That was back in March, and that shift in attitude made all the difference. Now I embrace all critique, I appreciate the positive, but I relish the negative (hyperbole, there); this is how I move to the next level.

Amber Lynae said...

I am not the queen of accepting critism with open arms. But I do see reason after the hurt has subsided. I haven't been in a critique group, I'm not quite ready for that yet. But I love that you have this post out there. Because you are right hearing the bad is how we grow

Rae said...

This is a very good post. It sure is hard having someone critique your material and then finding out it may not be as good as you think. I takes some effort to embrace bad comments but it is the only way to improve and it helps to remember that what one evaluator thinks is bad may be quite good to another.

Roni Loren said...

Hearing the negative is hard. Sometimes I still have a knee jerk reaction and want to jump on the defensive "but i did that because..."

So, I know that I need to read through a critique, take a few minutes, let the bratty moment pass, then read through it again so that I can really "hear" it the second time.

We have to remember that critiquing someone's work isn't easy, so the people that are doing it for us are giving us two huge gifts--time and honesty.

Susan R. Mills said...

Yes, it is definitely necessary!

I agree. It can be subjective, but when you have more than one person saying the same thing, you know you've got to fix it.

Taking that time to cool down is so important!

I love your comment about having faith. That is so true!

I hate exercising, too. But it does feel good afterward, doesn't it?

Struggling Writer,
Yeah, those "that's good" comments don't really help us, but I do like to hear them. They make the negative easier to swallow.

The negative really is what moves us on the next level, isn't it?

The bad comments do help us grow.

Yes, two people might have complete opposite opinions. That's why it's so important to have more than one person critique our work.

Fiction Groupie,
Yes, they are giving us the best gifts, aren't they?

Stephanie Faris said...

It's tough...because you do feel an emotional investment in your work. But we are in a critique group for the reason that we want that constructive criticism...it's just tough to hear. I compare it to building muscle at the gym. You have to tear it down to make it come back stronger.

Wendabubble said...

Great writing here!! I particularly like the picture as it goes brilliantly with the theme you have chosen to write about, very clever.

Rhinocerous skin is necessary for all creatives whether they be artists, writers or crafts people.

The way I go about dealing with criticism is:

1) No my own identity and style so that I can write pretty much anything because there is no such thing as wrong in my thing.

2) I check that it is being constructive criticism rather than "thats crap" without the because bit, then I take no heed at all!

3) Accept it and consider ways to improve how I can communicate better.

4) Cry my eyes out and then swear to make em eat their words!!

Karen M. Peterson said...

If someone can't handle constructive criticism from a friend, how are they EVER going to handle suggested changes from an agent or an editor? And how will they possibly survive the first negative Times review?

Yes, it's good to find critique partners that are going to be nice, but they have to be honest, too. If something I wrote is total crap, I need to know that.

Abby Annis said...

I LOVE a good critique! I'm lucky to have some really awesome crit partners. They've helped me progress so much as a writer.

And I think sometimes it's easier for me to believe the criticism than the praise. A lot of times it feels like praise is just people being nice.

If I want praise, I'll have my family read it. For honest feedback, I can always count on my crit buddies. Great post!!

Unknown said...

It's difficult to resolve to find people that will be negative with you! I've found a couple...and I'm mostly happy I did.

nituscorner said...

my first time here.but am enjoying every bit of it. needless to say its the name of your blog that attracted me to check it out becoz shoes are my obsessions. lol!!!

Beth Mann said...

This was really helpful, and I particularly like Fiction Groupie's comment to remember is that the person giving us the critique is giving us their TIME (which is a huge sacrifice for a writer!) and their honesty (hopefully!).

I get the same feeling about getting a critique that I do when I think about standing in front of a 3-way mirror; TERROR. I have to remember that it's going to be painful and it doesn't hide any flaws, but by-God, it's the truth! :)

Looking forward to more like this!

Terri Tiffany said...

When I know it's done in love, it's ok. I learn so much from my critique partners. I love their style but I also try to keep true to my own too:)

Anna C. Morrison said...

I'm lucky enough to have had the experience of the negative being pointed out in a positive manner by others, and did the same for those in the groups in the past. I'm not currently in a group, but hope the trend continues.

Patti said...

I have an author friend reading my book right now and I talked to her after she'd already read half so I know when we sit down to meet I'm going to have to put on those winter boots and a parka. It's good through to have the critiquing, it can only make you better. Right?

Deb said...

The constructive crit stung at first--big time. I realized that I gave it out in return, with good intentions, and now I love it. I find it far more productive than the 'I liked its'.

Susan R. Mills said...

Great comparison!

Wend's Place,
Sounds like a great method. :)

Yes, we all need to know if our stuff is total crap! Isn't it better to hear it from friends than from strangers?

Family is pretty useless when giving constructive feedback, aren't they?

Rick and Monique,
I'm glad I have, too! Thanks for stopping by.

Glad you enjoyed your visit!

Nice comparison to the three-way mirror.

Good point. We don't want to adopt someone else's style because of their critiquing.

That is what my experience has been so far. It's nice to find people who can be honest in a kind way.

Yeah, you may need the parka, too. But it is so worth it.

I love it, too. I'd trade the 'liked its' any day for a constructive criticism. Although, it's also nice to hear the "liked its'. :)

Weronika Janczuk said...

Another great metaphor, Susan, one that is completely correct. :) Thanks for sharing this -- I love those boots!

Clementine said...

I've been in several critique groups over the years, and the most beneficial ones are the groups that consist of members who genuinely care about one another's work. These members offer both positives and... depending upon how you look at it, negatives. If someone says that your manuscript is crap without giving you some suggestions for improvement, then I would consider that a big negative. But when folks present their opinions in a polite and professional way, even negative comments can become positive because they tell you how to make your manuscript even better.

Dawn Simon said...

I think I take critiques pretty dang well, but I do find I sometimes see more of the wisdom in one if I sleep on it. For example, I've had manuscript consultations with agents who I thought were right on, but I didn't see ALL the layers of their words until a day or two passed.

Kathryn Magendie said...

although I'm not in a critique group now, I listen to critique, think about it, and then decide how to fix it based on my own instincts - sometimes at first I may think "oh they're wrong" but then I'll find a kernel of truth, or some other truth hidden within that maybe the critiquer couldn't articulate....it helps to find confidence in your writing and in yourself before you go out for critique so you won't take it personally.

Kelly H-Y said...

Such true words ... and so hard to take sometimes! But, yes ... usually it does lead to improvement!

K. M. Walton said...

I welcome anything that will make my writing better and make me a better writer...but without the evil sting of meanness.

I believe there is always a way to deliver a message without cruelty. I guess that comes from my 10 years of reading 12 year olds' writing - you gotta be gentle or you could shut the adolescent writer down. I think the same applies to big people too.

Deb said...

I’ve never forgotten one exercise from grade 12 English—always precede a negative criticism with three positives. That’s probably a little excessive for adult crits but…

Tabitha Bird said...

yep, I am all for embracing those negative comments. They are the ones that most help me to grow as a writer. I don't even mind if a positive is not thrown in there. sure that can be hard on the ego, but at the end of the day I want my writing to be the best it can be, not just a feel good endeavor. Thought I hope it will feel good too :)

Susan R. Mills said...

I love those boots, too!

You are right; even the negatives become positives when you really want to improve your writing.

Sleeping on things always makes us see clearer, doesn't it?

Confidence allows us to remain objective during our critiquing exchanges. Especially when we are getting two different opinions.

Kelly H-Y,
Yes, it is hard to take sometimes, but I think we all turn out better off for it.

Kindness is key when giving feedback. I'll be posting more on that later in the week.

I think even adults could benefit from that.

I prefer having a positive thrown in, but if there isn't one, I can deal with it. It just makes it a little harder.

Faith said...

I try not to take it personally... and keep moving along :) I don't have a critique group yet, unfortunately, but I'll do my best to take criticism gracefully once I do!

Sarah Laurence said...

That episode of Seinfeld was hilarious, but not the best analogy for literary critique. What you need is constructive criticism: readers who will flag the weaknesses. Don’t see that as “negative” – it’s positive because it will improve your work. Encouragement is emotionally helpful, but it doesn’t do much for revision. Pick readers who will be honest. Kids often are, and you’re writing for them so include some teen readers as well as adults. You are right about needing a thick skin in this field. Good luck!

Anonymous said...

I totally remember that Seinfield episode. I have been in this sort of situation and sometimes it can be really tough. For me, I try to first seperate and sift through what they are trying to say. Like for instance, I write about God alot so if someone where to comment on subject on which I write and may not agree or it may not appeal to them, then I try not to let that get to me, but if it is something that really is constructive it may sting, but after you get over that you often times realize that what is said is true and helpful.

Sherrie Petersen said...

If I trust the other person's opinion, they can tell me all the bad without softening it at all, but the trust is key. One of my critique partners once just wrote "Ugghh" beside a sentence and because I know her and trust her, I knew what she meant and I agreed! That sentence had to go!

Carolyn V. said...

I LOVE the bad comments, because it makes me look at what I am doing wrong and what I need to improve on. I had one critique buddy tell me my book was suddenly headed in the wrong direction. She was right. I love those guys.

L. T. Host said...

Thanks for following me so I could find you! And thanks for your sympathies.

I think you make very good points about the critique process. I'm lucky that the writer's group I go to is at my local community college, and the dynamic there is really interesting. Every semester, there is new blood, and it's really cool to watch their critique change over the course of the "class" as they realize what's important to the author isn't always what they think is important. Anyway, the bad stuff is always hard to hear, and I have a bad bad habit of trying to explain myself when I know I should just shut up and take it. I'm working on that, but it is hard because I always want the critiquer to know what I was thinking, as if it would help. Clearly, what I'm thinking doesn't matter if they're not getting it while they're reading.

As far as dishing out, I always take what Rick Daley calls the "sandwich" approach-- good, constructive, good. I always start with what I like, go through point by point what I think needs to improve in a calm and neutral fashion, and finish with a global compliment. It's important to make sure the author knows it's just my opinion, and since we only read 5-10 pages at a time, it's impossible to have all the context, etc., unless we get a summary or have been following the work.