Enemies of the Art Part 10–Having a Thin Skin

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Doing critiques….

Being a writer is great fun. We are storytellers and we love entertaining people. The new paradigm is AWESOME. Suddenly, if you want to publish your work, you can. We no longer have to go the traditional route and self-publishing is certainly an option. Yet, we MUST be careful. Our product should be AS GOOD as anything out of NY. I see a lot of writers who rush to publish when they aren’t ready.

They don’t have a core story problem, or don’t yet properly understand the role of antagonists and how to use them. Many don’t yet grasp narrative structure or POV. There is A LOT that goes into writing a novel a reader will enjoy. Just because we made As in English doesn’t automatically qualify us to create a work of 60,000 or more words that can keep a reader riveted. There is a lot of stuff “behind the scenes” that readers don’t know about, but they can sense when those elements are missing.

Writing Group Nightmares

I was part of a couple critique groups for a few years, and there were certain writers who I’d just ignore. In the past, when I’d pointed out they had 47 adverbs on page one, they threw a fit. If I mentioned they had no plot? They went berserk. Eventually, I just left the pages unmarked and kept quiet.

I tried running an on-line writing workshop to help writers with this big picture stuff, and I finally gave up. It did less teaching and more “ego babysitting.” There were participants who acted so badly, I just had to ask them to leave. They came to me (me being an expert) claiming they wanted to learn, and yet instead of learning they argued every last little point and acted like toddlers, wailing how I was “trying to destroy their art.”

Um, no. Narrative structure is pretty basic. Being in ONE head at a time is basic. No flashbacks every thirty words? Pretty basic.

One writer, upon being escorted out of the group, blogged about how we’d “wasted her time” because we wanted her to have a core antagonist.

*head desk*

There is a learning curve in writing, just like EVERY art form. I played clarinet for many years. I started by learning how to read music, then how to finger the notes, proper embrochure (mouth position), etc. I didn’t start out playing Flight of the Bumblebee. I started with Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star.  I didn’t scream at my conductor that he was ruining my music when he wanted me to learn how to read music.

I happened to be president of a writing group years back. During a critique session, one of the participants brought an article she wanted to submit about how eating from home was healthier and less expensive. Her target readers were retirees with limited income.

In critique, my only comment was that, to perhaps make the article stronger, she might choose some restaurants her readers might frequent and add up the cost of some of the meals. This way, in black and white numbers, she could show them how much money they’d save using her recipes. Later, at a board meeting she lunged over the table, wagged her finger in my face and screamed how I was abusive and had called her a fat cow in critique.

Huh? Lady, WHAT are you smoking?

Obviously, I grew tired of lunatics and amateurs. I’d had my work critiqued, too and sometimes the critique was nothing short of brutal. Bring it ON! was my motto. I’d had critique sessions so blistering that I later cried in my car…but I tried harder. I relished every bit of feedback and worked my tail off. If something seemed off-base, I read craft books until I knew what I should ignore.

We ALL need good critique. We never outgrow it.

Just because someone tells us our words aren’t all unicorn kisses doesn’t mean they are trying to destroy our art. We need to be open to feedback or we can’t grow, learn, change, and become masters of our art. We need to toughen up. Reviewers can be great and give helpful feedback, but some can be jerks who have nothing else better to do than write a nasty comment guaranteed to make even the best of us cry.

The downside of publishing outside the traditional model is that we haven’t been vetted. It’s probably easier to dismiss a ranting review if Simon & Schuster published your book. You know editors have looked at your work and it passed the test.

We NEED Threshold Guardians

If you want to be a non-traditional author? Join good critique groups. If you are in the DFW area, DFW Writers’ Workshop is full of professionals, not a bunch of people who want to play writer so long as all the critique is a fluffy kitten hug. Listen to beta readers. Hire professional editors—content editors and line editors. Content editors will help with the overall structure of the book and the characters, how the story reads. Line editors will make sure you don’t embarrass yourself with mass amounts of typos.

Toughen Up, Buttercup

This is one of the many reasons I encourage writers to blog. Blogging helps us build that rhino skin we will need to be successful. A lot of critique will be subjective. But, we are wise to listen without letting it unhinge us. If we go nutso every time someone points out a problem, then we can’t grow. People will eventually just remain silent and let us fail publicly.

Have fun storming the castle! *waves*

I’ve had people I have tried to correct on very basic things who just ran and self-published. Okay, but likely the reviews are going to reflect advice given but ignored. We will all get critique. It’s our choice whether or not to listen and what advice to take. Yet, brutal feedback will happen and it comes with the job (even with great books). We are wise to take most of the tough stuff in private so we can fix it and save the embarrassment of that same criticism being in a one or two-star review that is out for the world to see.

Professionals get tough. It’s how we mature and keep getting better. It isn’t the world’s job to babysit our egos.

Have you ever had someone go nuts in a critique group? On-line? Argue with reviewers? Have you ever had a critique that left you in tears, but you were later grateful?

I love hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of March, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. If you leave a comment, and link back to my blog, and mention my book We Are Not Alone in your blog…you get your name in the hat THREE times. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly.

I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novelor your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

And also, winners have a limited time to claim the prize, because what’s happening is there are actually quite a few people who never claim the critique, so I never know if the spam folder ate it or to look for it and then people miss out. I will also give my corporate e-mail to insure we connect and I will only have a week to return the 20 page edit.

At the end of March I will pick a winner for the monthly prize. Good luck!

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  1. #1 by Wendy Reis Editing on March 7, 2013 - 9:36 am

    Reblogged this on Wendy Reis Editing (Blog) and commented:
    One of the thing discussed in last evening’s local author’s meeting at our library was the necessity of developing a thick skin. Kristen is absolutely right.

    • #2 by therapist2talk2 on March 31, 2013 - 3:35 pm

      Any suggestions to those of us who have valuable information to share based on lived experience? Writing is not something I ever planned to do, but ‘writing for my life’ is all I have done now for the past 4 years. Some have said you need to write a book and a PhD in English told me I can’t even write a sentence.

  2. #4 by Yvonne Hertzberger on March 7, 2013 - 9:38 am

    I follow Kristen’s blog. She often has very good stuff there. I recommend her.

  3. #5 by Kay Shostak on March 7, 2013 - 9:45 am

    Bravo, Kristen! I’ve often had other participants in critique groups, or conferences complain to me and want me to agree that the person doing the critique or making suggestions doesn’t know what they are talking about. Lets me know who not to pay attention to. I want to be around the others that want to learn and grow.

    • #6 by Karen on March 7, 2013 - 9:53 am

      I often hear that the reader/critiquer doesn’t “understand” the story, so the writer spends the whole workshop explaining the story he/she’s written. The problem is not with the reader–it’s with the writing.

  4. #7 by Gerri Brousseau on March 7, 2013 - 9:46 am

    Great blog! If someone can’t take a crit group they’ll never make it through a publisher’s editing process.

  5. #8 by Mother-Earth Book Series on March 7, 2013 - 9:47 am

    People who want to be professionals first have to act like one. Receiving criticism is part of being a professional. Some criticism will be warranted, some won’t, but as you say, there are some foundational ideas that should be adhered to. If we break one of those, we need to have a strong purpose and understanding for doing so. Great post that should be required reading before entering into a writing group! :-)

  6. #9 by Yvonne Hertzberger on March 7, 2013 - 9:48 am

    Hmmm, I thought my last comment was only on Wendy’s blog. ???

    Kristen, I could not agree more. I have belonged to two critique groups, one still ongoing. What I received from participants was not always welcome. Some of it pricked rather badly and raised my hackles. I had to learn to push those reactions down so that I could think about what they were telling me. Often they were at least partly right. Some times I disagreed, bit then I knew WHY I disagreed and could explain myself (even of only to myself). As a result my writing has improved. In return, I believe the critiques I have passed on have aided those I gave them to.

    One important element has to be there for groups to work well, though. There has to be trust. Without that it becomes about personalities instead of the writing.

  7. #10 by Karen on March 7, 2013 - 9:50 am

    All good stuff. I don’t know how you get someone who wants to write, and yet can’t deal with any criticism of their work, to improve their work. I’ve participated in a couple of writing workshops and thankfully have no horror tales to tell from them, but I’ve heard enough stories from others to know they can be real nightmares.

    I was an English lit major, and love dissecting writing, and would spend the rest of my life explicating poems if I could find someone to pay me for it. I’ve given feedback a few times here at WordPress to writers who have requested it and the response for the most part is not well received.

    I can’t blame the writers for being less than receptive–I often wonder what I would say to James Joyce if he showed up and dropped the manuscript for Ulysses on my desk? (I don’t wonder–I know what I would say. I would tell him to edit it mercilessly and hand him a book on punctuation).

    I think the phenomena of self-publishing/e-publishing is really fascinating in this regard. There are no longer any gatekeepers, so what is the incentive to really improve your craft? You can publish regardless.

  8. #11 by mrsbongle on March 7, 2013 - 9:58 am

    And I thought I was thin skinned! I’ve had a couple of times where I’ve had some criticism and I’ve got upset about and I thought that was because I was a bad writer or a bad person and I should be grateful for all criticism. I realise now that I should be grateful for the kind of criticism that is meant to be helpful but not for idiots just being stupid and mean.
    I would never be personal in criticising someone’s work and I expect the same from them. As a writer I know I make mistakes and I do realise that someone pointing them out to me is all to the good. I hope I continue to get criticism because it helps me to grow as a writer.

  9. #12 by maw25 on March 7, 2013 - 9:59 am

    Great blog and I love having my work critiqued. I’m one of those writers that crave the feedback, good or bad. I can throw out the stuff that’s crap and keep the rest.

    Reblogged at http://harliewilliams.com

    Marika/Harlie
    harliewilliams25@gmail.com

  10. #13 by maw25 on March 7, 2013 - 10:00 am

    Reblogged this on Harlie Williams, Author and commented:
    Great blog about critiquing and crit groups.

  11. #14 by DLFowler on March 7, 2013 - 10:01 am

    Not just true about writing, but critiques help us get better at everything. I go to two writer critique groups each week. I have to drive an hour each way to one of them. The other I have to clean house for because it’s at my place. They’re worth the work. I try to pay careful attention to everything that comes up. I don’t know how many readers will have he same response. When I don’t see the person’s point, I push back for clarification. I want to understand what I need to know. They might be the only person in the world who sees it their way, but maybe not. I just might be the only one who sees it my way, and that would be a problem once the ms is in print. Better to be safe than sorry.

    Thanks, Kristen for the great post.

    • #15 by Bob Stewart on March 7, 2013 - 10:08 am

      Great comment. Had I read this I’d kept my mouth shut as you worded it so well.

  12. #16 by Bob Stewart on March 7, 2013 - 10:06 am

    Being both print published and e-published, I would like to see the writers’ world develop a title for e-published folks rather than self publish.” As I read this excellent article I take “self publish” to be just that, a publication by an individual who could not find a publisher for whatever reason. Too often “self publish” casts a broadnet that includes legitimate e-publishers who bear the expense of a strong edit and paying for a proper cover. I think it is a disservice calling them “self publish.” Now that I’ve got that out of the way, may I say a few words about critiques. To me the most important part of anyone’s critique is their desire to improve your work. There are a few “ego critiques” who destroy to puff up their importance. Most of these are easily spotted. Fortunate is the writer who finds a critic who only wants you to be your best and cares enough to give you their very best. No, you don’t have to agree with everything nor incorporate everything they suggest. Wise is the writer who listens, asks questions to understand the point being made, then goes to a corner to contemplate the meaning of what was just imparted. Twice, I rewrote openings to books — including my WIP — because someone cared enough to be honest. Twice, the impact of the opening was heightened and hook editors into the book. So, don’t carry your ego on your sleeve — as a journalist with devils for editors (real mean-eyed whiskey breathing word eaters) I learned to learn from them. Thanks to all who read this and let me rave a bit. My wishes for you are best-sellers, graceful writing and milliions of dollars. There’s room enough for all of us to care and give our very best.

    • #17 by eqtrainer on March 9, 2013 - 5:58 pm

      Bob, I like your idea about the title e-published, as general connotation with self-published authors still stays with the kind of less respect for the writer. Anyone can do it. Publisher at least give impression of the higher value, as thay have to sreen and assess writing and forecast sales.

      • #18 by Daniel Escurel Occeno on March 9, 2013 - 9:02 pm

        Corporate Publishing Houses are calling their on-line Internet publications for sale E-publishing or E-published books so I guess the savvy Internet user that can get money from sales on the Internet will be a self-publisher on E-Publishing instead of going to conferences of Guilds they joined and set up a table with their latest creation on display to sell their self-published printed books to members during a conference. Some asked local libraries if they could do book signings and at the same time the writer could sell their self-published book. Renting a location at a mall is done all the time. If you read contractual agreements of corporate publishers, they give you so many books or at discounted prices to sell on your own. I just like the idea that those capable of doing the self-pub route have a chance. With on-line publishing it is getting easier and less expensive for those that can afford the connection. The old way, you get cash after you printed it, the high tech way is still lost in the transaction for me. How to collect the cash, and like Kristen pointed out; they got free.

  13. #19 by Jennifer Smith on March 7, 2013 - 10:10 am

    It’s hard to hear critical feedback on work you’ve slaved to produce, yet I’ve never regretted a brutal critique. A good critique ALWAYS helps me make my work stronger.

  14. #20 by patrickoscheen on March 7, 2013 - 10:10 am

    We had a similar discussion on BBTCafe recently. I always feel bad leaving 3 stars – especially in the face of a beloved pet project. I realize that we all like something different. I’m no expert and most probably, I never will be. However, I will always be a reader. Quite frankly, I’m at a point –as a reader –that I don’t care if I see another Indie book…ever. Yes, there are good ones. However, the amount of chaff I have needed to consume before finding wheat has been too extensive, too exhausting.
    Now, I’m not saying my own work as a writer is great, but there definitely needs to be some regulation, some prescribed way of reviewing that tells me what to leave behind.

    • #21 by Bob Stewart on March 7, 2013 - 10:15 am

      Excellent point, Patrick, and you made it well.

  15. #22 by morgynstarz on March 7, 2013 - 10:14 am

    KL and everyone else! Finding a peer critique group, wow, that is the question. I joined RWA just to get access to women who wrote, a lot and knew what it took to publish. Sadly, that face to face critique group passed on. Can’t tell you just how much fun it was dosing them with a raving madwoman fantasy. They took it like champs and learned just as much as I did from their work. But now, I need to find a peer critique group. It’s time to run with my own kind. Really, my best idea is online critique groups. Pitch out the sissies and go at it full tilt. Anyone, ideas of vetting, where to find, maybe starting?

    • #23 by Author Kristen Lamb on March 7, 2013 - 10:17 am

      Start on WANATribe. It’s full of writers who want to beta read and offer critique in kind.

    • #24 by stephscottil on March 7, 2013 - 11:34 am

      I also joined RWA for the same reason, although I’ve only just started with critiques (our group’s meetings are program focused, and critique groups meet on the side). I’ve worked with a mix of people I know solely online and those who I’ve met; I like the personal interaction, it makes me want to collaborate even more with other writers since I see them regularly.

  16. #25 by M.E. Garber on March 7, 2013 - 10:15 am

    I just moved (again) and am seeking a new crit group–one that takes their work seriously, gives good, honest feedback, not just pats on the back or vitriolic personal attacks. Sigh. Always tough to find, but worth their weight in gold. Thanks for reminding me *why* I still search them out.

  17. #26 by Carl on March 7, 2013 - 10:16 am

    I’d love to find a good group. To me, the critics need to avoid their own stylistic or even genre preferences and look to the piece as it is intended. The worst thing to do when receiving criticism, even bad criticism, is to be defensive because that stifles good discussion. I’m not a very good critic, manly because of my inability to get past stylistic preferences of my own, but to me, the best criticism and the best response is in the form of questions.

  18. #27 by Christine Ashworth on March 7, 2013 - 10:24 am

    My first “real” critique group was – interesting. We met after our local RWA chapter meeting and gave our first crits – I pointed out some stuff in one gal’s work and she argued with me. Everyone got quiet and I just shrugged and said do whatever feels right for you for your story. By the time I got home, I had three – not one or two, but THREE vitriolic emails from her. She only came back to one other crit meeting, then eventually dropped out all together. Still…I can’t do critique groups. To this day they always backfire on me. Sigh…

  19. #28 by cathryncade on March 7, 2013 - 10:29 am

    Kristen,

    A key thing to remember is it’s all right to throw that hissy fit … just do it in private, lol! Get out all those angsty feelings, and then get over them.

    I love my beta readers and my editors, but I confess I cringe each time I show them a new piece of work. Those are my super secret fantasies I’m sharing, my baby, my brain-child. So I cry and I rant to my DH, and then I suck it up and go back and make the changes that will make my story better.

    The good news is I internalize some of what they’ve taught me, so with each new WIP I find myself making more of those changes while I’m self-editing.

    But I so agree we never get past the need for fresh eyes on our stories before publication. I recently read an enjoyable self-pubbed book, but at the end I thought, ‘Hey! You totally left a certain plot point hanging!’ I do that, but my beta readers or my editor catch it.

    best,
    Cathryn Cade

  20. #29 by crankycaregiver on March 7, 2013 - 10:36 am

    I’m my own worst critic..so nothing anyone says breaks me into a sobbing mess! Premature publishing is rampant based on some of the works I have purchased online and lived to regret! What would have been a great piece was a train wreck…all because the author thought they knew more than anyone when their piece was ready.

    I’m going to reblog this because I feel it contains some of the best advice on what to look for and what to avoid in a critique group. I’ve never been in one, but have been thinking about testing the waters to find a good one. With your advice, I feel more prepared in my search. Thanks!

  21. #30 by crankycaregiver on March 7, 2013 - 10:37 am

    Reblogged this on Grandma Says.. and commented:
    Some really good advice here for writers! Well worth your time to read this before considering self-publishing or a critique group.

  22. #31 by Marilyn Hudson Tucker on March 7, 2013 - 10:38 am

    My favorite critique comment was from a man who told me my main character could not kick a man in the head if her hands were tied in front of her. I asked my daughter to try it, and she did–in heels. I ignore some suggestions and ignore others, but I usually get one really helpful comment per session. Kristen, I’m posting the usual two links on FB. I want to win.

  23. #32 by Roberta Burton on March 7, 2013 - 10:39 am

    I was one of those authors who took every (well, almost) suggestion to heart. I rewrote my novel three times from first person, present tense to third person, past tense to third person, present tense and back to first person, present tense with many, many changes along the way. Finally, when one prolific author told me to listen to my gut, I got it. I learned early on not to marry my thoughts or my words and when I had a professor who had the entire class throw their papers on the floor and tromp on them, I laughed and had fun while the rest of the class were highly insulted. Everyone has at least one good idea in a critique group. Those are the ideas I use.

  24. #33 by Rick Schworer on March 7, 2013 - 10:39 am

    Have I ever had anyone flip out on me or seen anyone flip out over this sort of thing online? Hahaha… sadly, yes. The most infamous one I think we all know about.

    http://booksandpals.blogspot.com/2011/03/greek-seaman-jacqueline-howett.html

  25. #34 by JoanReeves on March 7, 2013 - 10:40 am

    Kristin, this series is one of your best yet. Such solid LIFE advice as well as writing advice. What always strikes me, when you talk about your past, is how much we have in common. I’ve been there — in so many of those situations — done that, and got all those nasty stinky t-shirts. Nietzsche was right: “What doesn’t kill me makes me stronger.” (I like the way Kelly Clarkson says it best! *g*)

  26. #35 by cindysprigg1962 on March 7, 2013 - 10:43 am

    When I started writing, I joined every writing and critique groups I could find. i have now cancelled most of my memberships.Why? I now only belong to the local writing group,no more on line critiques.I submitted a short story to one such on line group. This group was powered by a point system. Beware of these…some people just can not be trusted to do the right thing when there is something to be gained. My little story got some excellent reviews and a few good points on spelling and punctuation, Hey… this was helpful…how could I have missed them? Then along came the guy that held the rating of big points…he posted that the story was a copy of another author..that there was no way my main character could have married the girl he did…that I didn’t explain how they met…that there was no way people could love each other that much…etc…When I investigated the story he said I plagiarized it was a love story, mine is a horror..the only similarity I could find was my main character had the same first name.So I wrote him off as a troll and ignored the review. I continued to push on trying to establish a career in writing…but things on the web sometime never go away. A couple of months had past and I was now querying for a new horror novel…almost a year and not a single bite. What was I doing wrong…was it really that bad? I was about to give up writing forever…I got up the nerve to do the unthinkable and break the rules. I asked a few of the agents “why”….It was explained to me that public image is one thing they look for before taking on a client and my first hit on a google search brought up a bad review. Well, there it was! That bad review in that little online site. I contacted the site admin.,had it removed and contacted all the search engines and did the same.I had always thought..what was submitted to web group was seen by members only….boy was I wrong…writers beware!

    • #36 by Morgyn on March 7, 2013 - 11:33 am

      Cindy, talk about cautionary tales! Thank you so much for telling your experience.

    • #37 by Shweta on March 7, 2013 - 8:13 pm

      I thank you as well, for sharing that. I signed up for a site that might be the same, and if not it’s similar, with a point system and privacy settings and everything, a while ago, but before I began sharing anything I browsed around and tried to figure out the acceptable way to write reviews, not just to get you/the writer you’re reviewing points, and so on. Then I had a look at how the search engines displayed what was supposed to be private – I can imagine your frustration and horror! Even if you can’t access the pages directly without an account, what shows up in search engines seems pretty unreasonable. There are ways to stop them from showing up, you’d think whoever runs these sites would make sure of it. To know that publishers are specifically looking out for this stuff and all it takes is one silly troll to ruin one’s chances is good info. Thank you for sharing that. Sorry that it happened like that.

  27. #38 by LouWritesStuff on March 7, 2013 - 10:43 am

    Great post. It makes me think that if I ever join (or more likely start) a critique group, that we will begin with some very solid ground rules: be thoughtful about critiques you make, about those you receive, and thicken your skin a bit. Writing is such a personal, intimate act (me, all alone with my pen and paper) that in a way it’s no surprise that people can be extremely sensitive when the results of said intimacy are shared, AND critiqued. Yet as you point out, if we really want to be better writers, criticism is really the only way to see the problems we can’t see ourselves.

  28. #39 by S. A. Young on March 7, 2013 - 10:45 am

    A thick skin is proving to be the hardest of the many tools one needs to acquire. But I’m working on it!

  29. #40 by Maggie on March 7, 2013 - 10:49 am

    I can honestly say that I am mastering the art of gracious acceptance. But the more I read the more I learn that there are growing numbers of people who think they can write or think they are experts and Freshly Pressed is a prime example. I have never attempted to read so many dry articles in all of my life. I can certainly attest to your comments about working with lunatics! Writers can run the gamet…fragile as a snowflake to oblivious! Good post.

    http://smartasseryinc.wordpress.com/

  30. #41 by djharrison99 on March 7, 2013 - 10:51 am

    Brilliantly put, as always.
    Professional critiques are often worth paying for. People who do it for free, or on a you do mine and I’ll do yours basis, are often much too kind and not that clever.
    I’d recommend http://www.fictionfeedback.co.uk, this is run by my editor and she’s awesomely talented (and also very kind!)

    http://djharrison99.blogspot.co.uk/

  31. #42 by Maryann Miller (@maryannwrites) on March 7, 2013 - 10:51 am

    Learning how to separate critique of our work and critique of ourselves is a vital first step. I remember being in writing groups with some novices who would get highly insulted if you told them a comma was out of place. Why belong to a critique group if you are not there to learn?

  32. #43 by Piper Bayard on March 7, 2013 - 11:03 am

    When I critique for people, my rule is that they don’t get bent out of shape by what I say, and I don’t get bent out of shape by what they ignore. A blast from the Death Star is one hell of a thing to survive, but the fact is that if people are too full of what they think they know, there is no room left to learn anything. And we learn or stagnate. Equally important to listening, though, is not letting critique partners take over our work. I’ve met many talented writers who were being held back by a slavish obeisance to their critique partners who didn’t have as much talent or creativity as they did. So important to find the RIGHT critique. I thank God every day for my Death Star.

  33. #44 by Cindy Watson on March 7, 2013 - 11:22 am

    Here, here! I particularly liked the clarinet analogy. I often use similar references when trying to teach my kids that everyone needs coaching. Wayne Gretsky didn’t get to be the hockey player he was with his Dad telling him he was great when he fell on his face. Bruce Springsteen didn’t become one of the most influential musicians of our time by settling for mediocrity. I could go on.
    Sure it’s tough to have your work torn apart, but it’s almost always the case that upon later reflection, if you can leave the ego at the door and incorporate the feedback, your work will be stronger and richer.

  34. #45 by catherinewolffe53 on March 7, 2013 - 11:30 am

    Taking a critique personally is unprofessional. This is a basic truth people forget. We are so involved in our stories, sometimes we forget to view the work from a reader’s prospective. I’m at fault like countless others. Thanks for the chance to read your unvarnished truth about my work. I would be grateful for the opportunity. Best wishes, Catherine

  35. #46 by A. B. Harms on March 7, 2013 - 11:35 am

    It’s definitely something to get used to- getting criticism on your writing- but becoming graceful at giving and receiving takes practice. In my experience in life and writing, the most brutal comments are the ones that first make you cry when no one’s looking, then ponder the hardest. I’m almost always grateful for the “guy that doesn’t know what he’s talking about” in the end and happy that he had the gumption to tell me what he really thought. (Though I still prefer unicorn kisses.)

    I posted a spin-off post on my blog today to spread the word: http://abharmsbooks.blogspot.com/2013/03/thick-skin-not-just-for-pudding-anymore.html

  36. #47 by Jessi Gage on March 7, 2013 - 11:59 am

    I love my critique group. We are only 3 strong, but here are some of the reasons I think we work: (1) We write in the same broad genre and read in similar subgenres to what group members write.
    (2)We’re all at similar places in our careers. It might be a coincidence, but all 3 of us, who had been trying to get published for years, signed our first publishing contracts within 1 year of meeting as a group. Of course, we all had submissions out and had been pushing for publication when we started meeting, so wheels were in motion for all of us, but IMO the confidence, support, and comaraderie (did I spell that right?) were instrumental as we all took this step in our careers together.
    (3) We all have the same level of committment to the group and to making writing work as a career.

    It’s like a perfect storm of factors that make our CG work so well. I fell very blessed in my CG and wish everyone could be so lucky. But I didn’t find my way into this CG easily. It happened after several trials and “meh” results with other CGs that didn’t quite meet the needs I had. I had to be a little selfish and step back from more than one situation that wasn’t working, and only after I did that, did this new, wonderful opportunity evolve.

    For anyone looking for a good CG, hang in there. It won’t happen over night, unless you’re very lucky. Seek out people similar to you in committment level, career goals, and reading habits, and you might be surprised what develops.

    • #48 by Jessi Gage on March 7, 2013 - 12:09 pm

      LOL! I’m a terrible speller. Sorry for anyone cringing at my spelling above! I can’t live without spell-check!

  37. #49 by Juliette on March 7, 2013 - 12:01 pm

    I was in a group where one member would go nuts spewing mean critical words and at the same time would spit poison at anyone who was critical of his thoughts or words. Eventually a few of us got tired of the BS and spun off into a new group. In the two years since then we’ve, as a group and individually, shared and published more wonderful work than I could have ever imagined.

    But that said, anyone who chooses to be in a creative field, be it writing, graphics, fine art, music, etc, must form a thick skin and not take anything personally. You have to realize that it is all subjective and the opinion of one person, not the world. Also you have to let go of your work and let it fly on it’s own. It stops being about YOU and starts being about the story (art, music, novel) you’ve created. Sort of like having kids. It isn’t always the fault of the mean old teacher so buck up and get back to work.

  38. #50 by LisaAnn on March 7, 2013 - 12:03 pm

    Great post. It has taken me awhile to find a critique group I really love, and now they are worth their weight in gold!

  39. #51 by Wendy Dewar Hughes on March 7, 2013 - 12:06 pm

    What it comes down to is, do you want to be a better writer or do you just want to be petted? As a career artist and writer, I found most people in writers’ and painters’ groups simply wanted others to “oooh and aaaah” over their work and had no real interest in excellence. It’s not easy finding a group of upwardly mobile professionals who want to move beyond the “kindergarten” of their craft.

  40. #52 by MonaKarel on March 7, 2013 - 12:13 pm

    Putting together a strong critique group is hard, but nothing’s easy in this game! I’ve been told I have “too many scenes” only to find out the critiquer didn’t understand the meaning of POV. I’ve had people get stuck on the WORKING title and never get to the meat of the story; or worry about the location. Easy fixes, folks! Do you give a rat’s hairy rear end about these people? If not, then the story is a {temporary!} fail. The rest is paint and window dressing!

  41. #53 by caroleditosti on March 7, 2013 - 12:19 pm

    Years ago i was a part of a writer’s group and I found it a waste of time because it was the wrong fit. With a great meld of individuals working on different genres and nom ego threatening work, then it is useful. Also, individuals have to trust that you know what you are talking about…a proven track record. A critique group with Toni Morrison or William Gaines is not the same as a critique group with a lesser known writer who has not achieved such success. Then, the critiques become subject to individual taste, opinion and attitude. I am not talking about basic structure and writing savvy…I’m talking about more stylistic issues. So it is never easy. Certainly, the more one writes, the better, any type of writing. And until you can find the right posse, sometimes, it is better to advance yourself alone…but write daily and in a variety of genres.

  42. #54 by redjim99 on March 7, 2013 - 12:20 pm

    Part of the problem is that people are afraid to offend someone, and so offer platitudes or weak criticism. Maybe because if it is a reciprocal arrangement they only want the same back. I am looking for a new group to go where I am. I think I will need to start it myself, nothing I can find at the moment. My wife is my best critic, she has no fear. Just dives right in and says what she does and doesn’t like, then leaves me to ponder or reply.

    Jim

    • #55 by MonaKarel on March 7, 2013 - 12:22 pm

      Jim, I ended up starting my own.

  43. #56 by Rhenna Morgan on March 7, 2013 - 12:27 pm

    Oddly, my struggle with critiques doesn’t tie back to thin skin (though I have been known to pout and lick my wounds for an hour–or two). Mine is taking everything everyone says and trying to “please” them all. (Good little dysfuntional that I am.) Balance in everything Rhenna! Example: Just because someone points out that a chapter has many -ings doesn’t mean -ings are the devil. The words “that” and “was” also, not the devil. This is an art. A craft. Sometimes you need a hatchet and sometimes you need a scalpel. And you cannot apply both simultaneously. The trick is to breath through every bit of advise and dig deep to the heart of the message. (For me, anyway.)

  44. #57 by M T McGuire on March 7, 2013 - 12:37 pm

    One of the really important things is to find a crit group who are on your wavelength. Mine is very small and very honest. They are also tough. Without them I wouldn’t have learned very much. If they don’t like something I’m seriously worried! Indeed they’ve helped me shape my writing.

    Cheers

    MTM

  45. #58 by annerallen on March 7, 2013 - 1:13 pm

    Giving good critiques and learning from them is such a fine line to walk. It takes practice to do both. Many newbie critiquers just want to rewrite every book to be about them and their own issues. And new writers can find it hard to know the difference between an attack by a control freak and an honest statement that a novel really, um, needs a plot.

    I have a friend who writes gorgeous, lyrical prose and fascinating characters, none of whom is in conflict with another. The whole concept of plot is foreign to him. Last night I had to tell him I couldn’t critique any more. I know novels; he writes abstract prose poems and they really aren’t related.

  46. #59 by seakiev on March 7, 2013 - 1:15 pm

    Kristen, I am enjoying your posts more and more…I think you’ve hit your stride.

  47. #60 by Eden on March 7, 2013 - 1:25 pm

    I have to say, I think the worst thing a person can do to a fellow artist is to not be honest.

    When I think about the amount of work that I’m going through right now trying to narrow down the story in a manuscript I wrote because everyone who read it told me that they really liked it or only read just so far and then said “Sorry, it’s not my thing”…

    We all cringe a bit when someone says something about our art that doesn’t make us feel good. After all, being judged lacking doesn’t feel good…ever. But here’s the rub–those people are doing us a favor, and we should at least do them the favor of listening. They might be wrong (that’s why we should gather several opinions, not just one or two), they might be right, they may even be total whackjobs that are out to destroy us. But if we don’t listen, thoughtfully and calmly, we’ll miss the chance to learn that. And we’ll miss the opportunity to avoid some of those problems in the future.

    So maybe it’s not so much a matter of developing a thicker skin, but altering our perspective.

  48. #61 by Laurie P on March 7, 2013 - 2:04 pm

    I’m the one who wants an honest opinion and is always scared that people are being nice and saying it’s good when it needs more work. And as the writer, how do we see our work and not get hurt feeling when someone critiques it? I know there is a learning curve with writing but what is the that learning curve? I would love to see a writing class where you write a story and it gets critiqued, then you re-write and it gets critiqued again and so forth so I could see how the learning process goes.

  49. #62 by Renee on March 7, 2013 - 2:20 pm

    Kristen, you helmeted genius, you! It’s a madhouse on my end and I’ve followed your blogs and loved every one, but this one really resonated.

    We all know there’s a line between DEstructive criticism and CONstructive criticism. Some are thin-skinned and dare I say – narcissistic? – and come at your throat. Shoot, all I have to do is read Internet blogger reviewers to get that. The snark and flaming could blow out a stadium. And, is any of that back-and-forthing really productive? Isn’t it about one-upmanship and out-flaming, rather than being insightful?

    It’s vital that we judge who we’re spilling our guts to, and who we show our work to. There are folks out there that are either narrow-minded (“I only read sci-fi romances where the alien gets the girl! I hate your genre, bee-yotch!”) – or they’re just plain ole mean. You gotta dust it off. Gotta get that rhino skin, as James Scott Bell once said. (and I’m developing a wrinkle cream for rhino skin, watch for my infomercial)

    But constructive criticism – and being able to “listen to” and heed that advice – can be akin to putting a banana peel in your flux capacitor.

    It’s how you get better.

    Entered many RWA contests and was gutted fairly regularly by judges. Some of the inexperienced writers really came at me like Norman Bates in the stairwell, they tackled me and kept stabbing, even as I croaked, “Okay, okay, so put my opening chapter in the fruit cellar!”

    Anonymity seems to encourage the best and worst in people. (often the worst!) I cried, I wept, I went for therapy sessions. Then, I joined my RWA chapter. Now, some of the critiques – delivered “live,” and with some snippiness – made me whimper and want to dive into a vat of chocolate.

    But I toughened up, tried to keep a sense of humor, and likewise vowed I would strive to be tactful, polite and yet honest. When I look back at those critiques, some folks were 100% right, and I was glad I listened. For those who would never like my writing, no matter if I bribed them with Godiva or offered to detail their car free for a year – just kind of gave up trying to win over everyone. It’s not possible.

    From the larger RWA group, I befriended four marvelous souls and we commiserate, we laugh, we support each other. It’s a beautiful thing.

    But I also learned that I had to watch my own negativity, my own capacity for thin-skinned-ness, and not being able to celebrate my friends’ successes. Instead, I was jealous. I drove a couple of golden people away, one in particular.

    Never doing that again. If one of my current friends becomes a mega-seller and Oprah invites her to her home – I’m going to be happy for her, not envious. Well. Maybe a tad. But I’ll let that icky envy go.

    We gotta learn which criticism has merit, versus the stuff that’s intentionally cruel. Think of a reality show diva upending a table and having a snit, (her kind of critique) versus a reasonable, educated, well-read person who is fair – but won’t give you kitten kisses on the cheek, either. I’m going to listen to that second person, and zoom past that loony diva’s table, lickety-split.

    Sorry this is so long-winded. You inspire me!

    • #63 by Author Kristen Lamb on March 7, 2013 - 5:55 pm

      Don’t be sorry. I LOVE it! Great story. I don’t think I’ve ever seen someone be flat out cruel and even if they are, that is still GOOD. We have to learn to take heat because IT WILL NOT GO AWAY. If we can learn to brush of that kind of asshattery in person, we can also learn to unlisten when it comes in a review, because it will. All of us will get at least one troll.

  50. #64 by harbingr on March 7, 2013 - 3:09 pm

    I rarely let anyone have any control over me these days. Now, instead of crying, I use swear words. ;-) I LOVED my editor. I could see the corrective points she was trying to convey and made the book the best it could be. But one of my most hurtful experiences was, getting sued by a model in my fashion show…middle 1980’s. I could not believe my eyes, and did indeed end up in court. Judge ruled in my behalf. I can’t say I remember her name, though.

  51. #65 by pamela on March 7, 2013 - 3:10 pm

    A lovely entry. Well-balanced, fair and insightful.
    I have belonged to several critique groups. I have led workshops, and I have ‘moderated’ workshops for professional authors with major traditional books under their belt and a world of experience to share.
    I have seen both sides of the equation. Thin-skinned writers who actually ‘needed’ a bit of coddling, because they were so new to the experience it would have destroyed their writing to give them the skin-the-cat critiques a more trial-worn writer is (hopefully) ready to absorb. Some critters are beyond tough all the way into cruel. Some are so kitten gentle and purr so loudly they never offer the harder truths we need to grow.
    I moderated groups where keeping them on task was like herding cats. And, as you said so well, even those who alleged to be there to learn, often had yet to learn the art of listening.
    But I also made some wonderful critique partners, met some amazing writers, and learned so much more than I can ever give back.
    We grow. We learn. And, hopefully, we negotiate the mine-field of critiques and reviews and come out stronger and better writers for the process.
    Thanks so much, Kristen. Always a pleasure.

  52. #66 by kerbey on March 7, 2013 - 3:25 pm

    Wow. I’ve only had people close to me critique my work, and now you’re making me wonder if they’ve just been giving me unicorn kisses all along. Writing is a tough business; WordPress shows just how many gifted writers exist, as support AND competition. I think composing a novel is like styling my hair. Even if it looks great from the front, I can never have eyes in the back of my head to see that swirly S curve that never blowdries straight. I’m thankful to the one who can point it out, so that I can maintain some consistency on my head. And I hope I never condemn them for just stating the obvious, even if I have to address a dozen S curves. Thanks for a great post!

  53. #67 by Dennis Langley on March 7, 2013 - 3:50 pm

    I’ve belonged to two writer’s groups. One disbanded by mutual agreement for lack of productivity. I’ve decided to limit my time at the second one and find a group that can provide more “serious” feedback. I have been brutalized during critiques in the past. However I find them to be opportunities. Not only to improve as a writer, but to learn how to take the criticism and break it down into constructive ideas vs garbage.

  54. #68 by literalstarvingartist on March 7, 2013 - 4:52 pm

    linked you in my blog and mentioned your book. i have to say you have some very good points. i tend to be on the more sensitive side when it comes to my writing, but it doesn’t stop me from asking for ideas to make it better or critiques. sometimes we need help; we aren’t infallible, though i know we wish it. and though you’re right about needing workshops and editors, i wonder if there are options for the not-so-made-of-money among us. i don’t make enough to pay for these services (i am on disability), so i often rely on my own intuition and editing. unfortunately, i am also one of those who “ran out and self-published”… but believe me, i don’t think i would do it again. as frustrating as it gets going the “traditional route”, i couldn’t see myself repeating it. at least with a publisher, you get the critiques, ideas and editing right off the bat. not to mention marketing and royalties. so, anyway, thank you for the insight!

    • #69 by Author Kristen Lamb on March 7, 2013 - 5:49 pm

      Join WANATribe. It’s the social site I built for the WANAs so mostly all writers. Probably a good place to find critique groups or partners.

  55. #71 by Daniel Escurel Occeno on March 7, 2013 - 4:53 pm

    You could tell them to get a “second opinion” like medical doctors do during an office visit if patients do not like the diagnosis. I noticed that you teach to see a specialist when it becomes important. I think; Harvard doctors made it a law in Medicine that General Practitioners have to send certain patients to specialists. The rich can have automatic patients. They do not have to develop the market. It is my fear on self publishing, even after critiques and asking a high school English teacher to correct my work, there still might be mistakes. I like NaNoWriMo because it taught me to write the needed word count, but I try to write it ready to send as I write while editing and still forgetting to spell check at the end of the writing day, similar to a newspaper writer with a daily deadline. Personal style is what you are probably fighting when people get upset. Like I argued during high school when the English teacher corrected my mistakes, I noticed that he changed the entire story or paragraph to mean something else, so why would I agree to his correction. Now, if he paid me to publish it; it would be worth considering changing it. I really did not love that title or I can write another novel with the title so go ahead. Make sure the check does not bounce.

  56. #72 by MaLinda Johnson on March 7, 2013 - 5:40 pm

    I love that image and agree that critiques are necessary no matter how much knowledge you have. Someone else will always have an insight that you don’t notice.

    Just to add my two cents, there is one thing that’s worse than getting a bad review. It is never getting reviewed at all because your material was so off target that even your ideal audience members never fully connected with it. Sometimes, silence is the worst thing of all.

  57. #73 by Rachel Thompson on March 7, 2013 - 7:00 pm

    Critique is important. Good critique partners is paramount. Go to GLVWG.org (The writers group I’m involved with) and look at the critique guidelines we set up.
    I’ll add a few ideas not stated there.
    First, critique is never about the writer it’s only about the work. If someone has a habit of personnel attacks, kick his ass out. Conversely, don’t take critique observations personally. Its about the work, not you. Poor writing doesn’t reflect you as a human being.
    As a critique partner, only speak of what you know. If you have an observation justify your view with technical and industry rules and terms. Don’t say, ” Gee I really don’t like the way you wrote that, it sucks.” Pinpoint what the problem is and suggest repairs. For example: ” Your protagonist speaks with a lot of passive language, but a hero in this kind of story typically uses strong, short dialogue. So if you lose the passive voice your hero will seem stronger.” Show examples in your mark-up. Explain what passive voice is. Rewrite a snatch of dialogue as an example.
    If you’re a story structure geek, focus on that, or if it dialogue is your best skill, share what you Know. Comment on what you see as an issue with writing rules, facts and standards then offer corrective tips.
    If you don’t know what the problem is don’t offer vague terms, loose rationals or personnel slams. The idea is to help the other writer write better and receive that same help in kind. Simple right?

    • #74 by sharonhughson on March 7, 2013 - 7:58 pm

      Rachel-
      You share great insights here about giving productive critiques. I think some people read a story and say, “I don’t like it (the idea or story line).” Unless I ask you to comment on my story idea, I’m not asking for your personal opinion on that. If I have a weak plot, please tell me. If my character is lame or the dialogue sounds phony, tell me that. Give me examples from the text.
      Just because you don’t like vampire stories (which I don’t write by the way) doesn’t mean you should tell the author of one such tale how dumb it is (when that is really just your personal preference). I think too many people enter into a writing group because they want someone to stroke their egos. They read to be entertained, so if the genre doesn’t meet their personal preference, they give negative feedback.
      I think we should be honest and ask why we want to join a writing group. I think guidelines and expectations of any group should be clearly established up front and anyone who doesn’t abide by them should be ousted. I would love to be in such a writing group! Unfortunately, my experiences with them have shown me that I give thorough feedback, but I don’t receive the same. Then I feel shortchanged and I’m done with the group.
      Thanks for adding your words of wisdom to Kristin’s.

  58. #75 by altheapreston on March 7, 2013 - 7:35 pm

    A really great crit partner/group is your first line of defense in growing a nice, thick skin because let’s face it; no writer in the world has never had a bad review. If we can’t work through the critique and learn to weed out the useful from the useless, to take the “this works really well” with the “throw this chapter in the garbage,” we’ll never survive the person on Amazon who writes a scathing review whether it deals with the story or seems personal. No matter how good we finally are as a writer.

    I’ve often wondered why some people become authors and then cry foul that the reviews they receive are less than glowing. Writing is a subjective art just like painting, sculpting or anything else that comes from a creative mind and though we can spend day after day learning the craft, if we can’t take it the first time a good critique partner who knows more than we do tells us there is no real plot or the Hn is a whiny bitch or the H is two rocks short of a box, how will we ever survive the business?

  59. #77 by Kayla Sanchez on March 7, 2013 - 7:35 pm

    I remember the first time I let my work be critiqued: it was hard, but I was able to turn around and improve my writing immediately. What I find to be my problem most of the time is that I know what I want to put on the page, but sometimes I forget parts that were in my head but never quite made it out. My characters and dialogue become convoluted, but once they were commented on it was much easier to fix. If I had never let anyone read my writing, then I would remain stagnant, and that’s the worst place to be.

    I always remind myself of this: if I were unbiased, would I want to spend my cash on cheesy dialogue, a meandering plot, and stereotypical characters? No? Go back and edit. Yes? Go buy Twilight, then edit your work.

  60. #78 by Debbie Johansson on March 7, 2013 - 7:42 pm

    Perfect timing Kristen. I’m currently going over some of my writing to send out to beta readers/critique partners, however, I need to find some first. I’ll take your advice and ask some people on WANATribe who are willing to help. It’s time for me to toughen up. Great post, as always!

  61. #79 by Shweta on March 7, 2013 - 7:48 pm

    I’m so glad I’m reading this before possibly seeking out a writer’s group to join for regular meetings, reception of regular critique, etc. The reactions some people have to had to your critiques – what nightmarish sensitivities are boiling under their surface? Hah. We’re all so sensitive when it comes time to open up and let people we don’t even know that well point out flaws in our creation, but there’s surely a balanced approached people could take to it. You can’t help being hurt, but overreacting and refusing to listen, letting the hurt feelings dictate the situation, isn’t the behaviour of someone who is serious about improving their work and sculpting into something of real substance. I fear joining a writer’s group because it’s easy for me to say all this; who knows if I might turn out to be a complete harpy upon receiving critique? I just have to try, I suppose …

    What unnerves me about self-publishing is that readers know instinctually what good writing is and what isn’t. If you’re a reader and hung up on the writing, paying too much attention (negative attention) to the writing, then the writing is intruding on the story being told and readers HATE that. I imagine this is a bigger problem with self-published work than work accepted by a publishing house. Although less-than-celebrated writing can filter through the publishing houses’ output for sure. But from what I’ve seen, the self-published works I’ve read by friends is always riddled with at least a few odd mistakes, are shoddily structured, and there’s a distinct difference between these books and the ‘traditionally’ published books in how the story flows, the story loses you in its flow, so on. There’s a polish that a lot of self-published books are missing. But I’m sure that’s the case only with those who are just starting out. People who have been trying and improving themselves for years – could be a different story with their self-published work. All that to finally get to my point — any critique you can possibly take, you ought to take. Everything, I really believe, can be another layer to slap onto your self-improvement with writing. So that if you can’t get published in the traditional way, but really believe your work is worth putting out there, and so take the self-publishing route, your writing is as good as it could get, notwithstanding all the improvements to come in future with more practice. And readers will be able to appreciate your story – and by that token, more quietly, your writing – because they were able to read it and engage.

    I really loved this post and reading the others’ comments. The critiques I’ve gotten are usually the kind of thing I can’t help baulking at internally – language can become too dense when entering descriptive points; and, I think you made a point in your post, too many adverbs! – but immediately I take a look, and through fresh eyes I get the point. Adverbs really are tricky little beasts … anyway, again, great post.

  62. #80 by sharonhughson on March 7, 2013 - 8:08 pm

    You’ve nailed another area where we “artistic types” seem to have a hard time.
    Recently, I have experienced some very general criticism to work I submitted for publication. One reader said I needed more description and the next said I needed less description and more action. Neither one cited specific points in the story. Needless to say, I threw my hands up. How is that helpful?
    Yes, when my pieces were rejected (and I had been part of the review board, so I read half of my competition), I wanted to cry and quit. I did neither. Unfortunately, I didn’t see how my work was any less desirable than most of what I had read – and no one was willing to point it out. What I learned from this? I’d rather not work with amateurs. Not that I’m a professional, but I want an explicit rubric for judging and I want specific citations of where the text fell short of those standards.
    Obviously, my years in the education business are shining through.
    Thanks for understanding our pain and frustration. If only I could get a brutal (but honest and helpful) critique that pointed to specific areas where I need improvement. After I wiped away my tears, I’d know where I needed to focus my attention on my WIP.

  63. #81 by Rachelle on March 7, 2013 - 9:41 pm

    Fantastic post! I couldn’t agree more with you, on all counts. It’s tough to hear criticism sometimes, but it’s the only way we can improve.

  64. #82 by OliveWildly on March 7, 2013 - 10:23 pm

    My new local writing group has just exchanged chapters for the first time. I am nervous and excited! Previous attempts at getting involved in the local critique groups has been underwhelming. Most people are too afraid to hurt someone’s feelings. Thus your critique is usually a helpful circling of grammar / spelling with a “I loved it!” at the end. This new group is much more honest. Looking forward to seeing areas I need to work on.

  65. #83 by dgstovall1 on March 7, 2013 - 10:34 pm

    In that same writer’s group as Kristen, I read the opening of my novel and someone suggested I chop off a huge chunk from the beginning and start in the middle of the chapter. It was great advice and created a compelling opening. All critique groups should post a sign: “Check your ego at the door”.

  66. #84 by Nada Faris on March 7, 2013 - 10:41 pm

    Your posts are the best Kristen. I just wish you didn’t have to suffer so much or be surrounded by too many idiots :D

  67. #85 by CJ on March 7, 2013 - 11:06 pm

    Thanks. I’m a new writer (in DFW btw) who recently joined my first writers’ group. I also just got the nerve up to submit for critique this week, so these are good tips for me. :)

  68. #86 by DJ on March 7, 2013 - 11:57 pm

    good stuff! I once edited a friend’s doctoral dissertation. It had been rejected twice, I told him to cut it by more than half and it was accepted!

  69. #87 by lythya on March 8, 2013 - 2:45 am

    The very BEST constructive critiques are the ones that make us cry. We just must not let it put us down. It happened to me that I let go of a fanfiction I had almost finished because I realized it wasn’t as good as a lot of other stuff out there.
    The sad thing is, I was getting loads of reviews and pissed off a lot of people by not finishing. I then left the story to another person who was just aweful at finishing and made a lot of plot holes. Sigh.

  70. #88 by sao on March 8, 2013 - 4:36 am

    I’ve had a critique that fussed over wording, rewriting every sentence with a less-than-common word and simplifying my sentence structure. Great, if I wanted to write for 5th graders(I didn’t) but it made for a narrative that I found boring to read.

    I had someone throw a hissy fit because I had suggested that her MC was TSTL when, for the second time, the MC went back to her apartment, where a man she suspected of murder was living (she’d invited him in and given him a key) on the logic of it was the middle of the day, he was probably at work and the murderer walked in. I had been tactful the first time the MC did this, but by the second time, I tried to get the point across. Perhaps the ultimate problem was that the author had no logical reason for how the MC got into every suspense-filled scene, and if she took accepted my point, she’d have no book left.

  71. #89 by jane on March 8, 2013 - 7:54 am

    I appreciate what you say here and it shows me that I am paying my dues. I have wanted to crawl under my desk at critique sessions but I could tell that under the harsh criticisms there were grains of truth that I had to observe. Thank you to the lady eight years ago who dared to tell me my writing was ‘a real turn off’. I do think she was right, at the time. And because I listened to that I believe I have grown as a writer. Now I hear the voices of all those who have read my work and taken the time to respond, as I write on today. I am so appreciative of them because without them I would never have been able to get out of my own idea of what reads well and understand that others have a different perspective, and that perspective really matters. I like to say that my memoir has been critiqued to within an inch of its life.because it has been examined by others so much. My next goal is to be brave enough to share it with more than just people I can look directly in the eye! Query letters next…

  72. #90 by reneemaynes on March 8, 2013 - 9:41 am

    I have to watch my tongue every time someone posts how it’s not fair that Amazon let’s “amateur” reviewers review books and that the one star reviews obviously are not sophisticated enough to appreciate their work. With self/indie/e/whatever we want to call it publishing, anyone can be a published author. Too bad they forget that the experience isn’t all about them.

  73. #91 by misssmithofthedead on March 8, 2013 - 9:45 am

    I’ve definitely seen some choice freak outs in critiques (especially from “misunderstood” poets while I was in college and one person who was very, very fond of their main character). I’ve also had the experience of participating in a critique where it seemed like the only purpose was to suck the life out of the story and make it palatable to absolutely everyone who could ever pick up a book anywhere. There was an incident where a woman wrote a story from the perspective of someone who had a syndrome that the group hadn’t heard much about, so they didn’t understand what was going on with the language. The writer sign-posted pretty decently and didn’t directly include the name of the syndrome; but if you didn’t know the symptoms there was little chance you’d ever get it. After she explained the symptoms the group continued to harp on the sentences and wording that were now clearly related to the syndrome she was writing about and it ended up a quagmire of senselessness. If the syndrome had a journal that included fiction I think she would have been okay – it’s not horrible to have a limited audience.

    When it comes to my novels, I’m very fond of my copy-editor and I have a few early-readers who are really helpful and from professions that include my audience (like librarians and teachers). My copy-editor has a journalism background and she doesn’t usually read the genre I write (YA at the moment), so whenever something comes up beyond typos in her critique I know to take it seriously even if I don’t agree initially with what she said. I’m re-working the first book in a trilogy for e-publication and a pitch conference right now and the feedback I’ve gotten in the early stages has less sting and more sense at this point.

  74. #92 by David Erickson on March 8, 2013 - 11:01 am

    I took me 120+ rejection letters with two novel submissions before I accepted the fact that my stuff just wasn’t ready for prime time. I joined a writing group and the critiques were immediate and rich with valuable insight.

    Writing on a controversial subject on Facebook is another great way to not only hone your writing skills, but helps you learn how to graciously accept ill-informed comments, spot on corrections and other editorial responses.

    I think I’ve gotten pretty good at writing, but I’m never above someone pointing out the error of my ways. No matter how good a job you do, another set of eyes will assure you that you are far from perfect -:)

  75. #93 by Diana Beebe on March 8, 2013 - 11:53 am

    Grad school trained me to have a thick skin. The creative writing professor was a genius at critiquing–he could cut the crap out of a story with a spoon but in the nicest way. You couldn’t survive his classes if you couldn’t give and take critiques professionally and with the knowledge that everything was to make the story better.

    Learning to take criticism (hopefully constructive) is a must. If I’ve gotten anything right over the years in this process, it was taking in what that professor said and learning from it.

    Loved this post, Kristen!

  76. #94 by cairnr on March 8, 2013 - 4:27 pm

    I’m a classically trained chef. Classical training means the chefs throw things at you when you make a mistake, they yell right in your face and pick at every tiny detail of your work. It was excruciating, but I kind of miss it.

  77. #95 by Heather Muir on March 8, 2013 - 4:46 pm

    I had a girl in my critiqure group who was “borrowing” Tamora Pierce’s magic system and world for her novel. Everytime I tried to explain to her that creating the magic system would inform her story and it couldn’t just be cut in and out, she about snapped. I told her this for 2 years before she finally got it and realized that writing is hard. I think she gave up writing. It still makes me sad that she refused to change and grow. She did give great advice on my work which I used to improve.

  78. #96 by Julie Glover on March 8, 2013 - 9:09 pm

    Actually, a fellow writer whom I respect warily offered to critique my novel, warning me, “I’m pretty brutal.” I handed my manuscript over, and she returned her comments. She was spot on, and I was so glad that I am more interested in my writing being properly whipped into shape than having my head patted and my ego stroked. I felt blessed to have someone willing to tell me the truth about what wasn’t working.

  79. #97 by ontyrepassages on March 9, 2013 - 5:23 am

    Great post. I never want to stop writing, but I also never want to limit myself and lose opportunities to grow. Some of that growing is painful, but it’s worth it.

  80. #98 by Mary Roya on March 9, 2013 - 6:14 pm

    Really enjoyed your article. I must say I did get a critique that took my breath away. It said, “Your story is so full of misspellings and grammar errors that I can’t read it.’ Thank God it was secret who reviewed it, not that I would do anything. Learning and growing.

  81. #99 by Kerry Gans on March 10, 2013 - 4:47 pm

    I was once in a group where a person submitted her work and specified “only positive feedback.” Of course, we gave her real feedback (gently, since she was obviously sensitive). She defended herself by saying she was a purist who believed that the way it came out in first draft was the way it was “meant” to be. She later brought in her book, self-published, and we looked at it. She had not changed a single word, in spite of all the criticism. To this day, I wonder why she even bothered with a crit group at all.

  82. #100 by donovanmneal on March 11, 2013 - 6:31 pm

    Reblogged this on Donovan and the act of musing and commented:
    The question is can you take the heat! Yep shes absolutely right. Sometimes we have a hard time accepting criticism of our work. But without it we can’t grow.

  83. #101 by donovanmneal on March 11, 2013 - 6:33 pm

    Again a great blog. I appreciate what you bring in insight. I had a beta reader critique my upcoming novel. He was harsh! But after I got over my feelings being hurt, (after all I did ask him to critique it!) I tried to really understand where he was coming from and attempted to incorporate his concerns. It made my work better. I think the problem is that we are pretty soft when it comes to accepting anything but praise. Perhaps we identify too closely, and think our work is US. I dunno. In any event great blog. Reblogged @ http://donovanmneal.wordpress.com/

  84. #102 by neenslewy on March 18, 2013 - 3:29 am

    A great blog post. Taking criticism is always hard, it is personal for an artist, if it is constructive though it should always be taken on board. I think with writing this is essential. Once you have poured your soul into something it is not always easy to see the snags.
    It is all about professionalism, that’s the difference.

  85. #103 by Linda Adams on March 19, 2013 - 5:21 am

    I’ve run into critique horror stories — mostly from other people. One guy online had a meltdown over some fairly simple comments and went on a personal attack, claiming that I didn’t have the right to critique his work because I was published(!). The weird part is that a second critiquer posted comments nearly identical to mine. The only difference was that my handle clearly identified my gender; hers did not.

    I also had this guy my in-person critique group (has folded). He was a great writer of the word side, and supposedly an agent was interested once he fixed the manuscript (not sure if this was true, general politeness on the agent’s side, or the writer lied). But he didn’t have to time to read, which showed in the story, because he had no story. The result was that he’d been revising it endlessly. He was always the first one to volunteer for critiques. He’d dutifully type all the comments and then come back again for another critique with the same problems. I didn’t care how he fixed the problems! But it was frustrating to spend the time critiquing it and see nothing change. The other writers reverted to praise for the quality of the words, and I finally got fed up and refused to critique him any more. One day, he had a meltdown and revealed that he didn’t care if it got published and that he was endlessly rewriting this monster of a book to get back at the government agency he worked for. He didn’t have time to read, bragged about agents wanting to publish his book, but didn’t want it to be published so he could get revenge at where he worked?!

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