Last night I sent The Docks to be critiqued. There’s a bit of a contradiction in the brain when I offer a piece of work to stranger’s eyes for the first time. On one hand, I’ve spent hours and hours, several revisions and at least one rewrite getting it to the point where I can’t see anything wrong with it. On the other, there’s always that voice that whispers it’s complete garbage that no one will like. I read it and I feel it’s perfect, but I know it’s broken.
Before I continue I want to make it clear that I love critiques. I love giving them and I love receiving them. When I give my work to someone else, I want them to chop it up and show me every single error in logic, grammar, character, plot etc. until there’s nothing left but scraps. I want this because I can’t do it myself. I am a very critical person, but there’s a barrier between how much I can critique my own work and the amount of critique it needs.
And I do need it. As I said, I’m a very critical person. I needle through books for errors just out of habit. I have a standard set for the books I read and a standard for the things I write. I don’t need my works to be milestones in literary history, but I do need them to stand up to other, equally critical eyes.
I received three critiques on The Docks and each of them exposed a crucial error in the work: an absent narrative, incorrect tense usage, disjointed setting and the like. Each of these were fears I had as I wrote the story.
But, you’re asking, if I knew there were problems, and knew what the problems were, how come I didn’t fix them before sending it off? Because the ego loves itself, that’s why. It loves everything it says and does. It doesn’t matter how critical you are, you’ll always be more lenient on yourself than a complete stranger.
Of course, the ego is always a little hurt to be told it’s wrong. That said, here is my beginners guide to surviving critiques with grace (and as few lasting wounds as possible):
1) You asked for it. If you thought it was perfect, why did you ask for a critique in the first place?
2) Don’t justify. Your work didn’t relay the message you wanted, just accept that.
3) Don’t get defensive. Nobody is attacking you, calm down.
4) Don’t be dismissive. I cannot stress enough how bad you are at critiquing your own work.
5) Ask questions. Your work failed and you need to know why. Ask your critiquers politely what went wrong if they haven’t given you enough clarity.
6) Change your perspective. It is vital to understand that critiquers are viewing your work from outside your head. You need this perspective.
7) Thank your critiquer. They took the time to read your work and give you their thoughts. Get off your high horse and thank them.
8) Read the critiques again after an hour and then again after a day. It’s painful at first, but it becomes less painful over time. You’ll be able to accept the changes you need to make more easily after you’ve had time to let your ego cool off.
I’ll be talking about the after critique next. I was going to include it in this entry but I realized it’s a whole different can of worms to try and reconcile the message I want to convey in my work with the critiques I’ve received. It’ll take some thought first.