The Critique

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.

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9 thoughts on “The Critique

  1. I can not stress how much I love this post. Everything is so spot on. I talked about something similar in my own blog just recently, but it came off more as a rant than thoughtful ponderings. Fantastic.

  2. I’ll admit, I was a little surprised at how much I’d missed in all the revisions I did, but none of the critiques I got were surprising at all. I’ll revise and rewrite again with this new insight.

  3. I received my very first review. I got three stars but the review itself really hurt. Only I know the blood, sweat, tears and ignoring the one I love to get my book finished, to only get discouraged and months latter pick it up and think…Yea I got this. I thought,let me just look over it one more time….but no I felt ten was enough and sent it through. Mistake! Yep right after I hit send I see them…boldly in my face. ” I knew better, why didn’t I fix that?” Because I wanted to do everything myself. Didn’t want anyone to pick apart my masterpiece, my soul, my work. The time it could have saved if I just would have let it go to even one editor, one critique. I just might be working on my second book instead of worrying and stressing with the first. ” If only I had listened,” I say to myself again. This blog hits everything right on.

    • I know how you feel! Even when I post things for fun to blogs or web groups I keep finding all these little errors. It’s frustrating! And I get flips of the stomach handing in works to be critiqued too.

      I console myself in that critiquers know that the work isn’t 100% polished yet. I can forgive myself for there being errors in a work that is “still in the works” but I couldn’t stand it if errors were found by readers when the work is supposed to be a finished product.

      They are painful hits we take, but hits we must take nonetheless. Good luck with your next work!

  4. It seems that you and I are at very similar points in our journey. And like the commenter above, I’ve been talking about this sort of stuff lately on my blog.
    I love the critiquing as well. I don’t think I’ve been offended by any of it; if you don’t agree, you don’t have to make the change.
    We do get way (WAAAAAAAY) too close to our books to look at them objectively. Me? I can add things, but can’t take them out. When going through it with my friend, a word here, a sentence there? Sometimes other people know better. Doesn’t mean that they know the story better than you. I think that a lot of books needed a good look-through (or five) before being sent out. It’s the only way to ensure they’re as perfect as they can be.
    Good luck with everything that follows!

    • Yup! That’s exactly it. Sometimes you just know it’s wrong, but you can’t figure out why, and no matter how many times you look at it, it all starts to just blur together until you just want to throw up your hands and shout “good enough!!”. But good enough is never good enough. I’m so glad I have people willing to take the time to tear up my work. It surely needs it!
      Good luck to you as well!

      • Haha YES. I was talking with my friend (the one currently going through mine) tonight and we were discussing this invisible line that you reach when editing your own work – you’re helping it on one side, hurting it on the other. I’m at that line and ALL I want to do is try and kick at it to make it move a few feet the other way so I could MAYBE go through them again. Kind of silly.
        The words do blur together horrendously. And there are some sentences that just never come out the way you want them to (or the way that you know they should be). Outside opinions can work wonders on those troublemakers. Sometimes it’s just one single word that can change the whole feel of things. But when your life is words? Well…one can make a world of difference.
        I’m always glad to see people wanting to put quality work out there, rather than just work. Good enough IS never good enough.
        🙂

  5. It usually takes me a couple of weeks to read a critique again haha so reading it the next day? Ah too painful. Looks like your ego gets over stuff faster than mine 🙂 I do appreciate the critiques when I come back to it later though & with some distance from the ms.

    • I use a forced thick skin technique. It runs on the same principle as putting antiseptic on an open wound: the more it stings, obviously the better it’s working, so press it in harder! Haha. I generally go through stages of feelings when I get critiques, but the angry stage is always the stage in which I’m furthest from the computer. Usually it’s only Alex who gets to hear my “meanie critiquer” whining.

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