Friday, August 24, 2012

What To Do When A Critique Partner Upsets You

Every writer goes through moments where a critique effects them in a negative way. Whether they beat themselves up over it or get angry/defensive, it happens, especially when they are being pummeled with several at once. There is a right way and a wrong way to handle it when it does. Here are some tips:

1. Wait before reacting

If you choose to respond to the person, it's better to do so when you're not consumed by emotions. It helps you behave more professionally and keeps you from being insultful or defensive. (Which can make you look very full of yourself, even when you're actually insecure.)

Not to mention that sometimes, after you think about a critique for awhile, you might decide that the person is actually right, even though your instincts fought against it at first. This has happened to me many times as I've improved as a writer. It made me a better writer once I got what they were saying, even though it was hard to hear.

2. Put their opinion into perspective

Critiquers are fellow writers usually. They sympathize with what you are going through. It may be hard to hear an opinion about something you've poured your heart into, but they wouldn't say it if they didn't believe in your manuscript.

I've given my manuscripts to people who didn't believe in them and didn't bother to read through even the first chapter. If someone is actually reading through the whole thing, then they like it and support you

They are teachers, not rivals. They make mistakes because they are not infallible. You might see things wrong with their writing and think,"How dare they judge me when they can't do such and such right!" But the truth is they have different strengths and weaknesses than you and can help you be stronger in those areas as well.

3. Communicate

If you don't express ahead of time that you're just looking for feedback on plot holes and not on characters or that you just want help with your grammar and don't care what they think about the depressing ending, then they might give you opinions on the wrong things, which will frustrate you and could cause an argument because of the misunderstanding. Good communication can give you the kind of critique you're looking for.

4. Respect their opinion

There have been times when critique partners argued with me about critiques I gave them and convinced me of nothing. A critique is someone's personal reaction to your work. Whether it's an educated reaction or not, it was still the impression they got from your piece. And saying,"No, your reaction was wrong" isn't going to make them suddenly change their mind. In fact, you might make them angry with you.

I critiqued something for someone once and was given an e-mail back where they argued with every single point I made. Not one or two points, all of the points. I immediately realized that I wasted my time. Even if I was wrong like they said I was about everything, I still didn't help them, which means all my effort had been pointless. It made me wonder why I gave my opinion if this person valued none of it.

With critique partners, we're collecting reactions to a story as a whole, so we can get the information we need to receive more positive reactions once we're published. You don't have to change everything that they ask you to or agree with anything they say. I expect my critique partners to have different views of their (and my own) manuscripts than I do.

View it as a survey that they're filling out. You'll analyze the data later and make your decisions based on that information you collected. It is a scientific experiment about how the public might react to your work (based on a small sample of people you surveyed), not a debate over who is right or wrong. It will prepare you for the kind of negative reactions you might get to your work if you don't change what they ask you to.

I wrote a story about an invisible woman and when five out of my five critique partners (even though I had been positive at the time that I did it right) told me that they weren't sure she was invisible at all, I knew I did something wrong. I was able to write my story better because of it.

5. Don't rant about it over social media

Let's say one of your critique partners says that you use too many adverbs and after you publish, you say,"Ha! She said I used too many adverbs, but look how many books I've sold. She was wrong." People will suddenly start looking for those adverbs and see if you're doing things as correctly as you say you are or if the critiquer was right. And you'll look full of yourself, even though more likely than not, you'll view it as you trying to defend yourself.

6. Find a friend you can complain to

With a friend, you can actually let your guard down and be as whiny and immature as you need to be. You can even insult the person if you want to and it won't effect your career at all. By finding the right avenue to release your emotions into, you can still keep your professional image up while not being forced to hold everything in.

Because let's face it, no matter how mature we are, sometimes we need to rant.

7. Move on

If you're upset about a critique partner and something they said (or maybe many somethings), remember that we are all learning. You're not as bad as you think. If you were the worst writer in the world and there was no hope for you, then no one would be trying to help you. What they see is your potential and what you could be if you improve. Focus on that.

Writing is a craft that you can never perfect. There's always room as a writer to get better and challenge yourself. You never have to worry that the book you just wrote is the best book of your career because you'll write the next book using all the knowledge you learned from the previous one and do something even better.

It actually makes writing exciting.


caterina torres said...

Great post! Even though my CP's and I get along swimmingly, when I receive random crits elsewhere that I disagree with or that make me feel less of a writer, I have to take a moment and reflect on what they're saying so I can learn and grow as a writer.

Jemi Fraser said...

Great advice! As a mom of two athletes, they played in several sports which had 24 hour rules - parents/kids,,, couldn't complain to the coaching staff about any incident for 24 hours. It helped everyone keep cooler heads :)

SC Author said...

1, 4, 5, and 7 are the best, especially 4 :) 4 is huge because NO opinion is wrong. Even if your partner's justification is... off, they found a part of your book they didn't connect with, and thus, EVERY critique should be used to impliment change in your book. Thats just my belief :)

Martin Willoughby said...

That is perfect advice for everyone, and not just for writers. We could apply it to many occasions when people upset us.

eva nurlela putri said...

Banned complain !! Complaining only causes life and mind become more severe. Enjoy the rhythm of the problems faced. no problem no life, no matter did not learn, so enjoy it :)
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