A couple of weeks ago I posted about giving critiques to fellow writers, and today we’re looking at the other side of the coin: receiving critique. Some of this may be some no brainer stuff, but it’s taken a few years of watching myself and other writers take critiques and different ways we do it well and some ways we do it very poorly for me to finally figure this out.
So let’s get this party started.
Before you send out your story…
Evaluate why you’re getting a critique.
For a while, I sent my stories out for “critique” to get a pat on the back. Of course, I would never (ever, ever, ever, ever, EVER) have said that aloud, and I never actually thought it in so many words… but my reactions to criticism betrayed me. My heart wanted people to love everything about my stories—which is normal, but in my heart, I also expected people to love everything about my stories.
Spoiler alert: that is not what a critique is about. At least, that’s not what it should be about. So before you send out your story, check your heart and unspoken motives to make certain you actually want to make your story better.
Be choosy about who you ask for a critique.
There are a few things to watch out for when deciding who to send a story to. First, don’t pull from only your peer group. If your writing equals are the only ones reading your story, the only level of excellence you will achieve is that of your peer group. No matter how long you’ve been writing or how much success you’ve seen, there is still so much you don’t know. To get the most out of a critique, it’s best to get the opinions of people from as many different backgrounds as possible so that you can get the most varied and in-depth feedback as possible.
Second, be careful to send to primarily (if not exclusively) trusted people who truly know and care about you and want you to grow and succeed. These people will give some of the most encouraging feedback, and they will be willing to say hard things gently in order to help you get better.
If all you ever hear from a certain critique partner is negative and proves unhelpful, stop sending them your stories. On the other hand, if all you ever hear from a critique partner is positive, excited feedback that strokes your ego but doesn’t challenge you, stop sending them your stories because they aren’t actually helping you.
After you get your story back…
If you’re upset by a critique, wait for your emotions to cool before replying; you want to respond, not react.
Alas, not all feedback is going to make you go over the moon. If it were, you would never grow. So, if/when you receive a critique that’s very upsetting, resist the urge to hop on your computer and rage at the person who gave the critique. No matter what they said about you or your story, you should never reply in the heat of emotion. There is no legitimate license for that anywhere in the world. Wait a few hours, or even days, if that’s what it takes for you to graciously reply.
Resist the urge to debate them about the critique.
This principle rules out passive aggressively telling your critique partner they’re wrong. They may be; they may not be. Regardless, don’t critique their critique. Friends, little will make your critique partners want to never agree to read and give feedback for you ever again like a response that insists—either overtly or subtly—that they don’t know what they’re talking about or they’re the only person who thinks that way. Such replies reek of disrespect and arrogance which stir up unnecessary strife between you and your critique partner.
Usually, the best way to respectfully disagree is the silent way since writing is not something worth serious conflict.
Remember why you’re getting a critique.
If you’re having a hard time swallowing a critique, it’s time to revisit why you sent your story out to get critiqued in the first place.
This is your story.
Now, receiving a critique with grace and humility does not mean you take every suggestion and negative comment to heart. First, remember that feedback will often conflict, so it would be impossible to make every change. Second, your job as a storyteller is not to produce something that makes everyone happy. Your job as a storyteller is to craft the strongest story you can. Take the feedback that helps you do that and throw out the rest.
Value your critique partners, especially the ones who give constructive criticism.
My brother Caleb is one of my favorite critique people. He’s not a creative writer by trade, but he knows stories so much better than I do and always has good input. Buuuuuuut, I kind of have to brace myself whenever I’m reading his critiques, not because he’s mean or anything like that but because he’s very clinical in his comments. Reading his thoughts is like pouring alcohol on a cut—it stings, but I know it’s going to go a long way in strengthening my story.
It’s been some of his suggestions on The Necklace and Our Family that changed them the most for the better (he’s the one who helped me out of the deep, dark early drafts of Our Family). I know I can trust him because he loves me and is always pushing me to grow and change for the better.
So when it comes to your critique partners, value you them and make sure they know that you value them.
Thank them. A lot. Like, a lot, a lot. Don’t forget that it takes time to read, digest, and then give feedback on a story, so thank them for their time and their thoughts. I don’t thank my critique partners enough, and I don’t believe we can be too grateful.
That’s all I’ve got for today, kids!
Here’s a huge shout out to my go-to critique partners: Daddy (the first to lay eyes on any of my stories), Caleb (the super wise dude), and Katie (basically the epitome of the balanced critique partner). <3 Thank you guys so much for all the times you’ve read bits of flash fiction and gotten back to me when I frantically send it in to you in the eleventh hour. Without you, The Necklace and Our Family wouldn’t be out in the world today.