Saturday, October 10, 2009

Critiquing Critiques

Two scenarios. 1) You have finished your novel. It is a 100,000 word piece of art. The greatest thing ever written. You pass it off to a critique group and wait to hear the superfluity of praise. 2) You have just written a novel. You are quite sure that is utter crap. It is not going to sell, and you’re not even sure why you bothered. You pass it off to a critique group, and wait for them to tell you to find a new hobby, because you have no talent.

Ok. First of all, both attitudes are horrible, and it will be hard for either one to benefit from the critiquing process. Scenario A will ignore everything they are told, because they know better, and scenario B will listen to everything and create something that lacks their own voice and originality (and more likely just give up).

The critiquing process can be a fun, exhilarating process, but it is not an easy one. You are going to need to put on your Teflon armor before you proceed. Not to mention, be sure you are prepared to give the same honest critiques that you hope to receive.

Here are a few things to keep in mind when you get back those highly anticipated (or dreaded) words of wisdom:

1) Say thank you. Specifically list anything you found helpful. Ask questions about things you didn’t understand. But for the love of Twain, do not argue, defend, or discredit the advice. (I apologize immensely if I did this to you in my first round of critiques. Chances are you were right and the revised MS now reflects it.)

2) Make sure that you request critiques from multiple people. Don’t just get one that says, “Yea, you’re great” – and then take a nap. Make sure you get multiple POV about your work.

3) After you’ve collected all of these nuggets of advice, praise, and criticism; take a step back. Let it soak in. Don’t immediately run in and change everything the minute you get it back. Ponder the information that you have received. Then tackle your ms with a plan.

4) Don’t listen to or ignore ALL advice. Once you get all the critiques back, you are going to have to make a judgment call. Some of it will be conflicting. My first critiques were so opposite – I felt like they were playing tug of war with my words.

Nothing improves your work more than getting and utilizing these critiques, but you have to be smart about it. Make sure that the end result is something that you are proud of and still holds your voice.


  1. Great advice. I think the most important thing is to always absorb the critique before you fire off the "yeah, buts". That knee jerk reaction always happens for me, but then i take a breath, really look at what they're saying, and most of the time they're right.

  2. I'm copying this post to give to the author of the other book I'm editing. (He didn't ask me to edit it; he is a friend of my friends, and they loaned me their copy of the book. I'm taking red ink to it!)

  3. Awesome post. Thanks for the advice. You can't hear (read) this sort of thing too often.