How To Let People Critique Your Work

Okay, so, today’s topic is a tough one. If you’re anything like most writers, you’d much prefer to hole up in your bedroom with your writing and hide under the covers where NO ONE can find you, because if no one can find you, then no one can read what you’ve written, and you won’t have to deal with anyone’s opinions of your work.

HOWEVER.

Let me tell you right now that refusing to let people read your stuff is possibly the biggest mistake you could make as a writer. I know this because I have almost completed my fourth novel, and every time I send a draft off to be critiqued, I am STUNNED at the things my readers catch that I have missed after reading the thing approximately six billion times.

Now, a lot of people talk about the proper way to critique someone else’s work, but have you ever thought about the proper way to be the critiquee? (RED SQUIGGLY LINE OF DEATH. Yes, I know that is not a real word. Roll with it, people.)

Having done this multiple times now, I think I’ve found a few things that make the process easier and more productive. And so, Grasshoppers, I will share them with you.

1) Come to terms with the fact that your manuscript isn’t perfect.

In fact, before you have someone critique it, chances are it’s . . . pretty bad. Now, YOU are going to see it as this glowing angel, an orb of love and light with no flaws that people would be CRAZY not to love.

Say it with me: you. are. wrong.

And by the way, I know this because it has happened to me OH SO MANY TIMES. Your story has problems. It just does. The reason you can’t see them is that you’re too close to it, like an elderly lady who dishes out buckets of affection on her “sweet baby,” a cat named Princess that attacks everything in sight and poops on the carpet just because it can.

 

Your un-critiqued manuscript–my un-critiqued manuscript–is Princess.

So when you send it off to be critiqued, approach it with a humble attitude. Try not to say things like, “Oh, I doubt you’ll find any problems with it! I’ve been working on it for a decade so I think it’s pretty much perfect!”

This sort of makes your readers the bad guy before they even start. Ask them to point out anything they see, from a rogue comma to a gaping plot hole. ANYTHING. Tell them to be picky.

If they hold back because they’re afraid of upsetting you, it won’t do you any favors.

2) Take all suggestions with a grain of salt. 

Just because someone suggests rewording a sentence or changing a sub-plot or deleting a character altogether doesn’t mean you have to do it. 

But you need to seriously consider it, because if they thought it was worth mentioning, then it’s worth your time to check into it. Ask yourself how it would improve the story, and if you’re not sure, ask your reader. They will have all kinds of objective insight that you don’t–can’t–have.

3) Don’t tell someone they “didn’t read the story right.” 

Sadly, if someone misses something in your plot and you know you put it in there, two possible scenarios have unfolded: 1) Your reader was too bored to notice the thing they missed, or 2) you didn’t do something right when you introduced whatever thing they missed.

It is not your reader’s fault.

Let me say it again.

It is not. your reader’s. fault.

(This is assuming your reader wasn’t critiquing your manuscript while babysitting five kids and cooking dinner and trying to squeeze in a workout, by the way. We’re assuming they were reading in the proper environment.)

In the same spirit, let me say this: if someone has serious issues with something in the story, don’t assume they “didn’t get it.” Assume you’ve got some things to work on, because this is probably closer to the truth.

4) Don’t get discouraged. 

Okay, so your manuscript got shredded. You can walk away for a little while and come back later. You can start another book entirely and think about the next step for your first one. Or, if you think the edits aren’t worth it and you can’t face working on it that much, just call it practice and move on.

I did this with a manuscript called Synthesis. I tried to make it work for a year and a half. It didn’t. So it’s sitting on my hard drive, collecting dust and making friends with my work documents.

But I learned SO MUCH from writing that novel.

These are my tips for letting people critique your work. What are yours?

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6 thoughts on “How To Let People Critique Your Work

  1. Alexandra Shostak says:

    Love it! Though I must disagree with you on one fundamental point: my manuscript is NEEEEVER a Princess. My manuscript always looks worse to me than it does to other people. I kind of go the other way, but it’s also not the way to be a good critiquee. (P.S. That should totally be a word. Let’s make it a word.) I apologize for my work. ALL. THE. TIME. “This is totally not ready, and it will never be ready, but I’m tired of looking at it and I’m not good enough to find my own mistakes so if you could please please just read this and it’s TOTALLY OKAY if you make me cry and just be brutal because I suck.” Yeah, also not the way to get a good critique. Because if you come across as an insecure headcase, you get the same thing: people will be afraid of hurting your feelings and they won’t be as honest as they could be.

    Plus, either you apologize for your work because you’re fishing for compliments, or you actually do not think it’s ready. The first winds right back around to Princess manuscript. The second means you should work on it privately more, until you do feel it’s ready to be critiqued. Or, you’re nervous. Which is completely human and natural, but doesn’t warrant an apology.

    Also, (this long comment is your fault for writing an engaging blog post) the grain of salt point–I tend to think that if just one person comments on an issue I don’t want to change, it might just be reader preference. If four people comment on that same issue, there is very likely a problem that I’m not seeing. The other thing I’ve noticed is: sometimes, I’m only so-so on changing something thanks to a comment, because maybe they hit on the problem, but I don’t like the solution offered and need to come up with my own. Or they hit on A problem, but it actually shows me a different, deeper problem. And if I fixed that deeper problem, the problem my cp noticed would also be fixed.

    Finally (I swear I’m almost done) I think someone can “not get” your novel–if you picked the wrong beta or critique partner because they’re absolutely unfamiliar with your genre and are also uninterested in your genre. For example, I could never critique a memoir. I think I’ve read a grand total of two memoirs in my entire life, and I have no idea what they as a genre are about or what the point of them is, nor do I particularly care because I’m too busy reading YA and fantasy. So I think my point here is, there are circumstances in which a critique relationship just doesn’t mesh, and that’s okay, too. Not everyone is going to deliver the same level of critique.

    Whew, and ironically, I am about to dive into YOUR novel. 😉 😉

  2. Jessica Love says:

    SO TRUE. I love having people read my stuff and critique because I am convinced that I can never do it on my own. I’m such a co-dependent writer…I need someone to tell me every single idea is a good one before I go forward with it, and I’ll often follow up critiques with “what about this? was that funny? did you like that? did it work? really?” which is probably so annoying to my poor readers.

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