So you write, and you want to get published. At some point, you will wish to seek out (and yes, endure) critiques of your work. While critiques can be difficult, there are ways to get the most of them.
There’s a quote often shared among writers (we think it originated from Red Smith): “There is nothing to writing. You just sit down…and open a vein.” Indeed, each time you write, you’re sharing a part of yourself—it’s a labor of sweat and love. Understandably, it’s difficult to reveal your work to critical eyes.
However, critiques help you develop and hone your craft. First, understand that a critique is not about all about criticism. A critique is an in depth analysis, a critical exploration of your work. Sometimes, we’re too close to our work and it becomes difficult to analyze our work. A critique from a discerning reader or editor can help you with questions like:
Is the point or argument clear and persuasive?
Is the style consistent?
Does the structure of the work hold up?
Is the writing well-paced?
Is the tone right for the intended audience?
So how do you get the most out of a creative critique? Try these seven approaches to getting the most out of a critique.
Be selective. You’ve diligently working on your novel/memoir/how-to/philosophical dissertation/fill-in-the-blank for a while. The people in your life may ask to read it, but when seeking for a reader to provide a critique of your work, choose someone who can add value to your work. You may want to choose readers who are experts on the topic, trusted friends, discerning beta readers, developmental editors, and agents.
You will get the most out of your critique when the person giving the critique is able to provide constructive feedback that isn’t simply, “This is good,” or “I don’t like it.” Choose someone with either the ability to analyze your writing and/or the vocabulary to help you make your writing better.
Be prepared. Being in the right frame of mind is very important for getting the most out of a critique. Understand that receiving a critique is a part of your growth as a writer and an important step in the process of refining your manuscript. Prepare yourself to receive information, to be receptive to opinions different than your own and be open to the possibility of gaining some inspiration or information that will expand the potential of your work.
Bring questions. As the designer and executor of your writing, you have an awareness of specific areas you’d like to address. By bringing your own questions to the table, you can help direct focus to these concerns and get the most out of your critique. Ask for specific examples and constructive criticism. Specific questions will encourage specific answers.
Be willing to listen. Whether you agree or disagree, be willing to listen. There’s a part in every writer—a tender, sweet, and needy part of us that hopes for praise and affirmations about our work. But while positive feedback may feel good (and be useful) ideas and directions on how to improve your work ultimately holds the real value in constructive criticisms. Be open to all opinions, thoughts and ideas, even if you don’t immediately agree.
Don’t take it personally. Critiques are about your work, not about you as a person. (This goes back to being selective with who can critique your work and setting the tone with good, specific questions.) It’s difficult to hear about what’s not working in your manuscript. So ease the pain by keeping your focus on the writing and your goals. A critique is not about you, it’s about how to refine your work.
Decide. Often, coming away from a critique can be overwhelming because of the sheer amount of ideas you’ll get. To nurture your creative process, recognize that the opinion that counts most is yours. Ultimately it’s your writing, so you will need to make the final decisions. Think of a critique as a buffet of thoughts and ideas, and you get to choose which ones make the most sense for your work. Tip: Be clear on why you are making each artistic choice.
Take action. Some writers often experience writer’s block after a critique because they are overwhelmed with the sheer amount of opinions and options. It’s important to not freeze up after a critique. After you decide on which direction to take your work, it’s time to make a plan of action, and move forward! Revise, rewrite, and finish your manuscript!
Critiques can open a window of insight into your work, perhaps one you have not have considered, and this might be the difference between good work and great work. So be willing to listen and at least consider what the editor or reader is sharing. Finally, understand that constructive criticism is a gift of insight to develop the best possible manuscript.