Receiving a Critique: What Can YOU Do?

There are two sides to every coin and, almost always, to every situation. This rule applies very well to critique groups.  I’ve always known this, but it’s hitting home again as I work on The Critiquer’s Survival Guide. (Half the book is heading to the editor this week–three cheers!)
I hear a lot of stories about writers worried about how they’ll feel when they get critiqued. Either they’ve had a bad experience in a critique group, or they’re worried about heading into one.  I discuss these situations in my book, and I’m sure I’ll blog about them here.
Today, though, it’s another post. And this one is going to talk about our responsibilities when we arebeing critiqued. Everybody in a critique group trades roles back and forth, and each role–even that of critiquee–has a few tasks that go with it.
When you are being critiqued, you need to:
  • Listen
    You’ve all heard the duct-tape threat; it will be used on any writer who interrupts, defends, or argues in response to a critique. I don’t go QUITE that far. It is important, though, to give the critiquer the same respect (by listening & taking notes) that they have given to reading your work and writing out their feedback.
  • Ask questions.
    I know. I just said not to interrupt, and I’m sticking to that. Write the question down and wait until the critiquers are done talking. You might hear the answer you need, without having to ask. And if you’re truly confused, raise your hand. Ask and be answered, then go back to step 1–listening.
  • Think
    Spend time with the feedback you get and consider each point. Yes, you know your project very well, but you don’t know it perfectly. Fresh eyes, from a strong reader, can provide a solution to the problem you’ve been wrestling with or send your project in a new, brilliant direction. Just because an idea doesn’t resonate with you the first time you hear it, take note and give that idea full consideration when you go over the critique.
  • Revise.
    I know. Of course, revise. But with the critique pages at your side. Look at each comment your critiquers have made and mentally lay that comment aside your project. Does it have validity? Will it improve the writing or the overall book? Is it possible, even if the critiquer’s feedback seems off, that the passage they pointed to is having a problem? And really, really analyze the big critique elements–plot, character, structure, voice. This is what you’ve asked your critique partners to do: dig deep into your project and help you see the best vision for it. You asked, they gave. Now use it.

Yes, of course, my list assumes that you are working with supportive, encouraging, and skilled critiquers. That’s my wish for you, and that’s a big goal you should be shooting for.  You should also, though, be remembering your part of the whole, and making sure you’re shouldering that commitment.

Advertisements

19 thoughts on “Receiving a Critique: What Can YOU Do?

  1. Even if the critiquers aren’t supportive and encouraging, the rules of response still apply methinks. Just because someone suggests a change doesn’t mean we have to apply it. We can always say, “Thanks, but no thanks.”

    Great advice.

    Like

  2. beckylevine says:

    Andra, yes–it’s always your work, your writing. I encourage people, though, not to throw that “no,” however polite out right at the critique session, as their critique partner is giving them feedback. Take time to consider it seriously, to really think about whether or not it will help the project. This is “good manners” toward your critique partner and good sense for the project–our initial response is not always right on target! 🙂

    Like

  3. beckylevine says:

    It’s early! It’s not always wrong to let the critiquer know if a comment (or a consistent series of comments) don’t work for you. Every now and then critiquers forget that it’s the author’s book & get so excited they start trying to take that book in another direction. A nice–whoa..! can have its place. 🙂

    Like

  4. C. M. Clark says:

    I’m with a few groups, and they go by chapters. I have 10 chapters with one group and I’ve gotten feedback on only two. Is the group worth sicking around for if I’m not getting the feedback? Or is this a sign that this novel isn’t right for the group?

    Like

  5. beckylevine says:

    C.M.,

    Thanks for stopping by. Many critique groups do go by chapters, especially when the writers are starting out. Have you talked to this group about whether/when they’ll be able to critique the rest of your chapters? Have you written more than those ten, that you’re waiting to pass along? And are the other writers also submitting work that needs to be critiqued? I’m not sure, without some more of this info, but any critique group is a balance of getting as much critiquing done as possible to support the members, but also making sure these writers have enough time to do their own writing.

    You also don’t say whether you think the critiquing this group is doing is strong critiquing, if you find their feedback helpful and productive to your writing. If this is all true, is is probably worth talking to the other members about a timeline, or about how to balance out all the work. You may need to be a bit patient–I don’t know how long you’ve been waiting! 🙂 On the other hand, if this critique group isn’t giving you what you want, but the other two are great, you may not need to stick with all three!

    I hope some of this helps–I feel a little bit like Dear Abby! 🙂 Let me know if you need another opinion–maybe after you can fill me in on some more details? And good luck!

    Like

  6. Shawna says:

    For me, I have to let the critique age a bit. It’s never a good thing if I react immediately to any critique of my work, I need to mull it over, let it sink in, then I can objectively decided whether I think I should revise or leave it as is. This doesn’t make me popular to people who want instead feedback but I do tend to revise more often than not.

    Like

  7. beckylevine says:

    Shawna–Exactly! Sometimes, we’re lucky and a critique will flip the switch on the lightbulb, and we’ll go running home with the perfect idea to follow. More often, though, we do need to “sit with” the feedback and give it time to mesh with the whole project in our mind. Hmmm..critiquers wanting instant feedback. Interesting. I think the feedback is seeing you revise with their critiques in mind, even if you don’t put in the exact changes they suggested, and seeing your project adn writing develop. 🙂

    Like

  8. Gottawrite Girl says:

    SO true… “Even the flattest pancake has two sides,” I also love. Well, I really appreciate a little sugar with my vinegar, you know? Thanks, Becky!

    Like

  9. beckylevine says:

    Susan, I love that saying! Yes, I think we spend a lot of time talking about all the things the CRITIQUER must worry about, and sometimes we forget that the recipient has to put some effort into the process, too. 🙂

    Like

  10. C. M. Clark says:

    I’ve had the first few chapters up since Sept, added more in Dec. (I didn’t expect much during the holidays) But I thought by now there’s been some movement at the group.
    I’m thinking about just doing some novel swaps via fmwriters.com or joining http://sff.onlinewritingworkshop.com/

    I’ve gotten great information from all the crit groups I’ve been with in the last year, so I don’t want to give them up, but at the same time really would love to get feedback still.

    Like

  11. beckylevine says:

    If the info you’ve gotten so far is good, you might just want to have a quick discussion with this group–see what their schedule/agenda is and how they feel about all the work you’re passing along. They may be very into it and just need more time, or they may feel like it’s shifting the balance of the group in a way that isn’t working for them. The answer might help you make your decision.

    Like

  12. Jaimie says:

    Great points! When it comes to people dissecting my work I have a knee-jerk reaction and want to defend my point almost immediately.

    But, I’m working on becoming a better listener because, when it’s done in a productive way, critiquing can offer fresh perspectives and reveal writing flaws. After all, I’m realizing that when I listen and then take some time to think about the points that were raised I can make (or not make) the suggested changes with an objectivity that wasn’t there before.

    Like

  13. beckylevine says:

    Hi, Jaimie!

    Believe me, there are plenty of times I open my mouth and the “But…” comes out. I find myself clapping my hand over it frequently & waving at my critique partners to keep going. And when I totally forget, they remind me! 🙂

    I think if we let oursevles listen to the critiquers, we get better at listening to ourselves, to our own thoughts about what might or might not be working in our projects.

    Like

  14. beckylevine says:

    It’s been my discovery while I work on this critique book. I think I’ve been thinking & talking about critique groups for sooooooo long that when I started writing, the voice poured out. I was worried, at first, that it would be too unprofessional, but I decided to just love it instead! 🙂

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s