These past few months I’ve sought out a lot more critiques on my work, and as a result I’ve heard a lot of things I’d rather not. I’d rather believe my work is perfect from the moment I put it down on paper (or Microsoft Word, which is actually more likely), but unfortunately that never happens. With that in mind, I’ve developed a few rules that I try to stick to when I receive critiques, to help get the most out of them.
- Give yourself some time, especially if you have a strong reaction. There have been more than a few times when I’ve looked up from a critique, certain the person behind it is wrong, and I am right, or certain they were just saying something to annoy me. Except in the rarest cases, this isn’t true, and when I come back a day or a week later, I find they had a point. So if you get angry at a critique, or are hurt by it, don’t delete the valuable feedback. Just leave it and return later.
- Never justify yourself. Many critiquers will ask questions about plot holes or inconsistencies, but it is important to remember that addressing those inconsistencies with them does absolutely nothing toward fixing the problem in your work. So yes, if it seems like the person critiquing is genuinely curious, answer the question, but never consider that a case closed, because when others read the same passage, they are likely to have that question too. Address it in your work, not just outside of it.
- Squeeze every ounce of value you can out of critiques. Sometimes a critique will come with critiques (on grammar, for example) that are completely wrong. When I see these, I remind myself that I may be right, but there is still something to be gained. The reader felt that the sentence was phrased awkwardly, or incorrectly, or else they wouldn’t have tried to correct it. That’s where my focus needs to be, on the problem their suggested solution illuminates.
- Don’t try to fix your work so that everyone will like it. That’s impossible. Instead, figure out who you’re ‘aiming toward’ with your novel, and write something they will enjoy. If you try to please everyone, your novel will either be so milquetoast that no one will truly enjoy it, or you’ll constantly be caught between different tastes (add more description because someone said there wasn’t enough, only to take it out because someone else thought you were being too verbose). Orson Scott Card and Stephen King both suggest a single ‘ideal reader’ (in both cases, their spouses); when that person thinks the book is perfect, your work is done.
- Kill your darlings, but save them as well. Don’t be afraid of removing something that you liked when you wrote it, if you no longer think it works well, and critiquers are advising you to take it out. On the flipside, if you think a part of your novel absolutely has to stay in but critiques seem to say otherwise, consider it for yourself. At the end of editing, this is your novel, and no one else’s; don’t remove essential portions, or truly anything, solely because someone else tells you to.
This was originally supposed to be seven rules, but they kind of got combined. Anyways, if you have any thoughts about critiques, or advice on how to handle them, leave a comment below (I may take a bit longer than usual to reply, but I promise to do my best).