Learning to Accept Critique

Anne made up her mind that the next time she wrote a story she wouldn’t ask anybody to criticize it. It was too discouraging. (…) In imagination Anne saw herself reading a story out of a magazine to Marilla, entrapping her into praise of it – for in imagination all things are possible – and then triumphantly announcing herself the author. 

– Anne of the Island by L.M. Montgomery

I love how Anne imagines being a published author and the struggles she encounters to become one, in the series Anne of Green Gables. One of her struggles is dealing with critique—people who ‘don’t get it’; people who have nothing positive to say; people who have a vague comment like ‘I didn’t like that bit’ without explaining why. It can indeed be very discouraging.

That doesn’t mean that as a professional writer you can do without critique. The right people – usually other writers – can help you see the flaws in the language and in the story. But finding the right critics is only half the battle. Most beginning writers have to learn to accept critique. No story – however good you are as a writer – is flawless after the first draft.

Putting Your Work Out There

When I started writing, one of the most difficult things was having my work read by others. What if they don’t like it? What if they don’t understand what I’m trying to say? To those beginning writers, here are some tips that will hopefully help you put yourself and your writing out there.

  1. It’s not personal
    They are critiquing your work and not you. If someone isn’t excited about your work, it does not mean they believe you’re a bad writer.
  2. Most writers are nervous about receiving a critique
    All the writers that I have been in critiquing groups with – even those who have been published often – are nervous about receiving a critique. You’re not alone. And the more passionate you are about your text, the harder it is to hear a critique, regardless of how long you’ve been writing. In my experience, this doesn’t go away, you just learn more and more how helpful the critique is in improving your writing.
  3. You will never hear ‘this is excellent’
    It’s simply not the aim of receiving a critique. You might hear that someone really enjoyed your story, but then you’ll hear what can be improved. If all you want from a critique group is to hear how wonderful your story is, then don’t join a critique group.
  4. Positive critique is just as important as negative
    Especially in the beginning, it’s hard not to hear anything but the negative critique. However, good critics always point out the strengths of a piece of writing. Listen and register this aspect too. Knowing what you’re good at will build up your writing confidence.
  5. Don’t dismiss any critique
    I’ve come across writers who immediately dismiss critique with the simple: ‘oh, you just didn’t understand it’, and so lay the blame on the reader. This may be the case, but still spend time to reflect on every comment and see what merit it may have. Pride will not improve your writing.
  6. Critics are not always right
    Although you shouldn’t dismiss any critique; also remember that your critics may not always be right. So don’t simply change something just because one or two readers said they don’t think something works. Let them explain why they don’t think it works. Keep in mind the kind of story you want to write. Perhaps you need to change something else to keep true to your intention while tackling their objection.
  7. Aim is to write a story you love
    For many writers, getting published is the aim of the game. I believe the aim should be writing a piece you would like to read in print. Therefore, don’t use the critique to write a story the readers in your critique group would like to read. Instead, take the critique to get rid of the flaws and bring it somewhere amazing that you’d never have thought of on your own.

Now go find a critique group in your area.

Vanessa Deij

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