Tuesday, July 2, 2019

8 Tips for Handling the Hard Critique by Emily Conrad

two people with laptops and pens

The email appears. If the subject line wasn’t enough of a giveaway, the attachment icon signals your adrenaline to pump. You hesitate to click “open” as your brain reasons through fight or flight possibilities. Finally, you opt for fight. You’re going to face this.

You sit stock still, only moving your finger to scroll and your eyes to read the critique of your manuscript.

Depending on the comments and suggestions, you might lean closer to the screen, encouraged and inspired.

Other times, tension builds in your shoulders, and a swell of anger, offense, and discouragement threatens to engulf you and every writing dream you’ve ever had.

person writing

I look for critique partner relationships marked by mutual respect and an enjoyment of each other’s manuscripts. That respect and enjoyment go a long way toward a positive critique experience, even when my critique partner suggests extensive rewrites.

Still, even a good critique partner can have a bad day. Writers, especially those who enter contests, also get feedback from people they don't know at all who might not have a compatible style. Also, as much as it pains me to type this, sometimes, the only reason a critique is hard to swallow is a writer's pride.

Whatever the reason for a negative reaction to a critique, when we're discouraged and hurting, extreme reactions beg to be put into action. Delete the whole critique! Delete the manuscript! Quit writing! Or keep writing... but never share it again! Implement every single suggestion!

I know how tempting these thoughts can be--especially that one about quitting.

So how do we distinguish the next best step through the pain? How do we get back into writing after a critique leaves us raw and ready to quit?

1. Pray. The Bible tells us to cast all our cares on God. The pain and offense that comes with hard-to-swallow critiques makes it hard for me to do this well sometimes, but as someone who writes for God’s glory, I have to trust that he hears, understands, and will help me through, even when I’m not at my best. The important thing is to keep coming to him.

2. Outlaw rash decisions. Today is not the day to quit writing or forever delete that manuscript. And though continuing education has its place, today is probably not the day to plunk down $1000 on that writing course.

3. Enlist others for perspective. Look for writers who love you and enjoy your work enough to want to see the story be the best it can be. These people can better see if the feedback has merit, but they’ll talk you through it in a way that starts to rebuild confidence and inspiration. They’ll also help you safely determine which feedback isn’t in the best interest of the story.

two laptops facing each other

4. Give grace. I’ve said things in critiques I now regret. That’s humbling, and even more so because I can’t always go back to the person later and adjust what I said. So as you seek perspective, exercise grace. Grace toward the other person by keeping their name to yourself even as you run the ideas by a select group of friends, and grace toward yourself by remembering that the feedback doesn’t define you or your writing talent. No one wants to derail another writer—and if they do want to, they don’t deserve that power.

5. Take time. Let your emotions heal and cool to more calmly discern which feedback to apply and which to let go. And as you wait, remind yourself that you do get to let go of any feedback that isn't right for the story.

6. Sift out personal opinions. Writing is a subjective business, so even when a critique partner or judge tries to be objective, opinions are going to seep in—and differ. However, if several people seem to be of the same opinion—and especially if they’re industry professionals or part of a book’s target audience—it might be time to consider if the change will improve the readers’ experience with the story. 

7. Read between the lines. Offering feedback is hard work, and sometimes, it’s so hard that a critique might identify the problem one way when really, something else is causing the issue. For example, a comment may say, “I feel removed from the action here. Can you describe more?” Flabbergasted, you reread the paragraph of description and wonder what else you could add. After some reflection, however, you might realize readers feel removed from the action because you need to change the point of view character for the scene to one who's more immediately involved. This is tricky, because the critique might not say why the person is asking for change. They may simply say, "Can you add description?" This is when having other opinions can help. If several people are asking for changes to a scene, it's a signal that something is off. It's up to the writer to sleuth out what that something is.

8. Retain ownership. The story is still yours. If it’s published someday, your name will be on the cover. Seriously consider feedback, but don’t implement changes that don’t resonate with you and the story you’ve been called to write.


8 Tips for Handling the Hard Critique by @emilyrconrad on #seriouslywrite #amwriting #writetip

How do we get back into #writing after a #critique leaves us raw and ready to quit? Some ideas from @emilyrconrad on #seriouslywrite

Respect and enjoyment goes a long way toward a positive critique experience, even when a critique partner suggests extensive rewrites. But what do we do when the experience isn't so positive? @emilyrconrad on #seriouslywrite #amediting

Photo credits
Person writing and two people with laptops and pencils photos by Helloquence on Unsplash
Two laptops facing each other photo by Marten Bjork on Unsplash
Graphics created on Canva.com

Emily Conrad headshotEmily Conrad writes Christian romance and a blog to encourage women of faith. Her debut novel, Justice, released from Pelican Book Group in 2018. She lives in Wisconsin with her husband and two rescue dogs. She loves Jesus and enjoys road trips to the mountains, crafting stories, and drinking coffee. (It’s no coincidence Justice is set mostly in a coffee shop!) She offers free short stories on her website and loves to connect with readers on social media.



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