Saturday, July 4, 2015

How to Handle Critique

Getting critique is probably one of the scariest aspects of being a writer. It scares me even more than pitching or querying. Putting a piece of work you've been slaving over for weeks, months, or even years to have people give you constructive criticism is terrifying. I've been critiqued by over forty people now and my heart rate still goes up and sometimes I get a bit sweaty and I flinch at some of the mistakes.

Yes, it is.
But critique is a necessary evil. 

That said I've read a lot of posts on how to give critique, but I haven't seen so many about how to handle it. Not only have I been critiqued by a lot of people, I've critiqued and edited about the same amount if not more--and I've had a lot of good and bad experiences with it. If you want to grow in your writing, critique is paramount, but how you handle critique can make or break your critiquing experience both for you and the person critiquing you.

1.) Remember You Asked For It - First things first, you asked this person to look over however much of your work and give their honest opinion of it. If you say to critique anything they see, most of them are going to do it. If you're more tender-skinned, try asking for specific critique then the critiquer will focus on that instead of everything. For example: just the grammar, just the characters, just the plot, etc. 

And we must have Jack Sparrow gif.
2.) Most Critiquers' Sole Purpose in Life isn't to Watch Your Book Burn - Though I've had experience with really jerkish critiquers, most I've met are pretty nice chaps. They genuinely want to help you. Just them saying yes to critique you shows that. Good critiquers will give both positives and negatives to sandwich the critique, so don't automatically take their critique as a personal attack on you. Don't immediately reply to the critiquer with an all caps email about how the critiquer is a moron and you are so right. What is the point of critique if you do that? Plus it's rude. And yes, I have had people do this to me. It's why I'm really ... really picky with whom I critique. 

They don't want to do this to you.
3.) Sometimes They Really Are Jerkwads - On the other hand there are some people that are really bad at critiquing. They slam you with a bunch of negatives and they don't really give a crap about how much time you put into the book. Don't assume every critiquer is going to be this though. Assume they're going to be a nice person and if they turn out to be a jerkwad then so be it. 

I have not seen this show, but this gif is hilarious.
4.) You Don't Have to Take the Advice, But Mull it Over Before Making a Decision - Give yourself a few days or even a week or so to really think about the critiquer's advice whether it be good or bad. Read it over a few times. Really mull it over. You don't have to take the advice, it's your story, but sometimes you may have to make a hard decision because they pointed out something big. Maybe you need to cry over it a bit or eat some mochi ice cream or drink some Bubble Tea before you feel ready to take on the new challenge. 

... And more about me who's still mulling it over.
(Every time I think of the word "mulling" I think
of this line. XD )
5.) Before Replying ... - Wait. Always wait a few days. If you are a hot mess about some critique don't send a rage email, let yourself simmer down and think about it logically. If you feel the fire burning need to defend then do it p-o-l-i-t-e-l-y. If it is a point of confusion like say the person pictured something wrong or didn't understand the scene explain it, but keep in mind if they got confused that may mean you didn't do a good job with the scene and you need to rewrite it.

Don't take after 11's example. XD
6.) ALWAYS. SAY. THANK YOU. - I can't even tell you how many times I've spent several hours of my life critiquing someone's work, looking up resources for them, plus composing a detailed email with my critique then I send it ... and I don't get so much as a thank you or even a reply. And I've thought to myself, "Well I'm never critiquing you again. Black-balling you." It doesn't matter what the critiquer said to you, thank them for their time. They didn't have to help you, but they did. That's a kindness.

Critique is tough. There's no getting around it, but if you want to be a better writer you have to do it. Fact of life. The bottom line is be courteous to your critique buddies, choose them wisely, and be specific in your critique. It can make or break your experience.

Have you gotten critique? Have you given critique and gotten some responses like I have? What was your best critique experience? What was your worst? Do you have have any questions about critique? Happy Fourth by the way for all y'all fellow 'Mericans! Celebrate it Captain America Style.

You may also like:
12 Things I've Learned as a Writer I Wish Someone Told Me Sooner
Six Tips For Line Editing
Twelve Rookie Writer Mistakes and How to Mend Them
The Book of Encouragement
Basing the Protagonist on Yourself: The Pros and Cons


  1. Oh my goodness...I'm guilty of one of these things. You critiqued one of my works (Controlled) on Bryan Davis' I'm going to thank you now, since you really helped me with your critique. I hope you'll forgive me, because I assure you that it was just me being brainless rather than being ungrateful.

  2. You're welcome. I totally forgive you. ^ ^ I'm glad that the critique helped you out. It's why I like to do it. :) I got a little ranty with this post. XD Haha. Thanks so much for commenting!

  3. I love this post! It gives me some things when I ask for critiques. The only problem is the one time I wanted harsher critiques on the plot of one of my short stories, the three or so people I asked were no help.

    Love the post, though!!

  4. I've been studying writing at university for four years and have gone to three writer's conferences over that time, so giving and getting critique has become almost as common for me as brushing my teeth. Unfortunately, I can corroborate your experience that the nerves still haven't really gone away - in fact, depending on the nature of the critique, I think they're even worse than before at times. :P

    I think the hardest critique experiences I've had, in general, are those where deadlines force me to hand over work that I know is bad by my standards. It's hard to stand behind something you've written when you don't even like it. And while the reception is usually not nearly as bad as I expect it to be, I've still been on the receiving end of a few fairly brutal critiques (though the harshness was well-deserved).


  5. I think these are all great ways to handle a critique, and very important things to keep in mind when it comes to working with others on writing. In fact, you could use many of these when giving a critique, too! You shouldn't be a jerkwad but you'll find some writers who are, you should be patient before returning your critique and be kind in writing it, and remember that you volunteered. They're all good thoughts, and something I need to keep in mind. However, the most difficult part for me is just getting around to editing in all their suggestions!

  6. Great tips to remember! I've been critiqued a number of times before (probably not nearly by forty people!), and although sometimes their advice is hard to swallow, I've learned to be grateful for it. I even anticipate the corrections, because I know they'll cause growth and improvement. For me, it's a worse feeling to plateau than it is to accept difficult critiques. But I will admit, I've winced and pouted over things I had to cut...and then later realized the benefit. XD

  7. Haha. I'm so glad you liked it. Thanks for commenting!

  8. Very true! I'm so glad this post was useful for you! Haha that is a difficult part too. Thanks so much for commenting. ^ ^

  9. True true. Been there totally! It's hard, but sometimes it's like removing a tumor: it hurts then it feels better. Thank you for commenting!

  10. That's very true. It cuts a bit into one's pride when one is critiqued. Humility is paramount and it's even harder when you feel like the work isn't the best it can be. But that's what critique is for right? And if the right people critique you then it's not so bad. Thanks for stopping by, Ian! ^ ^

  11. Love this post! So many important things to remember. I've had mixed experiences with betas too. The worst (well, maybe not *worst* but awkwardest) is when I've agreed to swap and I do my end and send back, and then I just never hear from them again ... not "thank you" and no feedback that they'd promised on mine!

    Not gonna lie, it feels crappy. I know it's probably just people being forgetful, but I can't help but feel that they either hated my critique or hated my work so much they didn't want to deal with me anymore!! (yes I'm super insecure like that! lol!)

    I also get worried that I'm one of the "jerkwads" when I crit. I reeeaally don't want to be, but I also provide lots of feedback. I try to give a lot of positives and do "the sandwich" method in my final write up (praise, crit, praise), but yeah, I get really nitpicky. Sigh.

    One thing I'm thinking of doing is setting up some sort of survey or poll online each year so that people I've previously beta'd for that year can give anonymous feedback. Just to check and see how helpful things were and how they *felt* after. I want to help people, but I don't want to make them sad!!! Anyway, sorry for the long rant, and thanks for the awesome post!

  12. Great post, Tori! Every bit of this is true. I was scared out of my mind a few weeks ago when I shared the first page of my WIP's second draft on my blog - but the point was to get feedback, which turned out to be really helpful. It's going to be very similar when I finally send the same story to beta readers next year... But when you're so close to a creative project for so long, you might become blind to its weaknesses. So I keep telling myself that I'll NEED that feedback when it's time.

    I've been on the other side of critiquing, too. And I'm like Carissa; I'm always worried I'll come across as a "jerkwad" because of all the comments (positive, suggestions, questions, etc.) I make. But both times so far, the writers were happy - even thrilled - with my feedback, which was a huge relief. Again, like Carissa said, I want to help, but every time I always fear I'll go overboard. *blushes*

  13. Very true! Feedback is very essential.

    It's a careful balance, but one that can be achieved. Thanks so much for commenting! ^ ^