Constructive Criticism is Almost as Good as Coffee

My husband hates coffee, so I guess this title would mean for him that constructive criticism is terrible and smells too strongly. Please feel free to insert whatever beverage/food/scent/song that gets you through the day when you need a perk up to finish your tasks.

 

I've discovered there is a Grumpy Cat photo for every occasion.

I’ve discovered there is a Grumpy Cat photo for every occasion.

 

As a writer, you will get a lot of criticism and comment on your work. While it can be intimidating at first, it will get easier to read or hear, because you’ll learn a very important thing: criticism is a gift.

 

Just to be clear, this is only for constructive criticism. If you submit your query letter for review on a forum, and you get a comment like, “Your query sucks and you clearly have no idea how to write, I have never hated reading anything more, please go die in a dumpster,” you can growl a few times in justified anger and forget about it because that’s utterly useless, and the writer of a comment like that probably is just trying to provoke a reaction. A better comment would be something like, “This is an interesting premise, but I don’t quite understand Character X’s motivation…the second paragraph feels rushed and reads confusingly… ” This gives you something to work with.

 

Critiques on your manuscript itself are extremely helpful, too. Sometimes, the writer is too close to the story to see the little gaps. Of course everything makes sense to you; the characters live inside your head and you know things about them that didn’t even make it into the story. An outsider doesn’t know them as well (it’s your job to make the characters come to life for readers) and they might not understand why characters do certain things, and it could make the plot confusing.

 

Having someone else read your work can also show you what your bad writing habits are. We all have them, but they can be difficult to self-identify. I know of a few of mine, so now I can work on improving them. I sometimes use too many words ending in “ly” and I went through a pretty intense overuse of semi-colons as well. I also used to throw in a lot of unnecessary dialogue tags. Luckily, now that I know about these, I can work on fixing them in my writing. I’m sure other bad habits have cropped up, or haven’t been identified yet, but eventually I’ll discover and work on those too.

 

I think the main thing is to try not to be offended by constructive criticism. I follow a few writing forums, and I recently saw a posting where someone got very upset by critique notes on their query letter. The comments were fairly extensive, because the query needed quite a bit of polishing, but they were all constructive and not meant to offend. This person had asked for help, and then been outraged when they received the requested advice. If you only want your work to be lauded as a masterpiece without having to edit it, then show it to your grandma.

 

how-to-take-criticism

 

Even when you have become a master at controlling your emotions while reading critiques of your work, you’ll still sometimes get comments that you don’t know how to deal with. Maybe you can tell that the comment is well-meant and has merit, but it just isn’t right for your story. This kind of critique will almost always be about the plot or characterization, and you do not have to change it. Take some time to evaluate and do what feels right for your story.

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  1. Pingback: Criticism | Quality of Life Ministries

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