Tag Archives: critiques

Useful criticism: 3 tips & 3 things to remember

Useful criticism: 3 tips and 3 things to rememberI’ve written before about how destructive negative criticism can be here and here, and why writers need to be aware of the various reactions and factors that can determine how they evaluate criticism here.

Today I want to suggest 3 tips on how to elicit useful criticism, and 3 things to remember.

3 Tips

1. Always make sure you choose critique partners who are either professional editors/agents or serious writers. “Serious writer” does not necessarily mean a writer who is published, but rather a writer who is working hard, studying the craft, and writing.

2. Ask specific questions and explanation of comments. For example, if you receive a critique and find the comment “This part is boring”, ask your critique partner: “Why? What makes it boring?”

3. Ask questions beforehand, when you submit your writing to a critique partner. Tell them, “I’m looking for comments on my characterization”, rather than just leaving it up to them. If you are more worried about plot development, then by all means, ask your editor to concentrate on that. If you want a detailed line-by-line edit, then ask for it. If you don’t, then specify that.

3 Things to Remember

1. Good critique partners will offer reasons for their reactions to your writing. They will also offer suggestions, alternatives, details, and examples.

2. People will react differently to any piece of writing. What one person finds uninteresting, contrived, or flat, another will find brilliant and inspired. This is another reason you should ask more than one person.

3. Know who you are, and what you want. After you receive all the critiques you asked for, it’s you and your story or poem or article or novel. When it’s published, the words on that page will be attributed to you, so make sure you believe in every single one of them. Don’t ever allow anyone into bullying you to change something you don’t want to change.

For a great resource on critiquing and critique groups, read Becky Levine’s The Writing & Critique Group Survival Guide.

Now it’s your turn. Do you have any other tips on how to elicit more useful criticism?



Filed under writers, writing, Writing related

Why writers need negative criticism – Part 2

Negative criticism can destroy a writing career.

Negative criticism can either improve a writer's skills, or destroy her forever.

In my previous post about negative criticism, I outlined the six stages of reaction I went through when I received the most biting criticism in my life. In this post I want to explore the different possible reactions and factors that writers need to be aware of in order to make the most out of any negative criticism they come across.

There are basically two main reactions to negative criticism, with many variations and degrees:

1. Rejection

2. Acceptance (It can either take a healthy form of a learning experience, or a deadly form of destroying a writer’s confidence so completely that she never writes another word again.)

Before getting into the various factors a writer needs to consider when evaluating negative criticism, let’s first consider this: what would happen to you as a writer if you never received any negative criticism?

I, for one, don’t believe that there is any writer in the world who doesn’t need to improve their writing. And any writer who believes otherwise is seriously deluded. No matter how great a writer is, no matter how acclaimed or best-selling, every writer needs a good editor/agent/critique partner(s) who can tell him what’s working with a piece of writing, and what’s not working.

How else are you supposed to improve if all you hear is: ‘That’s great!”, “I loved it!”? The simple — and to me, obvious — answer is: you don’t.

Now on to the various factors that need to be taken into consideration when receiving negative criticism, and which can determine how you react:

1. How was the criticism given?

Was it supportive? That is, did the person giving the critique seem to want you to improve, or did it seem as if she was just out to cut you down? Were there any positive remarks?

I always make it a point to highlight any positive areas in a piece of writing before I say what I thought needed work, even if it means I just acknowledge the effort a writer has exerted, or the bravery she’s shown by submitting her work to be critiqued, or a phrase I liked, or an idea that has potential.

I also make the effort to be as sincere in my enthusiasm as I am in my criticism. One of the most depressing things is hearing an unenthusiastic “Yeah, it’s nice, but…” Hearing that makes me discredit everything that comes out of the person’s mouth. Make me feel good first. Make me feel safe. Give me a cushion to fall on before you punch me.

2. Who gave the criticism?

Is that person, in your opinion, qualified? That is, do you trust them to be objective and to want you to improve? When you consider this factor, you have to be careful not to allow your resistance to, or rejection of the criticism affect this opinion. This means that just because the person criticized your writing, don’t ignore it by saying to yourself, “What does he know anyway?”

Generally speaking, friends don’t make good critique partners. There’s simply too much history and emotions and stakes involved to allow for either a fair critique or a fair reception of that critique. The best thing to do is to search for a critique partner with whom you are not emotionally involved. You can always become friends with your critique partner (it’s almost inevitable), but when your friends become your critique partners, your friendship can suffer.

Leave the ego-boosting to your friends, instead. Make sure they’ll support you and encourage you to continue when you do get cut down.That’s what friends are for, after all.

3. What was your emotional state beforehand?

Were you in a foul mood before you opened that email that tore your writing to shreds? If you were, then you probably hit the roof. I hardly think that you swallowed your pride and tearfully started revising your work.

If you were depressed before you received the criticism, you’ll probably feel suicidal after reading it.

You have to be aware of your feelings before receiving the criticism so you can evaluate your reaction and the criticism fairly.

4. Does it make sense?

The validity of a critique can be relative and can’t be measured without an argument being made for it. How do you decide whether this makes sense or not? The best thing to do is try to distance yourself from both the critique as well as your own writing.

And if the criticism suggests removing a line or changing something, try it. Implement the change and reread your work. Does it sound better? Did removing that beautifully crafted sentence leave a gaping hole in your writing, or did it tighten it?

And now, over to you. What other factors do you believe affect the reception of negative criticism?


Filed under writing, Writing related

Why writers need negative criticism – Part 1

Why writers need negative criticismYes, you read that right. And no, I’m not a masochist. About a week ago, I received the most biting negative criticism that I have ever received about a piece of my writing. And I mean negative. Caustic. It burned. I’ll tell you exactly how. This is how I felt about it (more or less in chronological order):

1. Stunned: I’d never received such a crushing critique before.

2. In denial: The person who critiqued the work obviously doesn’t know anything. This isn’t happening to me. This person doesn’t understand what I’m trying to say or the aim of this piece of writing.

3. Crushed: I suck. I suck. I suck. I can’t believe I ever thought I can become a good writer. I suck. I should just go find some office job and forget about ever becoming a writer. Did I mention that I suck? Well, I do. I suck.

4. Acceptance of the criticism: OK, this person may have a point. Yes, I agree that this needs some revision. OK, it needs a major rewrite and has lots of problems.

5. Worried and paranoid: If I sucked so bad at this piece, therefore, I suck at everything related to writing. Anyone else who ever said anything good about any of my other writings must have been too polite or embarrassed to say anything. Anyone else who didn’t tear my writing to shreds before must have been too nice to say anything. They must have pitied me. I still suck.

6. Shaky acceptance of myself: This was the most difficult stage to arrive at. OK, so not everything I write is wonderful, or even good. Sometimes I write terribly, and sometimes I write very well. There’s no way that anyone writes well every single time. This shredding of my writing will make me more aware of the mistakes I make. It will make me improve my writing. There is hope. Maybe I don’t suck. At least not completely.

This was a rundown of my emotional and mental states as I dealt with the criticism. At the end, I did buckle up and fix that piece. But I’m no hero. I still feel that my previously dulled sense of self-doubt has been sharpened and stings. And now I’m trying to convince myself that a healthy dose of self-doubt is necessary for all writers. How else would they improve? But the key word here is: healthy.

In the next post in this two-part series, I’ll talk some more about negative critiques, and how writers can evaluate and deal with it.

But now, I’m interested in knowing about your experiences with negative criticism. How did it make you feel? What did you do?


Filed under writing, Writing related