There are dozens of articles on finding a critique partner and loads of suggestions on how to critique, but there isn’t much information about responding to critiques of your writing. In this post, we’ll outline the most common bad behaviors and personality types of critique receivers and show you how to gracefully handle both compliments and criticism.
The Playground Superhero
Did you ever pretend to be a superhero when you were little? There always seemed to be one kid who didn’t understand how to play the game. If he picked super strength and you hit him with lightning, he decided he was also invisible. If you tried to freeze him, then he could teleport even when frozen.
The writing equivalent is an author who apparently already knows his own mistakes, but doesn’t bother to fix them. If you point out an inconsistency in character names, he says it’s just a typo. If you comment on a major plot hole, he says he was going to rewrite that part anyway. If you wonder when the main character got a talking dog, he says he already plans to put something about that in the beginning.
The playground superhero usually ended up playing by himself. If you copy his bad behaviors with your critique partners, you might end up alone, too.
Avoid Being A Playground Superhero:
- Fix all mistakes and problem areas before submitting your work for critiquing.
- Let critiquers know about any major problems before they review (“I know I need to introduce the talking dog in the beginning. Right now, I’m looking for suggestions on making the dog a likable character.”).
- Say “Thank you!” if someone points out an obvious typo.
The Invisible Author
This writer is most commonly seen on forums, message boards, and anywhere online where posts can be deleted. The author doesn’t start as invisible. She posts a large text sample for critique and asks for helpful hints. All feedback is welcome! She is really looking forward to improving her writing.
However, when she actually gets useful suggestions and reasoned criticism, she deletes her post and often vanishes from the forum. She might resurface later, claiming she was driven away by grammar nazis, elitist editors, or trolls. The real reason? She didn’t want concrete criticism, just soft-focus praise.
Let’s be clear here: there is a difference between abusive messages (“Your writing makes me want to stab my eyes out”) and helpful– yet non-praising– messages (“The imagery in the first paragraph is contradictory and jarring”). Harassment should be reported, and legitimate help should be rewarded.
Avoid Being an Invisible Author:
- Identify what you really want. It is absolutely okay to simply want praise, but critique circles are not the place for it.
- Postpone posting your work in a public forum if you don’t feel comfortable opening yourself up to specific, potentially painful feedback.
- Do not delete your post! Bookmark it and come back in a few months (or few years) to see if maybe those trolls were right.
At least this writer is honest. He freely admits that he isn’t the best writer. He isn’t writing on the level that he should. He probably won’t get published and he doesn’t take his writing seriously enough. He already knows that you are really busy and probably don’t have time to look at his crap, but he’d be grateful if you did.
Modesty is certainly a virtue, but even virtues have their limits. This type of writer creates a self-fulfilling prophecy. It’s great to be realistic about your writing, but keep some optimism in there, too. If the writer isn’t excited about his own story, why would anyone else be?
Avoid Being a Shoegazer:
- Include one positive statement about yourself or work for each negative statement.
- Give critiquers a reason to be excited about your work (“My characters use a uniqe magic system based on family standing, genetics, and arranged marriage.”).
- Be positive. You’re a writer, so write like you’re confident.
At first glance, this writer seems like an ideal critique partner. She has both writing and critique experience, she outlines what she wants from a critique partner, and she says she wants you to rip her work to pieces. Her writing is typically better than other writers in the same circle. You take her up on her word and pick her work apart. Congratulations: you stepped on the landmine. She explodes, insulting your credibility, asserting her own, and speculating on the bedroom activities of your various family members. How did that happen?
Like the Invisible Author, there’s a praise problem here. While the Invisible Author mistakes useful tips for abuse, the Landmine believes that she is above correction-- that she only deserves praise and anyone who disagrees is obviously incompetent.
Avoid Being a Landmine:
- Focus on the text. Don’t insult your critiquer’s grammar, favorite genre, or writing experience
- Realize that everyone needs an editor. Even Pulitzer prizewinners needed some help.
- Be polite! Even if you don’t think the critique was helpful, thank the critiquer for his time and effort. But nicely, not sarcastically.
What other types of critique receivers have you seen? What kind of critique receiver have you been? Let us know @Popular_Soda or at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you enjoyed this post, don’t forget to share! Look for new PopularSoda posts every other Saturday, starting next month on February 2nd.