Sunday, October 25, 2015

Critique Survival Guide

This time last year I was preparing to give a talk at my local library on how to handle being critiqued. Most of this was drawn from my own experience of receiving some pretty blunt critiques over the years, and the talk presented tips and techniques for getting past the pain, achieving balance and objectivity, and sifting the wheat from the chaff.

Back then, I felt this would be good to turn into an e-book to reach a wider audience. This is aimed mostly at newcomers who’ve drafted a book and are wondering what the next step might be. All too often, writers hitting this part of the journey are fearful of getting critical feedback, or don’t even realize how important it is. And, let’s face it, until you grow armor-plated skin the critiquing process can be darned painful!

This booklet is intended to help people through that hurdle.

Of course, most of this year has been taken up with getting Tiamat’s Nest out the door, but in between times I’ve been plugging away at this next project. After making good progress in the last month I’m close to finishing the first draft.

This is exciting for me because I’ve not tackled a non-fiction project before.

How has critiquing or professional editing featured in your writing? How important do you think it is, and how do you handle those painful truths that you really didn’t want to hear?


  1. Most of the critiques I've received have been as a painter. Back when I was struggling and painting slowly, it hurt when someone didn't like a painting. Now that I've completed hundreds of paintings it doesn't hurt much if someone doesn't like one of them. The secret is to produce a lot of work.

  2. Very cool! Let me know when it's available.
    I've never been worried about what critique partners might say. Just never occurred to me to be nervous.

  3. Brutal crits can be painful, but after some venting and time, it becomes easier to see what I agree with and can use and what I will ignore. After a couple times through the crit process, it becomes easier to see when someone just doesn't get your story or is ready to quickly and overlooks important details. I find it helpful to become familiar with the writing of my critique partners so I understand their skill level, their strengths, and get a good idea of how much stock to put into their advice.

    I love when editors and critiquers ask questions. They are so helpful to understand where I'm missing details I'd not considered or just not fully relaying what is in my head onto the page.

  4. Stephen, sounds like the reactions you're talking about are reactions to finished works. I don't know about you, but when I paint I go it alone until I'm done. Then people either like it or they don't but I'm not going to start editing it based on feedback! That's the difference with critiquing - it's feedback on a work in progress which the writer is actively looking for to help tighten up the story. Often we need to hear unpalatable truths and then decide how to work with them as part of the writing process. It can be tough!

    Alex, will do!

    Jean, there's experience talking! I made many mistakes in what advice to listen to before I gained the confidence to learn what to listen to and what not to. I'm hoping I can steer a few less-experienced people through the minefield.

  5. Great idea. Critiquing is painful both ways--it's always hard to give tough feedback and to receive it. It's great that you've decided to put it into a booklet. I'm getting my duckies lined up in a row to do a non fiction book on writing flash fiction. I'm sure you'll let us know when it's available.


  6. Critiques are hugely important to me. Usually what I do is to read the comments and feel the burn first, but then I close the document and wait a few days before actually starting editing.

    Often, the sharpest felt critiques are the ones that are spot on.

  7. Harsh, brutal critiques used to hurt so much in the beginning. But now I laugh at the ones that come from people who just want to bash but offer nothing actually critical of the writing at hand. No, I focus more on the constructive ones. A critique isn't really negative if its being helpful and constructive.There's nothing more positive than someone pointing out to you how to make a work better. It means they respect what you have, and believe that you have it in you to make it even better!

    The worst critiques are the ones from folks who clearly have nothing critical to say, so instead nit and pick at silly points of no real consequence. Grrrr!

  8. Denise, you bet I'll be saying when it's ready! In fact you'll probably be sick of hearing about it long before then :)

    Misha, that is definitely one of the techniques I suggest to people - distance can lessen the pain. And it's vital to get past that because you're right, the painful comments are often what we need to listen to.

    David, that's the experienced attitude that people need to get to.

  9. Sounds awesome! Let's us know when we can get a copy. :)

    I think editing, beta readers/critique partners are critical. Otherwise there would be many poorly written books out there with bag grammar, spelling errors, plot holes, and other things that can be caught during editing.

    I always look for people who will be honest with me but won't be so harsh or blunt about it.

  10. Chrys, the extra pairs of eyes are vital, for sure, as is honesty no matter how hard the truth.

  11. I think it's almost harder to bear critique as a more seasoned writer than it was back as a newbie. When all of your writing group is published and their opinion matters, it's like, whoa! But it always makes your story better, and it seems like understanding that is crucial to accepting critique. Sounds like you are coming up with a really helpful book.

  12. Shell, understanding the purpose - to make the story better - is one of the points I make sure to cover in my tips.

  13. Hi Ian - this should be a really useful guide for many .. and I'm sure I'll need at some stage. Criticism is difficult - but learning from the experience is the key - and accepting we're never going to please everyone ... good luck and cheers Hilary

  14. Hilary, you've touched on another key point I'll cover - you're never going to please everyone!


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