I’ve guest blogged before about how to give and receive critiques. But I realized that I’ve never posted anything on the subject on my own blog, so here is one slice of the pie that is the topic of critiques: getting them and learning from them.
First off, if you take your stuff to a critique group, be professional. Don’t bring something you haven’t proofread yourself, haven’t bothered to run a basic spell check on, that your cat threw up on, or that you’ve formatted in some weird tiny font that nobody can read. It shows you respect your own work enough to present it well, and that you respect the people who are reading it for you enough to be considerate and not make them do all the work for you. Critiquers don’t do the work for you – they make suggestions and give feedback. Editors do the work for you (and I am one, if you want to know, and yes, I’m open for business, and my email is firstname.lastname@example.org). /shameless plug
Anyway, you also need to be professional in your response to criticism. Let the group know up front what kind of feedback you’re looking for (Full-out troubleshooting, or just technical help? Know your dialogue is shaky but want to concentrate on finding inconsistencies in the plotline for now? Not sure if a scene makes sense and just want to know if it does or not?) Do not expect a pat on the head from a critique group. That’s what your friends and relations are for. Go in ready to be torn to shreds. If you get nothing but praise instead, that’s a happy surprise and kudos to you for your excellent writing. But it’s better to be prepared for the worst than to go in cocky and then have the rug jerked out from under you. Confidence is good, but steel yourself for criticism. That’s what critiquers are supposed to give you.
Don’t argue with critiquers. Clarify, sure, if you don’t understand a comment, but don’t say, “Yes, this part does SO work!” if someone says it doesn’t. The correct response is, “Okay, thanks for letting me know,” or “What is it that doesn’t work here? Can you explain, so I understand what I need to fix?” You can disagree privately all you want, just not out loud.
Do NOT, NOT, NOT start editing as soon as you get home from a critique, especially if there are a lot of comments (more especially still if there are a lot of things that need to be fixed or changed). Process it overnight, at the very least. Cry if you need to. Just don’t decide one way or the other on anything the same evening you get a critique. Later, after you’ve thought it over a little, you can decide which suggestions you disagree with, which you want to work on, and which things you agree with but think a different solution than the one suggested would be best for the story.
So there you go. How to approach and take your lumps – I mean, your critiques.