On Receiving Critique

'The Firing Squad' photo (c) 2008, Sam DeLong - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/

Sometimes hearing critique can feel like facing a firing squad.

In a recent post, I blogged about offering critique. When I asked fellow writers for their thoughts about giving and receiving critiques, I got some great feedback, but there was so much, I needed to divide the posts. Here is what my fellow authors had to say about receiving critiques.

“For the writer, don’t take it personally. Don’t defend your work. Take the advice that works, and use it. Disregard the rest, but if you hear the same suggestions more than once, listen. The best workshops I have been in have required the writer to be silent during the process. Very hard, but keeps you open.” – Julie Hennrikus

“Don’t jump to any conclusions – make notes so you will remember later what was said, but then put it out of your mind. Sit with it. Mull it over. Leave some time between the initial hearing and the actual processing.” – Jamie Wallace

“Honor and respect each other – givers and receivers. Respect the group’s time. Regardless of first draft or final, give your piece your best shot before you read it. Be open. If you’re stuck – point out your difficulty and ask for specific help and feedback.It’s difficult to give a negative criticism – respect their courage by listening carefully. Honor the desire for privacy – short term or forever.” – Susan Nye,

“Cuts bleed, remember that the skilled physician not only cuts out the tumor but in the end, he’s a member of your team making you stronger and better.” – Wendy Thomas

“Don’t defend your work during the critique process. Then take a cooling-off period. Lament, tend your wounds, then return to the ms with a fresh, productive and professional attitude. (See “Cooling-Off Period” (scroll to p. 5).) Sometimes comments from multiple people that seem contradictory and confusing at first begin to fit together in new ways when you return to them after you’ve let some time pass.” – Tracy Hahn-Burkett

“In receiving crit, consider the source (again, opinion is not necessarily fact) but if more than one person says the same thing, take the comment into consideration.” – Megan Hart

“My best advice about receiving criticism, is to sit and listen to the feedback, make notes to yourself, thank the critiquer, and then evaluate the comments later on as you consider revisions. Definitely pay attention if more than one person comments on the same section of writing in your work.” – Lisa Jackson

Over the years I’ve struggled with the demon of defensiveness when I’ve been given critique of my work. I’ve gotten better, but I still do battle every once in a while.  What works best for me is to hear what is being said, make notes and then put it aside.  I revisit the thoughts of others when I’ve put some time between the session and editing my work.

What are your tips and tricks for receiving criticism?

Lee Laughlin is a writer, wife, and mom, frequently all of those things at once. She blogs at Livefearlesslee.com. Her words have appeared in a broad range of publications from community newspapers to the Boston Globe.

15 thoughts on “On Receiving Critique

  1. My biggest advice has nothing to do with a writer moderating their response to feedback. I think it’s extremely important for a writer to ask themselves if they’re ready for the feedback BEFOREHAND. You MUST mentally prepare yourself. Try to imagine the worst thing someone can say about your work. If you feel the knee-jerk need to defend, think of questions you can address to the critiquer to clarify WHY they’re saying something negative.
    This will help in two ways: It gives you a glimpse of the Reader’s perspective and highlight specific areas that were a concern. You’ll get surprising answers to questions like: What would you like to see happen? Can you give me any helpful suggestions? Is there a particular reason you think (blank) didn’t work well for you? Honestly, you will be amazed at how much people really want to help you succeed!

    Also, this approachs helps you identify a valid critique from one based upon empty speculation. If someone is attacking your work for the sake of it (whispers the paranoid mind!), they won’t have anything good to say when you pin them down. Then you can go home, utilize all the “good stuff” and throw away the bad, including your hypersensitive ego, and get back to polishing your work.

    • Laura this is so true. Critique is a necessary part of the process, but you really do have to be in the right place to hear it.

  2. BTW Lee – so glad you are posting the other side of this coin! Excellent advice from everyone at LTWWTL. Can’t wait to hear everybody’s responses including the regulars like thekalechronicles and granbee, etc.

  3. I recently wrote about two opposing reviews I received for my children’s book – Rumble’s First Scare (www.dreamwritepublishing.ca) One from a child’s POV, which was favorable complete with drawings and another from an adult reviewer, which was not so nice. Obviously my reaction to the first one was absolute delight and I posted it with pride on my blog (www.mandyevebarnett.wordpress.com) however, as you clearly state it is wise to take stock before responding to an unfavorable review. I was sadden that the adult reviewer did not immediately fall in love with my little monster but after thinking about it for a few weeks I came to realise it is only one person’s view point and I needed to learn from it. So I posted it to my blog and wrote about how I processed it. We all have a writing journey and each one is as individual as we are but that does not mean we cannot share our experiences and help each other. Thank you for an interesting and thoughtful post.

  4. I posted my first novel on Kindle in April. One of the first reviewers really took it to task and was very critical of layout, style, grammar etc. But… he loved the story. After initially focussing on what seemed to be unfair comments I then focussed on the positives and pulled the book from sale to look at his points. I had it re-proofed, twice, and all that he claimed was correct. I’m very glad I did as when I re-uploaded it sales took off with 10K downloads in just a few weeks. A lesson learned. Listen to the customer!

  5. It’s so hard not to get defensive, but it definitely gets easier the more you critique. I think about my own critiquing style, when the tables are turned; if someone has issues with their story, I don’t think that person is a bad writer; they just might not see a larger story arc issue or a detail they assumed would make sense is not explained well enough for the reader to understand. It’s so fun when the rewrite comes in and the piece is even stronger.

  6. This is good advice. I often shy away from workshop sessions for fear of the critique. Taking this advice will be helpful in the process.

  7. Most writers don’t get critiqued enough. True some critigues do cut you, like some reviews. I think KIRKUS reviews can say one’s writing is “shit” in hundreds of ways, some subtle some not, as in from “dross” to “mind dump.” Most critiques are in the vein of what works and what doesn’t work. In a writing class once, a fellow’s short story was about a scene in Vietnam, and the in the dialogue the character used the term “gook” in referring to VC enemy. The critiquer thought it was distasteful. I’m sure the writer felt his character was true in that dialogue, and while he did not argue, some classroom peer/novice advice has to be weighed.

  8. Pingback: Critiques | timdesmondblog

  9. Pingback: Ten things I’ve learned from giving and receiving critique | Writerly Goodness

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s