Thursday, January 22, 2015

Be Hungry for Criticism


I took a creative writing course last semester and my prof said something that really struck me.

"You need to develop your appetite for criticism, in order to become a better writer."

Criticism is useful for two purposes: improving our writing and gaining confidence in our writing. 

Improvement is the main reason for seeking out critique. We want someone to tell us what we could do better. We need an outside perspective to tell us where the piece could use some work, or where we're being too self-indulgent with the story. 

The less overt reason is that we're looking for affirmation. We're looking for someone to tell us that we're not completely terrible and have potential. When we ask for critique, we don't always realize that we're asking for this too. So when we don't get any positive affirmation, a spoon full of sugar, if you will, with the criticism, we feel discouraged and end up avoiding future criticism like the plague.


Why do we shy away from criticism?

Fear of rejection: the person critiquing my work won't like it, and thus crush my dreams of being writer.

How to tackle:
1) Prepare yourself. Not everybody will like you work and that's okay. Learn to recognize the difference between a critique with a lot of suggestions (which may seem like a bad critique, but really, it's the best kind) and a bad critique (the person says stuff like "this sucks" and other derogatory comments without offering any ways of improvement). If you get a bad critique, remember "all criticism is a gift", so glean what you can and then don't give it a second thought.

2) Don't share the piece for critique until you've put it through multiple drafts. Do the best you can with your writing before asking for advice, or else half the critique will be wasted on stuff you could have caught on your own.

3) Get the right people (and lots of them!) to critique your work. A way to avoid the bad critiques is to start by picking people who have an idea of how to critique (e.g. a teacher, someone who likes to read, a fellow writer) or give the person some questions to answer about the piece (e.g. Does the piece flow? Is the narrator clear? Does the description help you imagine the setting/characters? What would make this piece better?). And get lots of opinions! Everything is subjective.

The work is too intimate: I've put too much of myself into this piece. I don't want to reveal that to someone I know. Besides, I don't like announcing that I'm a writer.

How to tackle:
1) You might never feel entirely ready to show your work to the public, but eventually you're going to have to, if you want to become a published writer. Luckily, you have the internet. Look for contests and other submission processes that offer critique online. Often authors and bloggers will offer a five page critique as a contest prize.

2) Ask for critique from people outside of your friends and family. Look for teachers, profs or authors in your community to politely ask for a critique. They might say no, but it never hurts to ask.

I don't know who to ask: who would want to read my work?

How to tackle:
1) Just ask someone! Start with someone who you're close with and that preferably likes reading. I've asked a lot of people for critique, whether it's a classmate, my friends or even my sister. Sometimes they say no, but mostly they say yes. Many English teachers or profs offer to critique work, so don't be afraid to take them up on their offer. Submissions to literary journals or literary contests (as I mentioned earlier) also can offer critique.

2) Start small. Asking someone to read three pages is a lot less commitment than asking them to read thirty pages. They'll be more likely to accept. If it goes well, gradually build up more, or send them small chunks of a larger piece.

All of these reasons for not wanting to get critique all stem from one thing: lack of confidence.

The paradox is that we build our confidence by people telling us that we're good at writing. And the only way of hearing that is if we share our writing and ask for opinions. It's not easy; I know it's not, but it's so rewarding to get that critique that showers praise on our writing. Sometimes it will be more constructive criticism than praise, and it will require us to get rid of our pride, but that's equally beneficial; it helps us improve our writing.

Reading: Gone by Michael Grant
Listening: Bryan and Katie Towalt
Watching: Person of Interest

15 comments:

  1. These are all really good management plans, and I heartily approve, although I do remind myself that just because they're great ideas doesn't mean I have to like them. It's hard sharing your work and sometimes not very fruitful. But you have to do it anyway, because you're not a writing prodigy and nobody is perfect. *nods*

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    1. Thanks for the kind words:) And haha, receiving criticism is tough, even if you know it's good for you. You're right, the thing that makes it so hard is that sometimes it's not fruitful. It's one of those things that you just have to keep trying till you get the results you're looking for.

      Hope your future experience with criticism goes well!

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  2. Fabulous! I'm not quite at the stage where my book is ready for critique, but I can't wait until then; I really want to get someone else's opinion on my writing. I admit though, that I do feel a little shy at the thought of other people reading my work.
    When I finally finish my book and send it out to my beta readers I'll keep this post in mind!

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    1. It's so important to know when a piece is ready for critique. Often bad critiques stem from bad timing. But you seem to have a handle on knowing when to look for critique. Good for you!:D

      Thanks for commenting!

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  3. Over the years I've definitely gotten much better at receiving and embracing criticism. I used to shy away from criticism and hate when someone said anything negative, but now I've developed a tougher skin, and I look for negative critiques because I know that will help me improve in the long run even though it may hurt a little at first.

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    1. Developing that thick skin is so so important to becoming a better writer. You're so right in saying that it will help you improve even though it might hurt at first.

      Thanks for commenting!

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  4. This is such a fantastic post! I'm only just starting the second draft of my current WIP, but (as I said on my blog) I'm hoping to get far enough in the revisions this year that I can start seeking out serious critiques sometime in 2015. I used to feel kind of sensitive about sharing my work, but--as you suggest--I'm working on preparing myself and opening up to receive critiques. I think a key part of that is learning to separate yourself from your work--in other words, realizing that when you receive a critique of your writing (and by this I mean a thoughtful critique, not someone bashing it and calling it "constructive criticism") it's not a personal attack, but a suggestion of how you can improve your craft, which you may not have been able to see on your own.

    Anyway, I like the way you've formatted and arranged this post, and you've made some wonderful suggestions! As someone who's hoping to find some critique partners and beta readers before the year is out, I really enjoyed reading this. :) Thank you for sharing!

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    1. Understanding that this type of criticism is not a personal attack is key to receiving criticism. It's so good to have a goal like you do. Sometimes we writers just need that extra push to put our writing out there. Once you do, it's so beneficial.

      Thanks for all your kind words! I'm glad that this was helpful to you! Best of luck as you pursue this in 2015!

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    2. Absolutely, it can be so hugely beneficial!

      You're welcome--and thanks for the well-wishes! :)

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  5. Yes yes, I would agree with this. Although I do think that you have to learn how to know when to throw a critique. I've had some HORRIFIC critiques in my life which I've learn nothing form except that people are mean. *sigh* I kind of think that if someone critiques you and has nothing nice to say then your work probably wasn't for them and it's not loss if you ditch their advice.
    But seriously every writer neeeeds criticism. x) It is SO SO HELPFUL. I shudder to think of how awfully I'd be writing if I'd never been critiqued.

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    1. Oh yes! I agree with you! Knowing bad criticism is SO important, as well as knowing how to give good critique.

      I too would be miserably bad, if I hadn't looked for critique, especially in the early days.

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  6. Yeah getting critique is scary, because you think that you've done everything perfectly, but that's not true. That's why it's better to get a second pair of eyes (aka another person), to catch all the mistakes, or offer suggestions. But yeah it's still scary either way

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    1. Another set of eyes never hurts! I rarely feel that I've written a perfect piece, but the more I work on it, the harder it is to receive criticism, because I think I've caught all the mistakes.

      Thanks for commenting!

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  7. "Don't share the piece for critique until you've put it through multiple drafts." I like that idea. I'll probably share my writing after I finish my first round of edits. :)

    http://teensliveforjesus.blogspot.ru

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    1. Timing makes all the difference when it comes to getting a good critique. After a round of edits sounds like an excellent time!

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