I recently spoke with an aspiring author who had been hearing a lot of criticism about her manuscript. To the critics, her plot just wasn’t believable, her character was too well-adjusted. This is not an uncommon phenomenon. As aspiring authors, we all have to undergo a vast amount of critique (even self-critique) to wade through our first MS.
But even well-known authors—the published, famous ones—have probably seen the internet rants of critics calling their work “sub-par,” “elementary,” “contrived.”
It stinks, but in some form or other, criticism will be part of our writing experience. So instead of running from it, we need to find some ways to cope and even use this criticism to our advantage.
3 ways to cope
1. Don’t take yourself (or your work) so seriously. No matter how artful and ethereal your poetry is, no matter how well-rounded your character, you are still a human being that shares earth and oxygen with the rest of us; therefore, you are fair game to be criticized.
I found this “critique” in a favorite zine of mine called Funwater Awesome 3. The author clearly doesn’t take himself too seriously and decided to include this critique from “Hester Heckles” in his second edition of the zine:
Zach: Most people are fine with the pointless feel-good of your zine, but I, for one, want more than what’s in the flabby folds of your head. There is nothing practical in your zine! Nothing of quantifiable SUBSTANCE! Where are the true Tumwater tales, the lessons, the stories of some use to people of today? Good minds want to know. —Hester Heckles
2. Fish out the practical pieces. If someone says your writing is weird, well, you don’t have a whole lot to go on. Put it out of your head and move on to something more practical. If a critic or editor says your work feels wordy, you have something concrete, something you can begin to re-craft with. Just like Heckles told Zach a few specifics (she wanted some Tumwater stories and lessons), you need to look beyond the crazy parts of the critique to find the practical pieces that will improve your MS. Obviously, you will need to ensure you can trust the source behind the critique before you go slashing words and hacking your MS apart.
3. Find a friend to balance the scales. Sometimes we need someone to encourage us and lift us up when all we’ve been receiving is negative messages. And sometimes we need a friend to bring us back to earth when our flag is flying a little too close to the thunder clouds. The key is to find someone who is balanced: NOT a people-pleaser, but a person who can both encourage and criticize from a place of truth and tact.
Now that you have my three little ways to cope with criticism, go off and conquer your own Hester Heckles!
Note from Lara: Chuck Wendig wrote a related post today about critiques, “How to Make the Most out of a Writing Critique: Ten Tips.” His post is a nice complement to Megan’s, but note that his blog contains graphic language.