• Ejuen Armstrong

Coping with Critique of Your Story



Critique is the practice of giving feedback on a piece of work. It's not to be confused with criticism which can be unjustified and biased. It's an observation of grammar, content, style, the flow of your story, character development and a number of other factors.


Critique is a necessary aspect of developing your writing skills. You can't do without it, especially if your aim is to sell lots of stories or make sense of your writing. Alas, many writers' egos are bubble-thin. I've had my moments too. The best advice I can give about critique is: Don’t take it to heart. Take it to head.


Avoid the Hissy Fit


Unfortunately, we take offence and go on the defensive very quickly. When one piece of my work got a one star review, I wrote a short satirical response for the reviewer. I felt justified because the reviewer hadn’t bought the book or read it anywhere. They'd simply looked at the sample contents and based their critique on that.


Since they'd also gifted another writer with virtually the same copy and paste one-star review, I spotted where we'd both touched a nerve. Sometimes a critic is saying nothing more than "I hate your story because it's too close to a bad experience I once had."


Honest? Perhaps. A critique? Hardly. That’s why you’ll need to be as tough as nails. Tougher. Readers will inevitably personalise things and respond to them that way. You can't blame them; it's human. And also destructive to you as a writer. There's no need to call down a plague of boils on the individual who has given you a bad review.


Luckily my mature bone hit me over the head and imbued a bit of common sense. I very quickly removed my sarky poetic response and used my reviewer's comment in my blurb instead. It got me more sales, which was a nice psychological and unexpected twist.


You can also ask the reviewer for clarity on their comments if you want to take their views on board. Some may respond; most don't bother. Digest or shrug off, learn, and move on.


Don’t take it to heart. Take it to head.

Embrace Your Crisis of Confidence


Right behind that swollen head will often comes a crisis of confidence. This is usually accompanied by thoughts such as:


"Did I write this sh..e? Did I really?"

Yes you did; and you can write better.

  • "Brain, we got us a rogue cell. Told me I could write! Locate and exterminate!"

That rogue cell is critical for showing you the worst. Nurture it and use it to plan ahead.

  • "That's it. Time to shut down the internet."

If only. It's out there. Delete, unpublish and hide what you can, but perhaps you don't need to. Is it really that bad? Have another look; this time with a clear and unbiased eye.

  • "No-one's voted for my story – cosh ish's crap, thash why."

Writing forums and groups are full of petty partisan people. Don't be dismayed if you fall foul of prejudices. However, there are some good gems out there too. Look around and don't jump into the first thing you see. Are they discussing prose or pet kittens. There's nothing wrong with an indulgent break now and again but the focus should be on developing your writing. Use another forum for cute cat pics.


Don't obsess over every little thing in a critique. You're writing your book, not theirs.


Critique and Review


When your book is finished (the first time), you’ll say you ‘want critique’. Should you get it from someone who is kind enough to read your story, the first rule of excessively negative or excessively positive critique is: don't take it too seriously.


If they're family who're besotted by your talent (or astounded you can actually put one letter in front of another), then you’d be advised to step away from the praise or excessive criticism, put your work down and look at it again a couple of weeks later.


Or you may have a really critical relative. If this is the case, don’t yearn to smite them with fire and brimstone. Imagine having your worst reviewer in the house. That's a...a house load of room for improvement. Of course you will need to have scales for this kind of literary assault and focus on the points you might agree with. Don't obsess over every little thing. You're writing your book, not theirs.


There's no need to call down a plague of boils on whoever's given you a bad review.


Accept Comments with Good Grace


Yes—even when the person critiquing is clearly an absolute *$%*&$*! I once threw away a folder full of years of poetry because a boyfriend criticised them. He later apologised and confessed that he had literacy problems but of course it was too late. But it taught me a lesson: if I throw away my work; it’ll be because it was my rubbish—not someone else’s.


One of my university fellow students took his need for critique to the extra mile. He had the habit of putting in the sloppiest work he could for the lecturers. When I asked him why he always did that, he told me, "Why stress myself trying to figure out what they want, when I can just let them rewrite the whole thing for me?"


This approach might work for some people. However the subliminal message left is that the individual may not have the necessary skills to ever produce such work independently. Over-reliance on input from others can create a backlash.


Do not put aside your work, forsaking it forever, on the word of some individual who will probably never buy anything you write.

Be Fair, Kind, and Honest


If you're the one being asked to give a review or feedback, try to be honest. I always follow this rule. If not, I feel I'm cheating the writer and wasting not only their time, but mine. I'm also not helping them to achieve their aim. Sadly, some writers don't really want a critique. They simply want to be told how good they are. And if you can't tell 'em that, then you know what you can do.


If you can, prepare yourself by joining online forums and writing groups that actively provide critique. If you can't get on-line, then find one or two people who are willing to support you. That way you get more open and broader range of feedback while developing those dragon scales to protect your Precious.


Finally, remember that critique can be very helpful, because writing is a never-ending craft. You're alswys learning. Just try not to get caught up in self-doubt or self-hatred. Above all, do not put aside your work, forsaking it forever, on the word of some individual who will probably never buy anything you write. They're not your audience. Press on those dragon scales and write on.

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