How To Receive a Critique

To follow up on my previous post about how to give a critique I thought I’d best help those bright-eyed and bushy tailed newbies with their usually even bigger fear (and yet driving force behind showing up): receiving a critique.

I’ve split this into three sections: pre-prep, at the meeting, and taking on board the feedback.

Pre-prep

Before submitting your work it is vital to self edit. Do not submit a first draft, even when you are experienced. The tighter your submission is the less likely you are to receive feedback you could have avoided by noticing the problem yourself. This is also a matter of respect to your fellow authors – if you know there are problems and you leave them there, you have wasted other members time.

The other thing to do in pre-prep is prepare your mind.

You are about to hear everything that several different people think is a problem in your manuscript. Sometimes you will hear the same thing several times from different people, sometimes you’ll hear lots of different things from each person, and a lot of it will be stuff you never even thought of. It may hurt the delicate creative side of you, but this is when your hard-ass editor side needs to step up.

Remind yourself, I need to hear this. I need to know what’s wrong so I can fix it and both this piece and my overall talent in writing will be better for it.

After all, you came to this group hoping to make your writing better, didn’t you?

Some people come to the meetings expecting up to receive nothing but praise. In five years I have not once seen a single piece get such treatment, and we have members with multi-book contracts at the table — even they did not come out unscathed.

I’ll admit, there are some writers groups which will do this. Afraid to bite the bullet and possibly hurt feelings they won’t let you know about the flaws in your manuscript. On the other hand there are also groups that delight in tearing a story to shreds. Having seen both of these other types of groups in person I am relieved that Vision Writers is a group where we will be gentle but firm.

If you want to see if we (or whatever other group you’re considering joining) critique the way you want to be critiqued it’s a good idea to go along to a meeting. You can simply sit in without submitting or critiquing and observe the group and its members. This should give you a good idea as to how in depth the critiques will be.

Now you’re mentally prepared and have submitted a polished piece, lets get on to what to do at the meeting.

At The Meeting

Here I’ll become very Vision Writers specific, but a lot will still be valid at other writing groups(though do check their specific rules).

Our group follows a format where each piece has its turn. During the submitted piece’s turn each member of the group is given two minutes to verbally summarise their feedback. They will focus on the biggest or most important points they have to make. This is not necessarily all the feedback they have for you though. The majority of our members will print out your submission and write their notes all over it.

Despite these notes, it’s always a good idea to take your own notes too. Not just because it’s handy to have a back up, but also because ideas for solutions might come to your mind while they talk to you.

It is important never to interrupt or argue during this stage. You will have your chance to respond after everyone else has spoken. You will get three minutes for ‘right of reply’. The only exceptions for the don’t interrupt rule are if you need clarification on what was just said and to thank each person as they hand over their written notes to you.

During right of reply it is nice to thank everyone for their feedback again, after all, think of how long it took you to write the other member’s feedback. They each spent just as much time helping you. If there is anything you really want to respond to, such as questions asked feel free to do so. It’s also the perfect time to say “Hey, I don’t quite know how to fix XXX, does anyone have any ideas?” and begin a small brainstorming session if you’d like.

If you can help it, avoid explaining what you really meant if people misunderstood something. Take their misunderstanding as a sign of what you need to work on and put that explanation in your piece, because you won’t be there in person to tell editors or your readers. However if that will make you feel better, do so. Right of reply is your chance to let some of that pent up discussion out. Just don’t forget to fix the text too!

Taking On Board The Feedback

You may not quite feel ready to read all the written parts of the critiques immediately after having received the verbal parts. On the other hand you might have had some great ideas during the verbal part and are raring to go.

Something to remember when taking on the feedback is that these are the opinions of others. It is possible they are not familiar with the tropes of your genre, or they don’t know your intended goal for the story, so may have given advice based on their own knowledge, concepts and values, that won’t quite match with what you want your story to be.

It is perfectly fine to not take on board every piece of feedback you receive. What you should do before choosing to ignore or reject a piece of feedback is consider several things.

Are you rejecting this particular piece of feedback because,

  1. to take it would mean a lot of extra work for you
  2. you aren’t particularly fond of the person who gave it
  3. you really like that scene/line/character and either they suggest to remove it or the obvious solution is to remove it

All of those are poor reasons for ignoring feedback.

Also consider did a lot of people say they also had this problem? The more people who reported that issue the bigger the problem is. It could be a rather bad idea to ignore the advice of some many  people all on the one point.

Once you’ve taken on board the feedback, if you still feel uncertain about the piece consider resubmitting it for a second round. If you are doing this please ensure you did take on board enough of the feedback to have made significant changes to the piece. When a story comes through for a second time and is barely changed it is seen as being disrespectful to the people who critiqued it the first time. Also, if you didn’t take their advice the first time, why are you asking for it again? It will more likely than not be the same.

Overall

The whole process through, whenever you feel uncomfortable or hurt, remind yourself, I need to hear this. I need to know what’s wrong so I can fix it and both this piece and my writing in general will be better for it. With that in the forefront of your mind, it should help shield you from some of the hurt. Just think of how great your story will be after this!

I hope this has you all excited to submit your work for critique. Don’t forget our submission rules (or the rules for the group you’re working with).

About Kirstie Olley

Kirstie is the current President of Vision Writers, has had several short stories published since joining the group in 2012, has been a finalist in the Aurealis Awards and received multiple honourable mentions in the Writers Of The Future contest. She also blogs and has free fiction at her website http://www.storybookperfect.com/
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