Lazette Gifford
Publisher & Editor


Do You Know What You Want From a Critique?

By Kathy McNarie
Kathy McNarie

So you've joined a writing group and the other members and you have all agreed to read each other's stories and offer your opinions.  But do you really know what you want from critiques?

"Heck, yes!  I want feedback!  I've spent many hours laboring over these words and I want to share them."

But let's stop a moment.  For some, joining a writing group and asking for critiques is not that hard.  For others it can be devastating.  In either case it's imperative that you understand exactly what you want to get out of the experience. 

"Writing is very subjective."  Do we really know what this means?  I understand the words.  But the meaning of it truly escaped me until recently.  Put simply, it means that each and every person who reads your work will feel differently about it and offer a different opinion.  You say, "Yeah, I know that.  Of course!"  But do you really know it?   I didn't. Time and time again, I'd give out my writing so that people would tell me what's wrong with it -- so that I could improve it.  And you want to know the stupid thing?  I believed them over me! 

Now, don't get me wrong.  It's always good to get different perspectives on what you write, and critiques can be essential for that.  However, you can't blindly assume that someone else's understanding of your idea is correct.  You can't change your perception to match theirs.  If you do, then it becomes their story, not yours. 

The important thing in getting critiques is a mindset -- your mindset.  How you see the comments people offer you can mean the difference between eagerly forging forward and despondently giving up.  Some people don't have any trouble with this concept at all; it's in their nature.  Others don't realize this and will go through one critique group after another, waiting for the day that someone will tell them they have enough talent to justify all this time they've been spending.  The sad truth is that for these people, that day will never come. 

How do I know this?  Because it's never come for me.  I've held off sending out proposals to sell for years because subconsciously I figured someone would tell me when my writing has matured enough to do so with guaranteed success.  At some level, I looked for that in every critique request I sent out and in every group I joined.  But to this day, no one has ever said, "Hey!  This is perfect!  I wouldn't change a thing!  Send this right away because it's gonna sell!"  And the more critiques I got, the more disappointed I became. 

But this is my fault.  Why?  Because I requested critiques for the wrong reason.  I went looking for someone to tell me something about my abilities.  However, critiques are not about me.  They're about the project.  Instead of letting critiques drive my rewrites, I should have trusted my vision and looked at the feedback as merely gaining a different pair of reading glasses.

Remember:  No matter how complete you think a piece is someone will always find something wrong.  Don't let that derail you.  Instead, use those different perspectives to help you see things you might not have been able to on your own.

Believe in your own work.  Let critiques be the gateway to new techniques, not the governing force for your revisions.  Most importantly, know exactly what you want to get from the exchange of material.  It's your work.  You're in control.  Don't be afraid to put qualifiers on it if you need them.  In the end, you'll be happier for it.