Friday, April 18, 2014

How Well Do You Accept Criticism?

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Criticism is, unfortunately, part of the game when you put your words on a page and then submit them to a critique partner or a contest or a first reader or your mother (well, maybe not your mother… ;-)). It seems to be a dangerous business, writing. I don’t know why it has to be such a land-mine pursuit, but it seems the more we put ourselves out there and write more from our heart and fall harder for our stories, the more criticism we can get. And the harder it gets.

Being told you stink at something is never easy, don’t get me wrong. I’m not a huge fan of it myself. ;-) When you look at how hard you work and how many hours you spend alone pounding the keyboard, only to be told by a judge that your POV is a mess and your characters are flat and unlikeable, it’s enough to plant one’s head squarely in the middle of the keyboard/screen/desk/wall, etc, etc.

But criticism does not have to be all bad. Yes, I know. You’re scowling at me fiercely right now because I’m telling you to actually like being corrected. Well…maybe not like, because who likes that?? But there is much more to be learned from criticism than there is to be learned from praise. While all correction should be taken with a grain of salt, it might be an opportunity to see the big picture flaws we miss when we’re zoomed in too close in our stories.

What is the universal appeal of your hero and heroine? Did the judges or first readers find them fun and entertaining or flat and apathetic?

Look at what you’re aiming for and then see if what and where the criticism is coming from matches up or is moving in the same direction. If you’re aiming for a funny and light-hearted heroine, but you’re being told she’s moody and discouraging, maybe it’s time for an edit—or maybe a change of genre. ;-)
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Is the topic of your “voice” coming up in more discussions or disturbingly absent? Read the comments as one would who has no emotional attachment to your story. If this was your friend’s story or a random book off the shelf would you agree or disagree with the comments?

It’s easy to immediately disagree with everything the critique had to say, but stop for just a minute. Separate yourself from the heart-wounded part and pull up those muck boots to go in for another stomp around and discovery. (Yes, I just went all farm girl on you.)

While it’s never easy to volunteer for criticism or correction for anyone even when the criticisms are so far out in left field that’s it’s not even worth putting the time into reading! Novel crafting is one of the most subjective businesses out there—it’s not even funny how subjective it is. And yes, it’s a near constant lesson in the art of accepting criticism gracefully.

But it gets a little bit easier if you think in these terms: we’re in the place we love. God put us here. This is part of His hands forming our clay. Put’s a little bit different perspective on it, doesn’t it? J  

Casey Herringshaw is a homeschool graduate and has been writing since high school. She lives in rural Eastern Oregon in a town more densely populated with cows than people. 



Mary Vee Writer said...

Great post, Casey.

I was just thinking that your writing style of this post is so honest. The words speak the same as if you were in the room chatting with us. Well done!

Ashley Clark said...

Great post, Case! Something that's helped me not only accept but really learn from criticism is taking a breather from my WIP after it. If I can get away from the story for a couple weeks or even months, often that's enough time for the criticism to really sink in and for me to find a way to really grow as a writer from it.

Carrie Fancett Pagels said...

Any feedback is that person's opinion. None of us are infallible, including the CPer or judge. Recently I ended up reading a ton of books because of surgery. These were all published by CBA publishing houses. Yet they were all different, very different voices etc. despite all being same genre. And I really thought it was because we all like different types of writing even within a narrow niche in writing. God bless you in your writing!

Rachelle O'Neil said...

Thank you, Casey! I struggle with taking overly harsh criticism personally, and it's an encouragement to hear this from someone else. And you're right: Remember that God is shaping us DOES put a different perspective on it. :D

Casey said...

Thanks, Mary. I did have fun writing this posts. That is what I love about non fiction--I can feel like I'm having a conversation with a friend. Now I need to translate that to fiction! :)

Casey said...

Ashley, I love and completely agree with that advice. It's a good one for all writers--as they can--step away from the book and let the criticism sink in yes, but also to let God remind us why we write. :)

Casey said...

Carrie, yes, definitely! And judging fiction is incredibly subjective, it's not even funny. But that's why I try and look for the through line that runs through all the comments. When three judges agree I REALLY sit up and pay attention. :)

Casey said...

Hello Bluebelle! I'm so glad the post was an encouragement to you. Sometimes taking criticism is far from easy, but little by little the more we take in and learn to adjust our attitude toward receiving it, makes it much easier. :)