Friday, September 18, 2015

Criticism. Why you should embrace it.

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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 colorful Colorado where she gets to live her dream stalking--er--visiting with her favorite CO authors. 



kaybee said...

Good post, Casey, and so appropriate at any stage of the writing journey. I've done a lot of contests this year, and I find I'm beginning to look forward to the judges' feedback. I've had some stern ones, but never snarky, and I live by the old two out of three rule: If two judges agree on a point, it gets changed. Period. I've had the same crit partner for 20 years, and I take her feedback seriously. We need to find people we can trust, and then trust them. My career began to move (OKAY, crawl faster) when I started to really listen to what people were saying. Like marriage and parenting, it's a matter of iron sharpening iron. How good do we want to be?
Kathy Bailey

Unknown said...

I saw the title of your blog and got excited before I even read it! Constructive criticism is one of the best tools I have. Through contests and a new critique group, I have learned some of my personal blinders and work hard to self-edit for them. Kathy has GREAT advise along the two out of three rule. I have yet to find a crit partner I trust, but am praying the Lord will have one in my future.

Ashley Clark said...

Great post, Casey!

Kathy, wise words!

Sarah, it can take time to find a good fit for a critique partner, but it's so worth it! Have you tried ACFW's Scribes program? That's how Angie and I met.