“Nothing sucks more than that moment during an argument when you realize you’re wrong.”
Been there, done that. And let me tell you, there is no easy way to smoothly extricate yourself and still look cool.
Admitting you’re wrong is difficult. Admitting someone is right can be, too.
This is especially true when it come to critiques about your writing.
All writers have been there, done that. You’ve plotted, researched, maybe outlined, and spent countless hours banging away at the keyboard or making your hand ache writing longhand. You have your first draft and although you know it’ll need some revising, you’re proud of your achievement. Because you’ve joined a critique group you’re anxious to share this great novel with others. So, you read. At first, the group praises you because this is something new, they’ve heard only a small portion of the story, so maybe they don’t give too many suggestions right away. After a few meetings though, after everyone has gotten used to the gist of your story, you may begin to receive more pointers on improvements. Some of these may be major issues, or could become major issues in the future if not caught and repaired.
This hurts. They’re attacking your baby. The natural instinct is to become defensive, to strike back, to show how you’re right and they’re wrong.
I was once given a handout on how to critique. One of the elements was how to accept critique. “If someone finds something wrong with your story, he/she is usually correct.” Usually. There are exceptions because you can’t please everyone all of the time. However, the person critiquing may have a different perspective on the aspect being discussed. The person is seeing it from a different angle. They are not understanding what you are trying to put across, or a least not comprehending in the way you intended.
What you must do is relax, accept the critique. Jot notes for you to review at a later time, after you’ve caught your breath, when you’re ready to be serious about having an open mind. What you’ll discover is that the critique may be correct, something is clunking in the story, something needs to be addressed and smoothed out, explained better. How? That’s up to you. Do NOT automatically accept the critiquer’s (is that a word?) solution. The second part of the advice from above was, “If someone offers a solution to the problem, he/she is usually wrong.” That person does not know your story like you do. It’s up to you to decide how to fix the problem, if you accept the responsibility. Sometimes, and I’ve had this experience, you don’t accept the problem. Maybe you feel the other person is incorrect. This is okay, too, as long as you can justify it. However, I’ve been given the advice that if two or more people see something as a problem, it most likely is, so you’d better properly address it.
One of the other pieces of advice about critiquing that may help you is allow the critiques to come, write notes, but in no way respond or be defensive about them. Don’t at that moment start spouting “Yes, but…”
This is a tough reaction to quell. Be aware that the reaction is spur of the moment, without your taking time to reason out your thoughts. You’ve not allowed enough time to process the information and if you strike back immediately, the results may be negative. You may alienate the other person and/or others from future assistance; you may cause the person to feel that you don’t respect his/her opinion; you may come away with pessimistic feelings either that you can’t write or that other people aren’t intelligent enough to understand. Plus, you are certainly wasting time because nothing will be solved at that particular time.
Critiquing is about the story and the writing process. It is not personal.
At all costs, stay away from making personal remarks because you have then moved from critique to criticism and insults. I’ve heard a few nasty comments in groups and if you fall into this pit, you will lose the respect of everyone else very quickly.
So, what have we learned today? Do you need to develop a thick skin, to roll with the punches? Not necessarily. Develop the thick skin when receiving negative reviews about your book or from people who don’t like your subject matter and won’t read the book in the first place. Again, you’re not going to please everyone because everyone has his/her individual tastes in literature.
Be open minded about critiques. Don’t instantly go on the defensive. Take time to think about what is being said. You and the other group members are meeting to improve everyone’s writing and to be supportive. They care about you and want you to succeed because your success gives them hope for theirs.