Creator Confessions: The Critique — A Writer’s Friend Or Nightmare?

by Frank Martin

It might seem like a paradoxical notion, but the scariest thing one can experience as a new writer is to actually have someone read your work. More than that, it’s to have someone give you brutally honest feedback about it. It’s easy to view a critique of a piece of work as a critique of your ability to write. It’s even easier to get down in the dumps about it. After publishing a couple of works and having it torn to shreds more times than I can count, I feel I’ve gotten to a place where I’m comfortable treating a critique more as a tool than an assessment of my ability.

The first thing a writer needs to do when facing a critique is to develop a tough skin about it. I know that’s easier said than done and there’s no real way to accomplish it without experience. After being battered and bruised with opinions you start to develop a sense of yourself as a writer. From there comes confidence and the understanding of your own style and goals.

The second part is realizing that everyone is a different writer. Nobody’s going to write quite like you, so therefore no one is going to tell your story exactly the same way. Other writers are going to give their own opinions and advice on how they would do things and adjust the work according to their style and goals. But that doesn’t mean it’s the right decision for you.

It really all comes down to vision. If you have an idea of the story you want to tell then critiques and criticisms start to have less of an effect on you — at least, from an emotional standpoint. The person giving you feedback is not reading your work as an audience member. They’re reading it as a critique; it’s their job to be analytical and search for holes and flaws. They’re not there to sit back, relax, and enjoy. So right away, you know they’re going to be reading with a critical eye.

This isn’t to say critiques aren’t important. They’re actually invaluable. Nobody’s a perfect writer. Everything can be approved upon. But it’s all a matter of understanding your vision of the story and seeing if their feedback aligns with it. They might have great insights into how to take the story in a different direction, but if that’s not the story you want to tell then it’s not really helpful. Likewise, they might think the work is awful and that it needs to be torn up and rewritten from the beginning. But if they don’t “get” the story, there’s no reason to be hurt by that.

Critiques aren’t there to change your story, only to help you improve upon it. You need to know what you want and how to accomplish it. And, most importantly, have confidence in your ability to pull it off. Once you have that, it’s easy to view critiques as a way to help your story rather than judge it, as new writers so often forget.

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