Critiques – a survival guide

June 17, 2012

In a WordWatchers’ critique, the group usually reads an entire book and discusses it in detail. The process has been likened (by the wonderfully witty Mel) to being ‘mauled with velvet paws’. Criticism is honest, occasionally tough, but also tactful and delivered with understanding and sympathy for the time and effort invested.

Just to chuck my own image in, I reckon critiques are about as easy to take as someone calling your baby ugly. (I say this as a non-parent, so really I have no idea, but don’t you dare call my imaginary baby ugly!)

I recently ran the gauntlet of a WordWatchers’ critique by submitting the first draft of my YA novel, Speechless. Here are my top tips for accepting criticism:

1. Don’t be precious.

  • If good old-fashioned publication is your goal, or if you self-publish and do it properly, at the very least an editor and proofreader will get their mucky paws on your manuscript. Once your work begins its journey to publication, you’ll realise that writing a novel is a collaborative effort, and that it’s not just yours and yours alone any more.

2. Think about who you would rather hear it from.

  • Trusted friends who can review your manuscript pre-publication and will (hopefully) be diplomatic, caring and understanding, or anonymous reviewers who will, in blissful ignorance of how difficult it was to write the damn thing, tear your published book apart when it’s too late to change anything.

3. You don’t have to accept all the comments.

  • If you take everyone’s advice, your book can start to become something that’s not yours any more.
  • Bear in mind that, if your critiquers write for a variety of audiences, it’s possible that not everyone will understand the rules of your genre as well as you do.
  • If one person makes a point, it’s just an opinion. If two people make the same point, you might want to look at it. If three people agree on the same point, you have a problem. (Advice from published author Sara Grant at a recent revision workshop.)

4. Choose your critiquers wisely.

  • Don’t listen to anyone who gushes about your work, tells you it’s a masterpiece and is absolutely perfect. Nice to hear, but they’re wrong, and this kind of critiquing just isn’t helpful.

5. Don’t take it personally.

  • As much as it can feel like an attack on you/your baby/your dog, it’s not. Unless your character is strongly based on you/your baby/your dog and your critiquers hate them. (Yes, this has happened to me – sob!)

6. Ignore your knee-jerk reaction.

  • I’m guessing this will be something along the lines of, ‘Oh my God they loathe it. I’m a useless writer and should just give up now.’ It’s so, so easy to ignore the praise and focus on/obsess over the criticism, but resist that urge. It’s not productive.
  • Don’t even think about touching your manuscript until you’ve let all the feedback sink in. I mean it! Don’t. Give yourself time and space to filter through the comments and decide which to take in and which to discard. Enjoy thinking up new ideas and getting excited about the next draft.
  • Don’t worry if you feel overwhelmed by the extent of the changes. It’s natural. 

7. Remember why your book is being critiqued.

  • Because you wanted it to be. You asked for feedback. Try not to be defensive. People have invested time and energy that they could’ve spent on their own writing. They’re not out to get you or put you down. They’re trying to help.

8. Understand that critiquing is often subjective.

  • What works for some won’t work for others. Expect people to disagree. Respect others’ opinions, but remember that the most important one is your own. It’s your decision. You’re the one who has to answer for it once it’s released into the wide world.

9. Enjoy the attention.

  • Strange advice for your typical shy-away-from-the-limelight writer, but actually it’s a perfect excuse to bang on about your book without feeling guilty that you’re boring your other half/kids/dog to death.

10. Get stuck in!

  • Try not to obsess over everything that’s wrong with it, and focus on how to make it better. Don’t sink into a spiral of despair and simply give up. If you do, you’re not respecting the time that others have given to try and help you.

So that’s it. My words of wisdom on the tricky subject of accepting criticism.* Now go forth and edit. Be ruthless. Have fun!

*Disclaimer: author reserves the right to completely disregard her own advice.


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  1. John Potter says:

    Excellent Abbie. I like the Disclaimer a lot. Have fun.

  2. Well done, Abbie – a balanced and helpful post in spite of being so recently, even if gently, ‘mauled’!

  3. Hi Abbie! Great tips! I’m so shy when it comes to submitting my work for crit. It’s something I’ve had a hard time with since I got a particularly scathing review. I’ll be keeping your list in mind during a workshop I’m currently taking!

  4. Abbie says:

    Thanks for reading and commenting, all. Wishing you all the best for your critique, Heather!

  5. Michelle Davis says:

    An interesting article – and very true! I’m curious which of the tips people find it hardest to follow.

  6. Abbie says:

    Hi Michelle,

    Thanks for reading and commenting. My personal challenge is no.6. I find it really hard not to get defensive, and initially may reject suggestions because they don’t fit in with my original plan, but if I give myself time for the dust to settle, I find that I become more open-minded to suggestions.


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