Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Learning From Critiques

Critiques are a funny thing. You get them, and your first reaction is sometimes, "You are WRONG and have NO IDEA what you are talking about!"

Then you think on it for a day, possibly have a few drinks, and realize that the critique-giver is actually totally right, and why didn't you see it before? (Sometimes, when you're in a really good mood, you realize this right away, and then go and fix your draft immediately. All is well and right with the world, and the writing angels sing your praises.)

I think the best thing about critiques, though - particularly the harsh ones - is the way in which they help you grow as both a writer and a critiquer (not actually a word but I'm going to use it and MAKE IT WORK.) When I got my first round of crits back from one of my novels, pretty much everyone said that they wanted to feel more emotionally connected to the protagonist, and that they would really like to see me push her to give the reader a bit more insight into how she was feeling and show what she was thinking as her world came tumbling down around her. I sent out some rewrites, and from the reactions I've been getting, I think I did a pretty excellent job at nailing that particular problem.

But even better, as I went to start on a new project to bring to my first residency at VCFA (which I'll depart for in TWO WEEKS - OMG!), the emotions came completely natural to me. I didn't find myself having to push my new character to show her feelings, she just did. Now, part of that might be because she's, obviously, a different character. But I think a lot of it has to do with what I learned after my previous manuscript had been critiqued. Hearing the same comment from almost every reader made me realize that it wasn't an issue of character, but of writing weakness, and I worked hard to fix it. There are some heavy emotional scenes in both of my works, and I feel much more confident that I'm nailing them now.

Taking it one step further, knowing about my deficiencies also makes me a better critiquer, because as I read, I'm hyper-aware of these traits in other characters. The things that I struggle with, I'm also better at noticing if other writers are struggling with, as well. I've definitely heard this from other writers, too, so I know I'm not alone! It seems like knowing that you're not the best at something makes you able to look for it in other work, even if you're still working on mastering it in your own (and, I think, particularly if you're actively working toward mastering it.)

Just another reason why quality critiques are SO important. They help you become a better writer not just for this manuscript, but for future books, as well.

What has critiquing - and being critiqued - taught you?


  1. Being critiqued taught me how to let go. There are few things scarier to a writer than handing your "baby" over to someone to essentially tear it apart.

    But it's made me a better writer - even though I still get completely wrapped up in my characters, I know there's always room for change.

    Oh, and patience, I learned that, too. Hardest lesson ever. My husband reads my first drafts and I can stand over him and stare as he reads (which he hates), but with "outsiders" critiquing, I'm left to wonder, "what the heck is taking so long???"

    But waiting is good for me, it gives me time to come down from that writing high and focus on other things.

  2. i typically find that i have that knee-jerk "You're wrong" reaction only with CP that i haven't worked with before. My typical CPs i tend to agree with, or at least listen without getting angry


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