Criticism for any writer is a must. We need it as much as we hate it. How else are we going to improve our craft? In a world where creativity is everything, we have to know what works and what doesn’t. Do you care enough about a character to keep reading? Does the storytelling match the story? Though we may adore our own work, we have to learn to question it if we want to get to that next draft. That’s where criticism comes in. Now, I’m not an expert here nor have I been published, yet. But I have had extensive experience in writing workshops to know a thing or two about criticism and how to tolerate it. Luckily for you I’m going to share a few tips to try and help ease the pain. Most of all, I’m gonna show you that these critics aren’t so tough after all. They’re people too, just like me and you.
So you have a draft out in front of you. It’s not good, certainly not bad either. It’s enough to show the world what you’re made of and the kind of stories you want to tell. Now what do you do? You test it with your peers. If you’re really nervous about doing so, go on and give it to your family and friends first, the people you can trust. They’ll provide you with the confidence you need to face the truth. Though, try not to rely on them too much. Don’t get me wrong, family and friends are good resources. They’ll give you the input you want to hear. But what you really need is criticism, from the people who are just as eager to write as you are. Both are entirely different audiences. Your family will let you know if they like it or not, whereas your peers will scrutinize every aspect of your story word by word. That is what you need, to look at your own work through someone else’s eyes. As a writer it’s very hard to get a fresh perspective. Chances are you’ve probably been staring at your story for days, refusing to turn away in fear of losing the idea on the page. We’re very insecure like that, and a tad bit obsessive. Have no fear because that’s what critics are for, to point things out that we may not have seen firsthand. It’s gonna be brutal, and you’ll find yourself wanting to defend your work. But to get through it, all you have to do is listen.
Every writer is self-conscious of what they’ve written. No matter how small the story or how big the idea, we become very protective of our baby. So when others start to pick it apart, our natural response is to stand up and defend ourselves. I’m here to tell you to resist the urge completely. It’s easy to deflect what people say, to prove them wrong and throw it back in their face. But it’s much harder to just sit there and listen. Sooner or later you’re gonna have to force yourself to tolerate the criticism, so why not start now? Of course, you won’t have control over what people will say about your work. That’s inevitable. But you do have the will to endure and that’s more than enough. You are the writer, meaning you can choose which critiques to take with you and which ones you wanna leave behind. That’s what makes the whole process constructive. Only you can know which comments are helpful. And if you are as passionate about your work as I am, then you’ll know right away. Now, you can’t aim to please everyone, nor should you. So don’t be surprised if not everyone likes your story. I learned that the hard way. All you can do is write the stories that you wanna read and hope that there are others who will enjoy it too. So take the leap. Hand over your darling to your peers and accept whatever response you get, even the bad ones.
Those harsh critiques are the ones you need to look out for. They’re much more helpful than you may think. For me, it was a huge turning point in my writing. During my very first workshop, someone pointed out just how ridiculous my prose sounded on paper. He felt that I used too many flowery words, which constantly diminished the flow of the entire piece and undermined all the imagery I wanted to convey. At first, I hated him. I resented him for the things he had said and I took it personally because it was my work, something I was very passionate about. But slowly I started to realize the truth of it. And though I didn’t wanna admit it, he was right. On paper I sounded horribly pretentious, using all these fancy words like I had to prove my firm grasp on the language. It became clear to me that I was so focused on establishing a voice that I forgot about the story I wanted to tell. And since then, I have been refining my prose to a much simpler, reflective tone, one that doesn’t get in the way of the story or the characters. The thing about storytelling is that it has to match the story otherwise the whole piece will feel forced and unnatural. That’s what I learned, all thanks to one of my harshest critics yet. Sure, I had to overcome my ego first, but eventually I got over it and used the critique to my advantage. You will too. So take a deep breath, keep your sorrows at bay, and nod along to whatever it is they have to say.
Unfortunately, everyone’s got an opinion. That makes everyone a critic in their own right. Sure they can be cruel, relentless even, but nothing compares to the way I critique my own work. I beat myself up whenever I see careless grammar mistakes. The same goes for poorly chosen words, lazily crafted phrases, uninteresting descriptions, etc. Don’t even get me started on weak characters or useless plot points. I let myself have it because I should know better, and write better. Now, we all have our own ways of pushing ourselves. It’s all part of the process of refining and revising. Train yourself to question your own work and soon you’ll find that no one else’s judgment can affect you. And what’s the saying? Sticks and stones may break your bones, but words can never hurt you. So let them talk. They’re here to help. Just keep calm and carry on with your writing no matter what.