I wrote this post from 35,000 feet in the air. Last week, I was in Florida visiting the folks and lounging in the sun. Considering I left Chicago in the middle of a snowstorm and 14-degree weather, the trip couldn’t have come at a better time. In between tanning, eating, and swimming, I made some time to begin revisions on my WIP. The week before, I had met with my writer’s group who critiqued the first draft. I’ve been on both sides of that discussion, and every time, it’s still nerve-wracking. Here we are, giving our prized work, drafts that we spent countless hours perfecting, to others to rip apart. Receiving feedback is never easy, and from my experiences, I’ve learned some Do and Don’ts to surviving critiques.
DO seek criticism, not validation. Sitting around and talking about how much readers loved your draft makes for a great night, but an awful critique session. Some of your readers may be close friends and family who don’t want to hurt your feelings, and so they will only tell you nice things. Don’t let them. Hearing the good won’t get you to pinpoint the bad. If you are only seeking compliments from your writer’s group, then you aren’t letting them do their job. You wrote an entire book. That’s validation enough. When you are talking with critique partners/beta readers, get to the problem areas. You can save the backslapping for the end.
DON’T defend your book against criticism. In an old writer’s group, one of the writers would always jump to her book’s defense if you ever brought up a trouble spot. “No, you don’t understand.” Or “I made that clear in this section.” She had an answer for everything. It’s commonplace to get defensive or frustrated when a reader gives you criticism you disagree with. But resist the urge to come back with an answer. Don’t talk. Listen. If someone didn’t understand a plot point you thought was crystal clear, then guess what – he or she won’t be the only one. You can’t sit next to every reader who buys your book and answer their questions. Find out why your group was confused; don’t dismiss any feedback.
DO ask open-ended questions. You need to let the criticism flow naturally. Let them bring up issues you never realized. When you ask a leading question, it skews the feedback. Let’s say you’re worried that your MC doesn’t have a strong enough motivation in X Scene. Don’t ask the group “Was the motivation strong enough in X Scene? Could it be clearer?” That will instantly taint your readers’ feedback. You’re coercing them into giving you the answer you want, not the one they have. Maybe the readers thought that scene was fine as it is. Instead, ask “What did you think of X Scene?” Use open-ended questions as much as possible. If you are resorting to using such leading questions, then all you are seeking is confirmation of a problem you already know exists.
DON’T take it personally. Our books are an extension of us, plain and simple. Someone not liking our book feels like someone not liking us. We will always feel this twinge when we hear negative feedback. But don’t take it personally. Make sure your critiquers are people you trust, so you always knows what they say is coming from a positive place. To paraphrase Meg Cabot, your book is not a $100 bill. Not everyone’s going to like it.
What are some do’s and don’t’s you have whenever giving or receiving criticism?