Wednesday, July 31, 2013

The Write Attitude

Well, I'm done whining and back to talking about something useful. Phew. This is the second segment in my "Dishing as Well as You Take" critique class. The first bit was here and talks about finding the right critique group/situation for your needs. Once you've signed up...

In the event that you do find the right mesh of form, function and individual factors, a feedback situation will not work if you enter it with the wrong expectations and attitude. Too often, critique or any sort of feedback is viewed as a necessary evil, and that kind of perspective can set the writer off on exactly the wrong foot when it comes to surviving and thriving in a world that is all about criticism and feedback.

Any author preparing to enter into a critique situation should do some deep soul searching and examine their honest feelings about feedback. Will you be able to distance criticism of your work from criticism of yourself? Do you feel defensive just at the thought of someone suggesting you make changes to your manuscript? If someone simply disliked your work, would you be able to allow them that opinion without taking that judgment to heart?

In all honestly, the answer to at least one of these questions will probably be nope…not ready for that. Most authors feel the initial sting of feedback, the cringe and knee-jerk urge to defend; however, the important thing is to figure out if you can learn to accept and work in that situation without allowing that instinct to win over.

Whatever your initial reaction to a comment on your work, to succeed in a feedback situation the author must be able to detach, to put aside defensiveness, argument, and hostility and absolutely consider that the feedback might be completely accurate.

That’s not to say you’ll have to agree with it in the end, but, for at least a moment, you must be able to allow that IT MIGHT be true. Otherwise the critique process will be completely useless to you. If you answer every change with argument, every comment with defense and interpret every suggestion as attack, then you will not function well, if at all, in a feedback environment. 

Opinions and suggestions that an author is unable to honestly HEAR and CONSIDER will do nothing for them or their work. Not that there is anything wrong with feeling this way about your writing, in particular at the beginning. But, if this is the case, then a critique circle will only waste your time and your partners’.

***Adding in here. The Hear and Consider part sounds pretty simplistic, but when your baby is under the microscope, it can be a lot harder than it sounds. Even for a veteran. There will always be one work, or one character or one writing flaw that you are resistant to seeing objectively. Learning to control that resistance, at least long enough to entertain the possibility the critique is correct, is hard to do, but so worth it.
Listening can save you from embarrassment later. It can help you find your blind spots and it WILL help your writing go to print in a stronger form.

Next up: Diplomacy. How to give bad news with a smile and not come off as an ass.


  1. I recently had my first professional critique of a bit of my work and despite being prepared for the expected comments still felt the angst of having MY work questioned. Certainly there were punctuation issues and things I left out of context and such. But the critique over the big issues really made me stop and think, despite being delivered with an encouraging touch.

    The issue clearly presented wasn't so much a criticism of my work rather the "critic" pointing out the aspects of the writing craft I was lacking. So I simply took it as a call to focus on the skills I needed to develop to be a better writer.

    The value of criticism in all aspects of life is what you take from it. Simply put, I may be the writer, but it is the perspective of the editor and reader that matter. Any comments helping me see the work from their POV is valued, even I don't agree with it.

    Just my thoughts.

  2. See, too many 'Simply's, an echo. I do need to work on such things, she was right.

  3. Oh Robert, We ALL need to work on things. :)
    You have a great outlook on it, and most definitely, the perspective of the editor and reader matter, but so does yours.
    It's a balance. Most of the time, the outside view is solid, sometimes it will be something you're not willing to move on. That's okay, so long as the former usually outweighs the latter. (especially with your editor :)
    And knowing that if you decide not to listen, you'll have to face the consequences is a big help too.

  4. Don't jump into the publishing arena until you're ready to accept criticism as a professional. Because it will happen and it will hurt. Critique groups are a great way to dip your toe in to see if you can be objective enough.

    Great post from the source of evilry.


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