Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Critique: It's not as scary as you think

It’s been nine months or so since I’ve last posted. So much has happened in that time—good, bad, scary, amazing. And yet what brought me back to the blog was none of it. I’ll save all that for another time.

Today I want to talk to you about a very serious issue. Something every writer needs in their arsenal if they want to be read.


New Girl scared scream screaming nick miller

Stay with me now. I know to some people it’s a four letter word that sends your writing soul curling up in the fetal position. It was for me too, at one point…

Lately I’ve been seeing too much backlash when it comes to the critique. I get it, it’s hard to listen as someone tears apart your sweet written baby. They don’t understand, they haven’t worked on it for hours upon weeks upon years. You know everything about your world and the story, they don’t know anything. Idiots.
angry work archer office frustrated
And that’s the point.

If you want other people to read your work, then you need to open your ears to them.

I’m going to share a little of my own pain. I don’t know if it will help, but misery loves company. There are three critiques that have stuck with me, critiques I will never forget, as they have shaped my critique receiving behavior forever.

When I finished my baby MS, I had bright doe eyes, ready to share with the world and hear what others thought about it. I tried different online forums with mixed results. The truth was, the anonymity and mean-spiritedness of online didn't work for me. So I searched on meetup.com and found I found a critique group in my local area.

They first time I walked in the door of that Starbucks, I wanted to throw up. Surely these were Craigslist kidnappers who murdered people showing up to their "writer's group." To my surprise, none of them seemed the kidnap/murder-y type and I actually felt a little at home with the eclectic group.

They were welcoming, but the leader made it clear from the beginning: we aren’t here to critique sandwich you with fluffy happy stuff. We’re here to work. And as scary as that sounds, I appreciated the honesty. So I put up my first piece and  braced myself for my first real critique.

It was brutal. To my never ending embarrassment, I didn't know how to properly use quotations, I committed so many commatrocities I thought I would be jailed by the grammar police, and I used the phrase "magically delicious".
frozen elsa let it go

But I learned, and I kept submitted. I won't lie, I usually had a drink beforehand because it took some of the sting off. But I kept at it and I got a little better each time.

Then one day during my critique I heard these words, "You've got a problem, and it's a big, fucking problem."

I thought my heart was going to jump out of my chest. It was happening all over again. I shouldn't be a writer, I was a pathetic impersonator. Every horrible thought that writers think, I went through in the moments and hours and days after.

hen I felt less vulnerable I read the piece. You know, he was right. Everything they said was right.

After that moment I started listening more. And I learned some very important things. Not just about the pieces being critiqued, but how attitude can make or break you.
ron swanson nick offerman headphones listening
Don't argue and say, "Well, if you get to the next chapter then it'll be explained." Because the truth is, if someone reads it and it doesn't make sense, then it doesn't make sense. If you want to be read, then you have to appreciate reader feedback.

Not everything in critique is perfect, and sometimes different people will argue over if it fits in the piece or not. But it's your job as the author to review that section with a critical eye and decide if it needs fixing. Don't dismiss your critics just because your ego is too soft. Open your mind and your writing will thrive.


  1. lol... "You've got a problem, and it's a big fucking problem." One of the best critique lines ever.

    1. It's what keeps bringing me back. I love it.