Critiques That Rip: Why Criticism Trumps Praise

Yawatta would like to invite MONICA SHAUGHNESSY as a guest. She has a very entertaining post to share about how to interpret constructive criticism from critique groups/partners. Her blog is http://monicashaughnessy.wordpress.com if anyone would like to check her out. Thanks again Monica!

Quick, what’s the worst thing you can hear during a critique?

“Your dialogue reads like an Xtranormal video on horse tranquilizers.”

Nope.

“Your plot has more holes than Homer Simpson’s underwear.”

Try again.

“I couldn’t find anything wrong. I liked it.”

Bingo.

Now don’t get me wrong. Hearing that someone else likes your work can be a real ego booster. And at times, we writers need some of the good stuff to keep us going in a rejection-happy industry bent on destroying our optimism. Trouble is, if you keep hearing “I liked it” too often from fellow critiquers, you’re 1) in the wrong group or 2) in the right group, but everyone knows you’ll key their car on the way out if they tank your story. Either way, seek help immediately.

If, however, you ARE hearing things from your early readers, and you’re choosing to ignore them, then do so at your own publishing peril. I’ve been in many, many different critique groups over the years, both through SCBWI and through online classes, and those resistant to criticism are usually one of the following writers:

  • Shrinking Violet: Attends group once and only once, having relied on Grandma (without her reading glasses) and her cat, Mr. Snickles (with his reading glasses), to review her work in the past. Any negative comments will cause her to wither, abandon her literary pursuits, and take up knitting cat hair ponchos instead.
  • Blustery Gus: Attends group regularly and loves to hear his words read aloud. During comments, he lets rebuttals fly, fiercly defending his work, justifying each over-used comma and cliche, even if he suspects everyone else is right. Why? Because he CAN’T be wrong. Everything he writes is worthy of being cross-stitched in gold letters across Larry Kirshbaum’s pillow.
  • Inspector Clueless: Attends group, usually sporadically, because that’s what Real Writers do. He nods when people comment on his manuscript, but returns next week with the same glaring mistakes. He doesn’t understand the fuss over sagging tension and drifting POV’s. Further, he doesn’t understand how to FIX sagging tension and drifting POV’s.

Bottom line: if you see yourself (even marginally) in any of the categories above, you’ve got some work to do.

Angry car keyers aside, the rest of us should seek out what needs improving so we can get better–even if it’s painful. When we get better, guess what? We still have room for improvement. Hemingway rewrote the final page of A Farewell to Arms 39 times to “get the words right.” How do you know when the words are right? If after your critique group has raked it over the coals, your beta readers have kicked it through the dirt, and you’ve word-smithed it for the tenth or twentieth or fortieth time, and there’s not ONE THING you would change, then you can stop.

Until then, ears open to criticism and fingers on the keyboard.

————————————>

What do YOU think? Are you in a critique group? If so, what’s been your experience with criticism? Has it help you or hurt you?

Monica Shaughnessy

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10 thoughts on “Critiques That Rip: Why Criticism Trumps Praise

  1. With my critique partner, it really helped me. Since I’m used to short stories, I was telling rather than showing throughout my novel. I have a habit of face-paced writing. She encouraged me to take the time to describe characters’ motives, setting, etc.

    I respect constructive criticism but roll my eyes with condescending or patronizing feedback.

    Keep smiling,
    Yawatta

  2. Pingback: Critiques The Rip: Why Criticism Trumps Praise « Monica Shaughnessy

  3. Most of the time, my crit partners point out things that I obviously need to change. But if someone makes a comment about an aspect of my story that I COMPLETELY disagree with, I’ll poll the rest of the group and ask for a show of hands. If I’m out-voted, then I know I’ve got work to do. There is NO WAY I would have the finished products I do today without my critique group. So if you’re reading this now and wondering if you should join one, you absolutely should.

    • Hey Monica,
      I actually joined a writing group the same time as my writing buddy. Its a local group, so that’s a plus. They have it set up where we get stories to read before our meeting, and then we talk and give suggestions on someone’s work who turned something in. Also, they get everyone’s copy of their rough draft with written comments.

      I think that’s very beneficial–to hear something summarized then to see a line by line crit of your work as well.

      Keep smiling,
      Yawatta

  4. I’ve been writing since 5th grade, and only submitted sparse chapters to English classes in college. I thought I was the cat’s pajamas (or at least on my way to writing stardom). Then I found an online critique group, and I submitted.
    Wow.
    Ignoring that everyone’s opinion there was different (one critter: I LOVE this line. Next critter: Oh gross. This line stinks. Remove immediately), I learned so much that after four months of sending my work through the ringer, I revisited some earlier works and nearly retched. The sound was audible. The difference between my saying, “Yeah. That’s the way I want it!” and “avoid passive verb use” is night and day. Any prospective writer should join a critique group. It’s a boxer’s rope-a-dope for writing.

    • Boxer’s rope-a-dope for writing…great analogy!

      I, too, have gone back over my old work and cringed. It isn’t pretty, is it? And to think we subjected our friends and family to such delights. 🙂

  5. Nice post! I have to say, I absolutely adore my critique partners. Though I don’t always like the feedback, I know that its coming from a good place and that encourages me to really look at what they’re saying. And though they don’t hold back when something doesn’t look or sound right – they are wonderful in letting me know the things they do like. But what I like most is – they often see / or find something different. If one person misses a punctuation, I’m guaranteed to have another one who will pick it up.

    I can’t imagine my writing career without them!

  6. Hmm, Idk I like critiques but not all the time, I’m not saying lie to me but look for good points and show examples on how to fix the bad ones. When I get a critique I back off and think about defending myself but mostly I, honestly weep I become the Shrinking Violet :S

    But after a short time I am back up on the horse (not a high one a pony maybe 😉 ) Then I correct my mistakes and go an extra mile to make it better and I am eager to listen for more. I truly cherish critique and I crave it deep down and I look forward when I can pass the Shrinking Violet faze and just move on, nobody is perfect without a critique buddy 😉

    ~Alex

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