Critiques are like vegetables. Some are terribly unpleasant, and others aren’t so bad. Some weirdos have trained themselves to love ‘em, but most of us hate ‘em. And they’re really good for all of us.
Sometimes I’m giddy at the critiques I receive. For about a day. Then, when I go revisit the project, when I realize that it’s just not perfect, no matter how much I want to pretend it is, I’m massively disappointed. The critique, though nice, wasn’t a critique at all.
Then there’s the other kind of critique. The kind that hurts.
Trust me. I’ve gotten plenty of those. And it is not fun.
You’ve worked on your novel, your baby, for weeks, months, years. You’ve plotted, written, read, and edited your words until you know the story inside and out. This is art. It’s your art. And though you know it’s not perfect yet, you’re really, really proud of yourself.
And you should be.
Books aren’t easy! If they were, everyone would have them. Just by finishing, you’ve accomplished something amazing that you get to brag about for the rest of your life. But you didn’t write a book just so you could brag, did you? No, you wrote it because you had a story to tell, a message to convey, a character who needed to be brought into the world. And you want to shine this story until it’s more than just complete, but polished and compelling and exciting. Who could blame you?
Because you’re so dedicated to making this story the best it can be, you end up asking for honest feedback. You brace yourself. But when your critique partners finally finish your manuscript, your heart starts to hammer. Did they love it? Can they already picture it on the shelves?
There might be no feeling more disappointing than learning that their answer is no.
It hurts. It’s allowed to hurt—this story is important to you, after all! But this is where you need to put your pride in the backseat. You have made a commitment to your manuscript to make it the best it can possibly be. This commitment needs to be more important than your bruised ego.
This is a lesson you can never really stop learning. I’ve always been a perfectionist, so I end up keeping my first, second, even third drafts hidden before I’m willing to share them with critique partners. Heck, my family didn’t even read my most recent manuscript until I’d rewritten it from the ground up four times. (Don’t worry if you’re not like this. My first drafts can be pretty terrible.) After all that work, you want your critique partners to say the story is done, perfect, ready to send off to agents.
Odds are, it’s not.
The first time I got a harsh critique, it stung. I was so pleased with the story I’d written, I expected my critique partner to point out a few tweaks I needed to make and little else. But what I got instead was an overarching criticism that made me question the viability of my whole manuscript:
“This story doesn’t know what it’s about.”
At the time, this comment didn’t make any sense to me. Heck, I’m still not entirely sure what my critique partner was trying to say when she told me that. But I got so tangled up in this one sentence that I looked past the rest of her feedback. I went through the usual stages of grief.
Stage one: Denial. She obviously just didn’t get my book.
Stage two: Anger. What gives? This isn’t fair! I worked hard on that story!
Stage three: Bargaining. You know, if I were a better writer, this wouldn’t be a problem.
Stage four: Sadness. Is the story even worth pursuing?
Stage five: Acceptance. You know, maybe she had some good points after all…
Stage five is the most important part. Seriously.
If you’re honestly that upset about a critique, allow yourself to feel upset. For, like, three days. Then put on your thick skin and embrace those criticisms! In my experience, the critiques that hurt the most are the ones that scare me. When I hear that a reader didn’t like something big, I cringe at the thought of changing so much. But remember, all you’re allowed to do is cringe.
No curling into a ball at the prospect of all that work. No insisting your story is perfect the way it is.
A critique is not meant to hurt you. It’s an opportunity to make your story the best it can possibly be.
Take a few deep breaths, and revisit the notes from your critique partner. Really consider each of the suggestions. They’re not all going to be changes you want to—or should!—make. But some of them, I promise, are worth listening to.
If you have a friend or family member who knows the story well, ask them to discuss the suggestions with you. Ask them if they think the changes would make your manuscript even better.
And remember to thank your critique partner. Even if you have to do it through gritted teeth at first, thank them. Because those critiques are not just criticisms. They’re necessary and valuable. Just like with vegetables, you’ve gotta buck up and embrace them, because they are really, truly good for you. I promise.
Now I’m off to eat some spinach.