Listening to Critiques of Your Writing

Listening to Critiques of Your Writing

Your workshop group is ready to help you improve your writing, but are you ready to let them? Learning to accept criticism is hard for a writer to do.

If you’re lucky enough to have a supportive writing workshop group to critique your manuscripts, be sure you’re getting the most of of the workshop experience. Here’s how:

1. Know when to take a story to the group

There’s no point in taking a very early draft to a workshop group. You need to struggle and push it as far as you can on your own. It can be tempting to hope that your writing peers will help you clean up your writing mess, or come up with a solution for you. The risk is that then it becomes their story. Make sure you’ve completed the story as much as you can, and that you’ve double-checked your story for spelling and grammatical errors before you send it. You want to make their critiquing job as easy for them as possible.

2. Be open to feedback

It is never easy to hear criticism on your writing. Remember that any critique from your workshop is given with the intention of making you a better writer.

Most importantly, don’t take it personally. Just listen with an open mind. Don’t interrupt while your group members are speaking, and fight the urge to defend yourself against criticism. Take detailed notes and ask for clarification if something is said that you don’t understand. If, at the end of the session, you don’t agree with the critique, that’s fine. At least you’ve heard it and given it some thoguht. And there’s no need to tell them you disagree – in the end it’s still your story.

3. Take some time to process

Often, our immediate response to criticism is a rejection of it. Give yourself time to respond emotionally to what’s been said and to vent privately about the terrible insults you feel your peers inflicted upon your masterpiece. After you’ve burned off your anger and frustration, sit down with your writing and find out if they were right after all.

4. Remember, you are the final judge

The benefit of having a large workshop group is that you will get contradictory opinions about what is working and what isn’t in your story. If five out of seven people dislike your stunning metaphors, that’s a clear sign that something needs to change. But if half of the readers like them and half don’t, then you get to decide what you’ll do.

Try to be objective in your own critique and remember the famous line, “kill your darlings.” Sometimes that perfect scene or line of dialogue just doesn’t fit in this piece: put them aside to use in another story and be ruthless in your editing of this one. Taking a good hard look at your own writing is one of the most difficult skills you can learn as a writer, but it is essential to the development of your craft.

5. Say thank you

Finding people to read your work is difficult. And finding people who will read your work with a critical eye and take the time to give you honest and helpful feedback is even harder. If you’ve found these people, appreciate them! At the next critiquing session, you will be looking at their writing. Give the other writers the same attention, energy and respect they gave your work, and everyone will benefit.

Remember: it is the piece of writing that is being critiqued, not you. If you can listen to your workshop group, be open to feedback, and look honestly and critically at your own writing, you will begin improving your craft. And you’ll be ready to submit your stories somewhere for publication.

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