Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Taking Criticism

(There's something wrong with this post, so if your comments got deleted I am so sorry!)

Criticism can be a really great thing for our writing. I love getting my manuscript back from my writing group (or my family members when they aren't being too nice) covered in red marks. It reminds me that they care.

I'd feel bad if my story was so awful they didn't bother pointing out that I used "your" when I should have used "you're," or that Chapter 25 felt rushed, or that the third paragraph in Chapter 14 was confusing. Criticism is almost always a good thing.

Except when it isn't that good.

I once got a comment from someone in cyberspace that he/she thought my idea was stupid and that my book was sure to be a "dud". OUCH!!! But, even though that criticism was NOT constructive, it did help me to see some of the weaknesses of my plot and work to compensate for them. It also served as a reminder not to take criticism personally, and never to say such a thing about anyone else's work.

I think I've gotten better and better at taking criticism and incorporating the good and throwing out the stuff I don't totally agree with. With every beta read my manuscript gets better, and I am convinced I never would have made it this far with my writing if I trusted entirely on my own skills.

Do you take criticism well? How have good critiques helped your writing?

29 comments:

Tamika: said...

I'm with you Natalie, good criticism makes your work shine. My eyes can only take me so far!

It's terrible when harsh and unconstructive feedback floats our way, good thing it only serves to make us work harder and never quit.

Happy writing!

Caroline Starr Rose said...

Good criticism is so important. I like to compare a good critique to a friend telling you you've got spinach in your teeth. They care enough to send you into the world looking your best.

You've got my ideas flowing, by the way. Thank you so much for your careful read. I'll have a new MAY ending for you to read soon. :)

MattDel said...

Yeah, criticism is one of those harsh mistresses. I know people can take my hard-line style the wrong way, so I tend to ask how deep they want me to go with it.

It's just one of those courtesy things.

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

I love that I not only learn from what my crit buddies point out needs adjustment in my work but I learn from what I tell them about theirs. It has made me a more critical thinker who must see what the problem is and offer suggestions on how it could be fixed. This is funny, but I just thought how it's like women asking someone else what they think of a new outfit (Does this make my butt look big?). We need another set of eyes.

MattDel said...

Tricia --

I work part-time at my local Sears (in the Lands End department) in addition to my full-time job at a PR distribution company.

You would not believe how many times I get asked my opinion of outfits. My female coworkers get asked at least twice that often. It's astounding that a female shopper would take a stranger's opinion on what they're trying on.

I don't get it, but I'm also a guy and the only woman's fashion opinion I really care about is that of the one I married.

Linda Kage said...

I usually take critiques too hard and way too personal. But at least I'm not the type that lashes back--I'm the curl-in-a-defensive-ball-and-cry type! But I've learned that if I just put useful comments to the side for a while and think about them, I can go back and actually fix my manuscript. So, I keep going back for more help.

I've also learned that taking EVERYONE'S advice doesn't always help either... it just helps the story for that one person. Since stories are so subjecting, fixing a manuscript to appease one person, doesn't necessarily appease everyone else, like, say the editor!!

So, critiques are tricky, but more helpful than not. I definitely recommend getting them.

Susan R. Mills said...

Criticism hurts at first, but it is the best thing we can hear. If all we hear is good, we never improve. I think it's important for the criticism to be presented in a positive manner, though.

Thomas Taylor said...

Criticism is like a cold shower. Horrible at first, but you always feel better for it in the end. Cof!

staceyjwarner said...

I've gotten better over the years at taking criticism. Writing classes have taught me to take the good with the bad and that not everyone is going to like what I write, it is that simple. I've learned not to hand my pages over to someone who doesn't read my genre.

Much love

Jennifer Shirk said...

Oh, my gosh! I can't believe cyber dude would say something like that! That's just mean.

I want criticism but in a constructive way. Not just "this stinks" but what works for them and why. Sometimes it's disappointing to hear but reality checks are good for the soul--and the story. LOL!

B.J. Anderson said...

Ugh. Some people are just jerks. Sorry about that! I had a similar experience during a workshop with an editor where one of the other writers bashed my first 20 pages in front of everyone. Well, the editor asked for my manuscript and not his, so there you have it.

I do take criticism very well when it's constructive, and I really like to get good feedback. I like feedback that makes me say, oh yeah! How'd I miss that?! That's the best kind.

Eileen Astels Watson said...

I love constructive criticism--it's so helpful, but nasty, just plain old negative talk drives me nuts. If you hate something, please tell me why so I can work on fixing it.

L. T. Host said...

I love criticism. It's my life blood. I don't think I could ever have too much--- of the good kind. The bad kind, well, I'm not a rock. I do have feelings. There have been one or two people in my crit group that just approach things the wrong way and are a bit too harsh on EVERYONE's work. Which is ironic, because a lot of the time I and a lot of the other people disagree with them. But at any rate, after a while you learn who's criticism you can genuinely trust, and who's you can't. (Fellow Grammar Freaks: Did I use "who's" correctly? Or should it be "whose"? I'm having one of those moments where I've thought about it too much and now they both look wrong. Thanks.)

At any rate, yeah, it's all about the layers: Something good, something bad, something good, etc. etc.

Patti said...

I've gotten to the point where I crave criticism, because it helps me make my book better, but as I said on my blog, it was suggested I change something and now I don't think I will.

Jody Hedlund said...

I have always felt as you did. But then yesterday I got my first set of rewrites from my editor. Talk about pain. Wow. I'll blog about it at some point in the future when I'm not still busy licking my wounds. I'm sure in the long run it will make me better, but right now it's hard.

Wendy @ All in a Day's Thought said...

Sifting is a learned skill. I'm such a softie, but I'm learning to toughen up for the sake of my writing and for the sake of my husband. :D
BTW: I love your font.
~ Wendy

Jill Kemerer said...

Who would be that mean to call someone's idea a dud?? That's awful.

It was very hard to take criticism when I first got critiqued, but now I welcome it. 99% of the time it improves my book. What's not to love?

Heather Sunseri said...

I think if we truly believe in our story, we'll do what it takes to make it stronger - accept the criticism and use it. If we don't agree with the criticsm, that's our perogative, right?

Lisa and Laura said...

There is nothing better than a tough critique. I literally dream about getting editorial notes from an actual editor. Can you imagine? Oh, maybe someday....

Roni @ FictionGroupie said...

Constructive criticism is a gift. I've learned that when I get a tough crit, I need to read through it, give in a few hours to stew, then read through it again. Because I still get that knee jerk reaction sometimes of "nun-uh, you're SO wrong." lol The second read through, I'm usually like, yep, they're totally right.

Terri Tiffany said...

Like you, I love a good critique if given kindly but strongly:) I learn from each of them and that's what it's all about after all.

Kristi Faith said...

Yup, I love a good bleeding paper. It lets me know someone cares enough to really look at all the elements of my writing.

I like the idea of point out a positive with every negative. (Good description, great word, etc..)

Anissa said...

I firmly believe critiquing (both giving and receiving) has been the best thing for my writing. But it can certainly be hard!

Found my way over from Susan Mill's blog.

Karen Amanda Hooper said...

I once had this gal (cough cough) read half my book then she told me she disliked my hero so much she would've closed the book and never opened it again.

I took that comment to heart and made some changes that improved my story IMMENSELY.

Honesty is the best gift our betas and critiquers can give us. ;)

Diane said...

Almost always criticism stings a little. It's like someone saying your kid is not cute. What? That's my baby you're talking about. Everyone has differnt tastes so if it's not constructive then I have to access where it is coming from. :O)

Tabitha Bird said...

Hmmm.. looks like my comment got deleted. I'll try again.

Constructive crit is a good thing.... but I can't believe that guy said that to you. Want me to go over an box him? :)

Vonna said...

Criticism from my writing buddies can sometimes make me want to come out swinging, but criticism from my family makes me want to hide.

Fight or flight.

Fortunately, the fighting impulse comes out in aggressive revisions. Meanwhile, my son and husband have learned that it's best to just tell me I'm wonderful.

Marie Devers said...

I don't take criticism well... at first.

I know that about myself and I know that despite the fact that critism points out the fact that I am not perfect, it is valuable. For that reason, I grin and bear it. I say "thank you" as I think "screw you" and then I go watch reruns of ANTM and remind myself that the critquer has no clue and stuff my face with chips.

During this process, I don't know what happens, but I guess the criticism starts to make sense--or maybe I adjust to not being perfect. I wake up the next day, roll up my sleeves, and get to fixing stuff.

So I guess I'm the temper tantrum thrower, not my stories. And my critiquers (luckily) just put me in my jammies and send me to my bed, knowing I'll feel better tomorrow.

Abby said...

I've become a bit of a criticism junkie. It's always hard at first, but more often than not, my work benefits from it. I always love when I rewrite a scene and know it's so much better than a previous version.

It's hard to believe people can be so rude. Good for you for using it to improve and grow. :D