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CRITIQUE ETIQUETTE

CRITIQUE ETIQUETTE

It is so hard to receive feedback. You’ve created this thing from scratch within the bubble of your infinite mind, and it is perfect. You’ve spent every free waking moment, and some sleepless nights, delicately adding layer upon layer intrigue and conflict. You’ve crafted, coddled, and cultivated it with the finesse of a master, and you are ready to show it to the wide wild world outside of your computer. And when you do…

It is met with critique.

It is a harrowing process to send your baby into the judgmental world, to hear someone tell you that you didn’t delve deep enough into your world building. Someone else might say they see a plot hole between act two and act three, or the dreaded, your character is one dimensional.

Oh, and let’s not forget the query or synopsis! Those elements of your submissions package designed specifically for the publishing world. Where they might tell you that you didn’t share enough of your world, or there’s too much of the world and not enough of what makes the main character stand out. It is such a hard process.

It is a necessary process, though, and you must learn to handle it. It’s essential that you learn to take a step back after you read a critique and give yourself time and space to digest the information. So many writers, with so much promise, bow out after their first rejection.

Some say only one percent of authors complete the journey to a published book. I recently learned that the one percent who get published aren’t weeded out by the publishing companies. It’s not the rejection of the big five. No, the authors withdrew their names from the race at one of the steps to publishing a book.

For some, it was simply writing the book. They never started. For others, it was finishing the book. Of course, facing rejection is on that list of steps, and it is a big one that many authors withdraw their name. However, hiding your creative genius isn’t the best response to a critique that feels negative.

Let’s talk about the steps necessary for proper critique etiquette in the writing world.

STEP ONE:

I know some of you are going to read this and disagree. That’s one of the steps to understanding critique. People make a split-second judgment about what they read, see, the people around them, products, companies… We are trained to judge. Yet, we aren’t trained to have a healthy technique with which to handle the judgment.

So, the first step is to understand that you will be judged and that people will disagree with you. That it is okay. Give yourself and your writing permission to be imperfect. Remind yourself that writing is a journey, not a destination. It’s not the end of your creative endeavors to have an unfavorable critique. You do not have to please everyone or agree with everyone who critiques your work. And you certainly don’t want to send out pages into the publishing world that are subpar because you ignored the imperfections. With this understanding, you must be intentionally polite about your response to the critique. You must do this if you intend on treating your writing like a business.

TAKE AWAY: Know you will be judged, and you must be intentionally polite in response.

STEP TWO:

When you disagree with any portion of a critique, there are several options you have, none of which should include justifying your choices or arguing with the person who has spent their time assisting you. Most critiques come from people you know, authors you are networking with or professionals in the publishing and editing world. None of these people are disposable to your brand or business and most discuss red flags and rising stars. It is, for most, a red flag when you cannot handle constructive criticism.

First, always thank the person for their critique, no matter which option you choose. Then, take some time and space before coming back to mull over the suggestions as just that, suggestions. Consider their truth in your own opinion. Then make change or don’t depending on what you decide as the professional. You need not tell the person critiquing your work, you disagree. Simply, thank them and move on.

You could question the person giving you a critique. I do not mean to hide your argument in poorly formed questions. I also do not mean that you attack with a million questions. This is someone’s time and energy taken away from their own writing to give you their thoughts on your work, and they are readers. Readers come in all shapes and sizes, and you want all of them to pick up your book and love it. Take the time to digest what is said to you, and then seek solutions with the help of the person giving the critique, or others that you trust.

Another good choice is to accept the feedback as what it is, one person’s opinions and experience. Not everyone clicks with the story or writing style. Not every critique style works for every author, and it’s okay to leave those ones be. Again, thank the person, and evaluate their feedback knowing that they did their best, just like you did.

TAKEAWAY: Do not argue, be intentionally grateful to the person giving you a critique, and then evaluate the truth of the feedback as a professional author implementing change as you see fit. Similar etiquette will be expected of you from an editor, and it’s good best-practices to learn how to process it now.

STEP THREE:

Critique others. Not because you are better than someone. Not because they are better than you. Not because you have a special degree in creative writing or are an English teacher like me. It is essential that you critique others because we all need to see our work through someone else’s eyes, and when we turn our mind to the analytical side of writing, we see our own work with fresher eyes.  We begin to perceive the written word with a critical and diagnostic mindset.

In reading the work of others, we also learn what we like and don’t like as a reader. This alone can make us more aware of what works and doesn’t work in our own writing. For example, critique an entire manuscript with too many had(s) and that(s), and you’ll see it in your own writing. When you were about to use one of those words and you hesitate, you’ll find you really have to think about its necessity. 

TAKEAWAY: Critique others to begin to train your mind to perceive weaknesses in your own manuscript and to become a part of the writing community.

These are just three basic essential steps to having proper etiquette when being critiqued. However, being polite, grateful, and giving back are three essential elements to every community. The network of authors you build around yourself can help you make it big. They are going to be the people you lean into, seek advice from, and hope with, so don’t burn those bridges before they are built. Be careful not to say anything you wouldn’t say to your boss, or the president, or the prince of Egypt.

One of my special talents is in sales and marketing. I assure you that it only takes a hint, a slight whiff of a problem, for your buyer to shy away from your product. Train yourself to be on the up and up. Develop kindness as a habit. Give as much as you take. It will pay dividends in the end.

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2 Comments

  1. Angela Angela

    So much wisdom here on a really important subject! Giving and receiving writing critiques has been the most important step I’ve taken in my writing journey. Although the critiques I received were often painful, especially at first, I’m a better writer because of it. This is a great primer for how to deal! Thanks, Jennifer!

    • jlburrows jlburrows

      Thank you for your comment, Angela! I certainly hope it helps, and I agree some critiques can be painful, but I’m always glad I’ve taken the time to really weigh feedback. I want my best work out there, and I believe that can’t happen in isolation. Jennifer

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