Critique is Only Bad When You Let it Stop You
Writers, from what I understand, are a thought of as a contentious bunch when it comes to the issue of criticism in general and editing in specific. It’s easy to get defensive, especially if it’s something you’ve poured your heart and soul into. Writing is personal work, after all.
What I have realized is that all critique, or, at least, all well-considered critique, is valuable. It’s an opportunity to put your head up and realize, “Other people don’t see this the same way I do.” That’s important, especially if you’re trying to sell your work to other people.
The honest writer also realizes and admits that their work isn’t perfect, especially in the early stages. The act of critique and editorial feedback is an opportunity to move from something that’s okay or even good to something that’s really good. It’s also an opportunity to stop fighting something that’s bad or finally admit, “I’ve put a lot of work into this and it’s just not working so maybe I should do something different.”
None of these things are bad. They just require honest self-evaluation. If you’re actually a good writer actually committed to getting better you’ll get through it just fine. Especially since there’s a second lesson to be learned from honest and well-considered critique, and that’s that everyone is looking for something different.
Let me tell you a little story. I finished the first draft of the re-write of my novel and sent copies out to a few people who were interested in reading it and letting me know what they thought. One person told me, among many, many other things, that they wanted to see more about Location A and Relationship A. Another person told me that they wanted to see me spend more time at Location B and if length was a concern I could cut from Location A and Relationship A, as they kinda dragged on too long.
This is where accepting critique is fraught with problems. This is also where it’s easy for a writer to get defensive. It doesn’t have to be problematic, however. Because what the first person was saying was, “I like this and I want to see more.” That’s good. The second person was saying something somewhat more complicated, as it was, “This is a crucial part of the plot and you just kind of…skipped over it.” The second person also saw that other bit as less essential.
These things are both really good bits of feedback. They might seem contradictory at first, but they’re really not. They’re insights. By accepting those insights and listening to them I can see my work through different eyes.
I might not be able to make enough changes to completely satisfy both critiques but by listening to them and asking questions I now have the ability to make my book better than I ever could on my own. That, ultimately, is my goal. I want to write the best book possible and the only way I can do that is by asking other people to tell me where it falls short.