I just got my third round of criticism back on this particular WiP, from three different readers this time. Different readers give me different things to work on, and everyone has their own style of offering criticism, but one thing always remains the same:
Always. Forever and ever, this will continue to be true. Whenever we send our work out, no matter how practical and realistic we are, there is one tiny portion of our brain that thinks, "Maybe they'll love everything about it!" This thought is absurd, of course, for many reasons.
First - I WANT criticism to be tough. Not harsh or cruel, of course, but tough. I want someone to point out the flaws. I cannot eradicate those flaws until I know they exist.
Second - No one ever loves everything about anything. Even my very favorite book has flaws, my very favorite movie has at least one goof in it, my very favorite band has a single or two that I feel pretty "meh" about, and my very favorite people in the world even have ... opportunities for improvement.
Third - The people who claim to love absolutely everything about everything ever... are lying. I do not want someone lying to me about my work. How can I possibly know when something is actually good? How will I know when I'm ready, if the only criticism I receive is false?
That's the bottom line, and that's why I want people to criticize my work. There are some rules that go along with receiving criticism, though, and I thought I'd share with you my personal rules for being on the receiving end of a critique:
- Always start with a genuine "thank you." Before I respond to anything else, I thank the person for helping me. They spent their time and energy reading my unfinished, unpolished aspiring-book-to-be, and they didn't have to do any of it. That reader deserves my gratitude, even if nothing else on this list applies.
- Never go on the defensive. This is a rule I co-opted from the Writing Excuses team, but it's a really good one. If I read or listen to a critique and spend the whole time saying, "Yeah, but..." then I'm not really listening. It's true that the criticism might be wrong. But it might not be. And in case it's not, I need to keep an open mind and be ready to hear what people are telling me.
- Always let it stew. I don't jump into revisions the day I get notes back. I read the edit letter, let it stew for a day or two. Then I read the inline notes, let them stew for a few more days. Then, and only then, do I start making changes. Once I've had a chance to think, to get rid of the "Well that's obviously wrong because no one understands my art!" feelings, and to brainstorm some possible fixes... that's when I'm ready to revise and incorporate those notes.
- Never dismiss an idea straight off. Some suggestions will be obviously the exact right fixes for the story. Others will be good fodder for brainstorms, but ultimately off-the-mark. And still others will be wildly inappropriate for the story, for me as a writer, or for the world in general. But I will never know which is which until I've really thought them through, and sometimes I won't know until I try to work the changes in.
- Sometimes go back and discuss more changes. There are times that a CP makes suggestions that aren't quite right, but they do highlight problem areas in my manuscript. In those cases, brainstorming sessions can be extremely useful, and it's incredibly helpful to be humble enough to go back to the CP and say, "Hey, you suggested this thing, and it's not going to work for this reason, but can you help me find a different way to fix it?"
A couple more quick parting tips about receiving critiques:
- Never insult your reader.
- Don't jump to incorporate every change.
- Use multiple layers of critique (send out one wave, revise, send to different readers, revise again, etc)
- Don't delete CP/Beta notes. You never know when you'll want those notes, even if you don't incorporate those changes right away.
What other tips do you have for receiving criticism on your work?