Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Open Yourself up to Criticism: The Key to Success


Today I have a post that applies to writing, but also to many other areas of your life, opening yourself up to criticism. As writers, many of us struggle with first exposing our work, and then dealing with the fallout feedback can cause.

I’m sure many of you, like me, have mixed feelings about criticism: it’s great when it’s constructive, but it can be awful when it’s uninformed, condescending, and destructive.

Below I will discuss why it is so difficult to open up to criticism, why criticism is essential to success, and why mean-spirited feedback is not a reflection of your work, but someone else’s bad attitude.

Sharing My Work is Embarrassing
Sometimes it really is. I’ve read some crazy writing, so I know just how off-the-wall some ideas are. However, if you hope to get the general population to read your work, you’re going to have to swallow your embarrassment. Trust me, I already know you folks are twisted—and so do most other writers—so bite the bullet and take the plunge. The benefits of good feedback far outweigh any initial embarrassment.

I Don’t Want Other People Casting Judgment on My Work
Pride and intelligence. This is what we misguidedly think lies at the heart of our work. Somehow in the process of writing a book, a little piece of our self-worth embeds itself in our words, and when others critique our work…well, we can take it personally. I’m here to tell you: don’t bother.

Yes, everyone who reads your work will be casting judgment on it. You do it all the time as well; it’s inherent to being visible. But most of the people who edit your work are interested in helping you further improve your work, and those that aren’t impressed likely have bigger problems than your own.

Why Criticism is Essential for Your Success
If any of you have taken a statistics course at some point in your life, you’ll know that statistics are derived from a sample population. While statistics are not always accurate, they are more informative than the alternative, guesswork.

Like statistics, criticism allows writers to see what works and what doesn’t through a sample population. Whether or not you agree with the edits doesn’t matter so long as you are exposed to them. The people that edit your work are a sample of the future readers who will be reading your work. 

Those that give you feedback catch holes in your story that could either prevent you from being published and/or lose readers that otherwise might’ve loved your book. I say this all the time on this blog, but I’ll say it again: every writer has his or her blind spots. Having other eyes look at your work will help catch these blind spots.

Negative Criticism is not the Result of Your Inadequacies; it’s Someone Else’s Lack of Discretion
Every so often I come across hurtful criticism. There is nothing that infuriates me so much as this. Comments such as, “Wow, you’ve got a long way to go,” “I don’t know what to say; this is a hot mess,” or “You’ll never get anywhere with this idea. Sorry, but it’s the truth,” are fundamentally, inherently wrong. And in response to that last example, that peer editor knows nothing about the truth.

Those active in the field of writing will undoubtedly come across criticism that is painful because of it’s content rather than its delivery. Anyone who sends out queries knows that awful feeling of rejection.

The truth is that there are many jaded or jealous individuals out there, who—for whatever reason—do not want to facilitate your success. Another truth is that they are the ones that view your book’s problems as insurmountable obstacles. Most successful writers owe their success at least partially to tenacity—no obstacle is too big to overcome. Painful feedback is a reality in this industry. However, mean-spirited feedback is not.

How Do I Find People To Critique My Work?
The obvious go-to groups are family and friends, but many times they are the last people a writer wants feedback from. Many cities have local writers groups, and two great places to look for writers groups are craigslist and Meetup.

There are also online alternatives. Personally, I’m a huge fan of Agent Query Connect. They have a forum titled “Wanted Ads,” and lots of writers look for critique partners there.

Lastly, you can always hire an editor. I’d only suggest hiring an editor once you’ve received numerous peer edits or plan on receiving peer edits at a later point. Why? Well, one, editors are pricey, and two, you’ll want multiple sets of eyes reviewing your work. Remember what I said about samples? It applies here as well. Writing is subjective; the more input you get, the more apparent your book’s strengths and weaknesses will be.

Happy writing,

Laura Carlson, Editor
American Editing Services
415.745.1764

1 comment:

  1. The funny thing about one and two is that, if you want to be published, that's exactly what's going to happen anyway! But I do know how hard it was to hand over my manuscript to my wife the first time, and when I was preparing to send it off to a stranger the first time, I spent a good month tweaking and adding and deleting, in part to avoid it. In the end, I knew it had to be done.

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