Saturday, October 16, 2010

Rise From The Ashes!

Photograph by Gabor Dvornik

Okay, so here's the often hear as a writer that you need to develop a 'Thick Skin'. This makes sense because in order to survive the constant 'suggestions,' criticism, and rejection that comes with this business, you need to be able to shrug off the words that hurt.

On the other hand, criticism that is constructive is something you do not want to shrug off, you want to embrace it. 

Over the years, I've participated in several critique groups and writer's circles and one thing I've learned is that everyone's knee-jerk response to criticism is to defend your work...MISTAKE.

In going on the defensive and explaining why we made our particular choices, we might miss out on some great insight into our own work.  

This can be hard though, especially if you've struggled with a particular piece and then it gets shredded by the 'poetry guy' over coffee and cookies.

Here are some tips from the book, The Art of War for Writers by James Scott Bell on using critique to your advantage...

When You Get Criticized:

  • Take a deep breath and DO NOTHING for about a day.  If it means screaming in the closet or binging on gummy worms then so be it...just let it sink in for 24 hours.

  • The next day you have distance...NOW consider the criticism with a cool head. Was there anything in it that totally hit home for you right away? If you find that you agreed with a comment immediately, then there may be something there.

  • On the other hand...was any of it aimed at you personally...if so, then disregard the critique AND the critic.

  • Get specific. Was the criticism aimed at your character development or your dialogue? Find out exactly what needs work. If possible, ask the critiquer directly.  Don't settle for vague answers. Was it your pacing, are your characters cliche'd or predictable or unlikeable?  The more specific the feedback, the more helpful it will be to you.

  • Finally, go about figuring out how to fix it.  If your weakness is plot, then work on it.  Writing prompts, books on technique, a class and reading your favorite author for tips on how their writing works are all easy and effective ways to improve.

  • Rise from the ashes like phoenix and write on!

I hope that all of this was helpful to you. As a member of a few critique groups, it helps to know that unless they're a jerk...most people genuinely want to help you.  Think of the critique as the gift that it is...someone took time away from their own work to help you get better. 

Until next time...Go Write!