Writing a first draft is akin to flying. On a wing and a prayer, I launch out above the crowd. Just like Dumbo, I don’t need anyone else or even a magic feather to soar.
And then it’s time to land, which in literary terms means self-editing. If I am wise, I call upon others to help me see the flaws in my manuscript. If I am humble, I thank those who expend their time and energy to save me from myself in this way.
All critiques are not equal, and it’s important to know the difference between them. Critiques fall into three categories: soft-hearted, honest, and hard-hearted.
- Soft-hearted writing critiques happen when others sugar coat the truth because they are worried about hurting your feelings. The trouble with this approach is that if you don’t know what’s wrong, you can’t fix it. To avoid soft-hearted critiques, ask writers whose opinions and motives you trust for straightforward appraisals.
- Honest writing critiques point out weaknesses like plot holes, dialogue discrepancies, and believability issues for the soul purpose of helping you improve your manuscript. They offer new perspectives you might not have considered and also point out what is working in the manuscript.
- Hard-hearted writing critiques are when others clip your wings, make you question your abilities, and banish you to the editing pit, where there is much wailing and gnashing of teeth. Why, oh why, did you ever think you could fly?
Be careful who you allow to advise you on your manuscript. Other writers can be terrible critics, sometimes in the name of misguided helpfulness, and sometimes out of professional jealousy. Remember that at this stage you are like a newly emerged butterfly. To dry your damp wings, you need the warmth of the sun not an icy blast.
It’s important to know the difference between a writing critique and criticism. The first wounds to heal, and the second wounds to kill. Welcoming a critique helps you grow as an author, but allowing criticism to take root can cause you to discard a manuscript with potential and can even make you want to quit writing altogether.
Screen your critique partners. Make sure they have the requisite experience or at least good instincts. There’s a popular notion that writers should be paired with other writers with more experience. This idea presents obvious logistical difficulties and problems of another sort. Experienced writers often need more advanced feedback than an inexperienced author can give in return. Since writers are often time-pressed, its probably clear why more-experienced writers might be reluctant critique partners for those with less experience. Finding writers with a similar experience level to your own works best most of the time.
But if your critique partners are on your own level, how will you grow?
You study the craft of writing. Putting responsibility for your growth as a writer on others does two things, both of them negative. It removes control of this vital aspect of the writing life from you, and it puts that responsibility on shoulders never meant to bear it.
Having said that, I have to add that you can still grow through contact with critique partners on your own level because none of us has everything about writing nailed. Maybe you will have compelling descriptions down pat while someone else masters the intricacies of plotting. You will simply complete one another’s knowledge.
I hope this post helps you evaluate your own critique processes and make adjustments where needed. If you’d care to leave additional thoughts in the comments, below, you are welcome to do so with my thanks.