In my work with students in the Fear of Writing Online Course, I’ve had boatloads of writers come to me for healing from bad critique experiences.
Some of these situations cannot be avoided (for example, a few college professors out there can be particularly destructive—but if you want a passing grade you just have to swallow it). However, writers will sometimes inflict critique scenarios on themselves when they’re not ready.
For instance, a new writer will choose a critique group that’s prone to be savage when what he or she really needs is just to hear some enthusiasm for the parts they’re getting right.
Or they’ll ask a family member to read their stuff. And then the mom, uncle, sister, cousin launches into “If it was me, this is how *I* would have done it.” Even though the family member doesn’t have a stitch of editing/rewriting experience.
Because of the amount of suffering I’ve witnessed, I believe we writers should become more aware of our own reasons for seeking out someone to read our manuscripts. Don’t let anyone try to pressure you to get your work critiqued before you’re ready.
Below are two points of view (from different emotional stances) that can put you more in touch with your own true needs, depending on where you’re at in your own writing process.
1. Opens in a new screen:
Writers, Do You Really Want a Critical Assessment? by guest blogger Raff Ellis
2. An Audience of Your Own
by Milli Thornton
Excerpted from Fear of Writing: for writers & closet writers
EVERY WRITER DESIRES his or her own audience. You may be shy about exposing your vulnerability to the world, but it’s a perfectly natural impulse to yearn for readers to help celebrate your creations.
If you do feel ready to show your work to others, be kind to yourself and careful when choosing your readers. If you give your work to another writer (murmuring modestly, “Will you look at this for me if you have time?”) there’s every chance you will receive a critique in return.
H.G. Wells nailed it when he said: “No passion in the world is equal to the passion to alter someone else’s draft.”
If the critique you receive is crude—too sweeping, nitpicky, or negatively worded—it may be just the blow to your emerging self-esteem that can send you into regression.
If you feel you’re not yet ready for critique, one way to avoid this situation is to be specific. First, contemplate what you hope to gain from sharing your work. If you merely want to share it with a reader, make that clear to the recipient of your manuscript. Go so far as to spell out that you do not wish to receive a critique on your work at this time.
It’s quite another thing to purposely seek expert help for proofreading, grammar, manuscript formatting, or whatever you feel you need assistance with. There are people who can do it professionally while using sensitivity and objective encouragement. If you invite this kind of help, it can be a healthy and rewarding step on your writing path.
Remember: These are your creations. You have the power to choose who helps you—and whether you want help yet. You have the power to choose someone who will make it a positive experience for you.
Contrary to what college professors would have you believe, there’s no such thing as a “higher authority” when it comes to your writing. Why? Because the essence of writing is self-expression. The professional side of writing, which can be farmed out to experts—checking for repetition of a pet word, correcting punctuation quirks, etc.—is not the same thing as the primal act of self-expression.
There is only one you. And there’s no proxy for your own unique voice.
On the brighter side of venturing into the world with your creations: A shot of positive reinforcement will do wonders for your desire to keep writing. If you have a friend who’s into writing, read your stories to one other. Agree to forego critique. If you hunger to give each other feedback, stick to your feeling responses.
“I felt tears come to my eyes.”
“That image you used reminds me of the time from my childhood when . . . ”
“The funniest part of your story was when . . . ”
“You’ve captured exactly how I feel!”
You’ll be pleasantly surprised how much closure you can find this way. Paradoxically, the simple act of hearing your partner’s story will imbue you with acceptance for your own attempts. This may not be apparent the first time you write together. Give it a little time to kick in.
Some writers prefer more sizable groups where they can read their work to a receptive audience. Should you decide to join a writers’ group, go on your gut instincts. If you feel safe and supported, you’re in the right place. If, instead of feeling supported you feel demoralized by cruel or uninvited critiquing, do yourself a kindness and find another group.
Most states in the USA have a professional support group for writers. For example, in New Mexico it’s SouthWest Writers (www.southwestwriters.org). SWW is a nonprofit educational organization, and among its functions is the critique group; one for all categories of writing. It also offers a professional critique service (for members) at a fair rate. Don’t settle for a clumsy—even inaccurate—critique from fellow writers when you can get one from the pros. Do an Internet search for a group equivalent to SWW in your own area.
Other writers may harbor that famous compulsion to remodel your work and may even convince you it’s “character building” to submit yourself to it. But there are gentler ways to hone your expressions. Writing as often as you can make time for it is the most organic way to grow as a writer.
If you know you’re not yet ready to face the world of critiques and all you want is someone near and dear to share your sense of achievement, read your story out loud to the family pet. You are guaranteed to receive unselfish love and non-critical acceptance from this particular audience! And the act of reading your work aloud will be another liberation for you.
Excerpt Copyright © Milli Thornton
Milli Thornton is the author of Fear of Writing: for writers & closet writers. She is owner of the Fear of Writing Online Course, where her mission is to put the fun back into writing. Milli also blogs at Screenwriting in the Boonies and Milliver’s Travels and coaches writers at Writer’s Muse.