Thursday, January 20, 2011

The Writing Workshop: Coping With Criticism

I was going over the critiques from classmates in regards to two chapters I submitted for workshop. Since I have to do a revision for these chapters and I have to go through them thoroughly, I thought I'd write a blog about the process. Keep in mind, this is mostly in regards to critique in a workshop or beta-reader type setting.

When I first turn in something for critique, the feeling of nervousness and excitement fill my body. I'm always worried that they might think I'm an idiot or that my writing sucks. It's scary turning in work for a workshop, but it's necessary. For my class, everyone has to read and critique whatever you post and by the end of the week, turn in a 250-700 word critique and there are about 15 crits in the end.

This time around, I screwed up. I submitted two chapters, both near the middle of my book, and one of them was in the same setting as a previous chapter. Why does this cause a problem? Well, first of all, posting chapters in the middle of a book are difficult to critique because there is no way to know if the chapters before or after answer questions posed within the chapters presented or if they fit well with the rest of the story. The worse issue is that critiquers may get bogged down with details they can not imagine because they are not described in the current chapters. For example, I submitted chapter 7, which is a second half within the same setting as chapter 6. If my characters come back into a room in chapter 7 that I've already described in chapter 6, then it makes sense that I would not re-describe that room. However, for those who are coming in at chapter 7 and don't know what the room looks like, they may get tied down with comments like "this needs more detail" or "I can't visualize this". For the most part, my classmates were able to push past these. Who can blame them if they weren't able to? But, I suppose, the major reason I bring this up is because of frustration when reading critiques.

How does the writer handle critiques? In a perfect world, we'd embrace them with love and and an open mind, but this is not a perfect world. How many of you have read through a critique only to go "What the hell are they talking about! They are crazy!" or "That scene is perfect!"? If you have never raged about a critique, no matter how right or wrong the critique may be, then you're either delusional or a literary genius.

It is not uncommon for one to get angry about critiques, even good and helpful ones. There is nothing wrong with that, and don't let anyone tell you different. However, the problem starts when you can't push past the anger, get over it, and analyze what has been said in order to better your work. Seriously. They are there to help you. Don't let your bitterness keep you from listening to good advice. So, if you want to yell at your computer screen about how stupid the crit is, do it. Just remember that you know they are probably right and you'll have to fix it, and remember how thankful you will be when your work is better because of it.

Here's how I deal with critiques:

After I get critiques, I read it over (more so skim). I roll my eyes a lot and rage about anything they may have said that makes me wonder if they even read the same thing I wrote. (It's happened before. I got a crit telling me that I had to be careful with writing about vampires since the industry is saturated with them... only, I was writing about demons... animal like demons that didn't suck blood, sparkle, or even, in many cases, talk. I mentioned this many times. How could they have missed this?) However, usually I'm just annoyed about things I disagree with.

Once that's done, I give it a week or two without looking at my chapters or the critiques. I don't even think about them. I work on something else, go to the beach, have a latte. Whatever I want. Once it's time to come back to them, I read through them carefully and make a list of everything I agree with, and everything that I may not agree with but should probably take a second look at. For example, if I get three or four comments saying that I need to describe something clearer, I will put it in my 'agreed' list. But if I get only one or two people who didn't seem to catch a small detail, I may put it in my 'concede' list so I can go back during the revision stage and see if I agree or disagree.

It's funny because often times I will agree with what's been said. Not always, but it happens a lot, even if I was annoyed by it in the beginning. On occasion, I will change something out of anger at a comment and will end up liking it a lot more than before. There really is no way for me to explain how I choose what to fix or how to fix it. It's somewhat innate. You feel your way through it and see if people respond well to it. This is not to say that you should listen to every single comment and change it to conform to what the critiquer wants.

Also, there are times when I get conflicting critiques. In those cases, I will leave it with the majority and go with my instinct. Always go with your gut. If everything inside you is saying to keep something you have, then keep it. If you can, find a way to amend it so you can keep what works and clear up what might not work. It's hard coping with criticism, but keep in mind that they are meant to help you.

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