One of the greatest benefits of membership in Inspire Christian Writers is our local critique groups. In these groups our writers present the fruit of their labor to several other writers for the honest truth, the constructive feedback necessary to make the piece the best it can be.
Often we receive positive comments from our fellow writers. We hear, “Wow, great job with the dialogue.” or “I like the way you transitioned your scenes.” or “Now get to work on the next chapter, I can’t wait to read it!”
It’s great when our work is praised and we feel encouraged to keep writing. But what do we do when our writing receives a harsh critique? When the writers in our group just didn’t enjoy the piece and their feedback brings pain and discouragement?
When I first participated in critique groups, my skin was very thin. I took every criticism to heart and on more than one occasion, cried all the way home from our critique session. With each word spoken against my manuscript, my heart heard, “What made you think you could write?” “This is crummy writing.” “You should just give up before you really embarrass yourself.”
Maybe you’ve been there too. That lonely place where you are your writing and your writing is you. Where you can’t separate yourself from your project so you can look at it objectively.
What I’ve learned after years of giving and receiving feedback is this: The wounds of a friend can be trusted. (Proverbs 27:6) Those painful critiques may help me become a better writer if I know what to do with them.
Now when I receive negative feedback on my manuscript, I ask myself these questions:
1. Is it true?
Is there any truth in what was said about my piece? Does my dialogue need work? Is my point of view too distant? Do my words lay on the page so lifeless even CPR won’t bring them back? If there is no truth in the feedback, I simply disregard it.
Almost always, there is truth in the criticism I receive. So, I ask the next question.
2. What can I do to fix it?
How can I fix the problems pointed out to me by my critique partners? Are there stronger verbs I could choose? Do I need to re-write a scene in a more intimate viewpoint? Should I scrap this paragraph all together? Can I improve the dialogue by creating more oblique responses?
After I determine what must be fixed and what I can leave untouched, I ask myself one more question:
3. What does God want me to learn from this?
Often when I’m really struggling with a tough critique (or worse–a rejection) there is something I need to learn that will help me become a better writer. As I open myself to learning and growing I become more objective. I am able to view my writing through the lens of truth, seeing both its merits and its faults.
Once I can see my writing weaknesses I can begin to improve them. That is the beauty of critique groups, we learn to see our areas of weakness so we can improve our craft.
Next time you receive a tough critique, I hope you’ll pause and ask these three questions.
Meanwhile, what do you do when your work receives painful feedback?
Elizabeth M. Thompson leads Inspire Christian Writers. When she’s not writing devotionals, she’s studying the art and craft of fiction with her Inspire Elk Grove group. She enjoys connecting with other writers via Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.
She has an active home which she shares with her fabulous husband Mike, three children, two dogs and a few errant dust bunnies.