Everyone’s a critic…especially the people who know the person that created what they’re critiquing. A natural response, I suppose, but how should a writer, especially a new writer, approach criticism?

The short answer, in my opinion, is: thick skin. The more detailed answer, again, only in my opinion, is: finding the right balance but always listening to your gut. Right off the bat I would disregard blanket praise and blanket negativism–neither are likely to be helpful. If you are in the fortunate position of having many strangers willing to critique your work, say, via a writer’s forum or a similar website, then I would suggest looking for patterns. If more than one commentator singles out a particular area of your work or style that you employ for improvement, it is most likely something you want to consider. If, however, you receive a terrible one-off grilling, it’s probably safe to ignore it.

If you don’t have the luxury of strangers willing to read your work, then I would be careful about approaching your friends for advice. It can be very useful to get readers’ reactions, but those can only take you so far. If the friend you ask to read your work is another writer, they are far more likely to specifically point out areas that need work. If your friend is only a reader though, you will probably only get very vague feedback. This could be useful as well, especially if a few friends give vague feedback that singles out certain areas of your writing as good or bad, but if you are relying on a single friend to help you with all aspects of your work, that will presumably only come from a fellow writer. If no one is around that fits that bill, you could always consult one of the very many books on writing. Opinions of course vary widely on the efficacy of such books, however, so take each with a grain of salt.

The bottom line, for me, is that while you should seek out opinions on your writing while it is still in progress, always consider each carefully against your own. In the end, your book is solely yours, and should reflect that.

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  1. Davey
    Posted June 18, 2010 at 8:53 pm | Permalink

    Years and years ago, I took a couple of creative writing classes at my university. There were two different teachers who taught two different courses in two entirely different ways, but each of them was a gifted writer and teacher. In one class, the writer had to sit there quietly and listen to other students give their critiques. After all the students had had their say, the teacher weighed in like the final authority.

    In the other class, the writer, the teacher and the other students all mixed it up through the whole session. Personality battles sometimes erupted, and things would get heated. Personally, I found it much more enlightening–though excruciating at times–to have to sit there as an observer rather than a participant.

    Either way, though, hearing honest, well-intentioned criticism from serious folks is only good.

  2. Andrew
    Posted June 24, 2010 at 7:25 pm | Permalink

    Interesting, I can see how both approaches would appeal to people differently.

    I agree with your main point, provided that it is in fact honest, well-intentioned, and well thought-out criticism. But I think the bigger question is, will you change your writing based on that feedback? And if so, how?

  3. Paul
    Posted July 9, 2010 at 8:32 pm | Permalink

    Listening to feedback is very important. After all, if you don’t listen, then why offer your work up for discussion in the first place? However, in human interactions, politics and group dynamics can come into play. Some writer’s groups can get cliquey and established members can gang up on new members. I’ve never been a member of a writer’s group but looked into it and read a few complaints about that sort of thing. Was it the writer being over sensitive? Maybe. Equally, I can imagine the complaint without too much effort. Find a good group of people who are honest and objective and who have no agenda seems to be the way to go. Bad criticism can crush a project that shows promise.

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