Accepting Critiques with Grace

Posted: December 19, 2012 by sryeager in Steve's Words

Over the past two years with the Stonehenge writing group, I’ve taken away many lessons, ones learned both directly and indirectly. The biggest lesson, to date, has been on how to accept critiques with grace. I’ve probably not always been the best role model for it, but on reflection, I’ve developed a few simple rules I now employ to make the process easier on everyone involved.

1) Bite your tongue.
2) Not everything is about you.
3) Know what feedback you are looking for beforehand.

The first rule, bite your tongue, is one that everyone who has gone through the critiquing process has violated, including myself. But, shutting your mouth, and opening your ears is how to learn. Resist the urge to explain everything unless someone asks a direct question.
Realize that most people giving feedback are probably uncomfortable and not sure how you will take the feedback, so they hold back because they don’t want to hurt your feelings, or are afraid they might say something stupid.
The time to ask questions is once someone has finished with all they have to say. If you feel a probing question is warranted, ask it then, but otherwise, keep quiet and nod.
When someone gives advice on how your story could be better, don’t get defensive, instead, politely say, “I’ll consider it,” and do so. Some ideas may be good and with a group of storytellers, everyone there is already rewriting your story in their head.

The second rule, not everything is about you, is to understand that the words you write are not something carved in stone by God. If you want to have others read your stories, you have to be open to change. Everything you write can be fixed by changing words on a page, so keep a level of detachment. All of us will write stinkers and on the rare occasion, something brilliant. The trick is to learn to tell the difference.
You can’t take everything personally, either. While you might think you bled on the page, and after a reading, others are saying, “Meh,” then the problem is you, not them. Change. Realize not everything you write will be liked by everyone and failure is a better teacher than success. If all you are looking for is an atta boy, then a writing group is useless for any sort of personal growth.

The third rule, know what feedback you are looking for beforehand, is to know beforehand what questions you want answered. Lay those out before any critique. Maybe you are looking for grammar structure, or wondering if a character is connecting, or the motivations make sense. Give people in the critique group something to focus on during a read-through and I can guarantee you will get far better feedback.

  1. […] while back, Steve Yeager provided some superb advice on how to accept the critiques of your peers (Accepting Critiques with Grace) but what I would like to present is this: where do you draw the line in accepting feedback and […]

  2. dwgood68 says:

    It’s tough to put your work, your baby, out there and not get a tweaked nose when you receive critique. That’s just human nature, however, it’s something we all must do if we expect to improve our skills as writers – as anything really!

    The key is to remember that it’s meant to help – not hurt.

    I recently submitted a portion of a manuscript at our Stonehenge Writers meet up night for critique. The line I loved the most, the one that I thought had a powerful first punch – my opening line – was the one that most everyone said “Poo Poo!” to.

    Yeah! It hurt! I couldn’t understand why it didn’t work for them. I thought it was brilliant. But then I had to remember:

    1) I’m still new to all this and these guys have been at it a while and even have been published.

    2) I have to keep my mind open when seeking critique. This is how you get a feel for how contemporary books are received.

    3) It’s my darned book and I can keep the line if I want to anyway. There is nothing saying that “everyone” is right. But then, it wasn’t everyone, it was the majority. So I had to at least consider their input. (I still haven’t decided if I’m keeping the line or not yet)

    The point is, you need to take criticism and roll with the punches if you want to improve. This is true in nearly every aspect of life. We all need help to get to a higher level, so be willing to listen and consider all the options. You’ll grow with ease if you do. You’ll stagnate if you don’t.

    Great post Steve!

  3. kkline922 says:

    Well said, sir. For me the second rule is key. Feedback is meant to improve the story, not an attack against your being.

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