How to Overcome Pitfalls in Critiques of Your Work

Never give up!

Sharing your work-in-progress, WIP, takes courage. Our work is so personal. We’ve invested our heart and soul into it. It can be stressful to allow someone else to read what’s so personal to us, let alone have them critique it. The fear is that a critique could so easily become a criticism, not only of our work, but we may perceive that a critique could even be something negative about us, personally. 

Since I began writing to publish in 1989, I’ve participated in quite a few different types of critique groups. In that time, most critiques have gone smoothly. But I’ve known writers who have taken great offense to certain critiques of their work. It’s happened to me, and perhaps it’s happened to you.

Certainly, writers must know not to take critiques personally. But in some cases that’s easier said than done. The two most, shall I say, challenging critiques happened to one of my writing friends. And to me. 

My Friend’s Critiquing Stumbling Block 

She’d been a business woman, an executive with many employees working for her, had written reports, instructional materials, and letters and emails and more, for many years. She decided to try her hand at writing picture books. She read hundreds of picture books, took courses, and studied hard to learn how to write picture books. 

Her stories have the funniest, wackiest ideas that she has shaped into many picture book manuscripts that sparkle with wit, original characters, and are just plain fun. The members of her critique group, many of whom I know personally, genuinely have critiqued her work to the best of their ability. They have helped her shape many of her stories with structure, essential elements, word length, and all that goes into writing a picture book. 

But their critiques became very painful for my friend. I’m afraid she felt that they were too hard on her. My thoughts? Her stories are wonderfully inventive and original. She simply needs to stick with it.

My Own Critiquing Difficulty

I came from an elementary teaching background. When I began substitute teaching rather than working full-time, I taught myself how to write non-fiction by reading books and taking courses; and wrote articles for newspapers and magazines for adults and children. That experience helped a great deal when I turned to writing fiction for children. My first few years (more than a few, truth be told) of learning to write children's fiction were replete with setbacks. My stories needed all kinds of work. Understanding what goes into writing fiction for children is not easy to learn. It takes years of trying. It was mind boggling how much I still had to learn. 

A few years ago, I received what I perceived as a harsh critique for the pages I submitted, about a humorous middle grade story, for 8-12-year-olds. It's a story that one day I want to write based on funny experiences I had during my childhood. I brought a few episodes of the funniest stories, written in third person point of view, with action, dialogue, and a close inner dialogue showing my character's thoughts, feelings, and motivations. I thought my group would love it! I thought they’d laugh their heads off! I certainly had fun writing it! 

Instead, at the meeting one of the critiquers told me point blank that kids today wouldn’t like my story. That I was old-fashioned and out of touch. I was stung and went home and cried. I spent a few days obsessing on what the critiquer had said, ready to give up writing for children, thinking I didn't have what it takes. But I didn't give up just yet. I dropped that project and moved on. 

Later, I presented the same episodes, edited now, to another critique group. I told them what the critiquer had said and honestly didn't know how I would be able to succeed with this story. Together they helped me come up with a solution: make my story historical fiction. I went home and read comparable books, such as Dead End in Norvelt, winner of the Newbery Medal, by Jack Gantos, and the multiple Eisner award-winning graphic memoir, Guts, by Raina Telgemeier, both based on the authors’ childhoods.

In the end, the “harsh” critique wound up being the best advice I could have gotten. It opened my eyes. It made me realize what to shoot for. For me, not stories with current language kids get. I believe that kind of writing needs to be left to writers intimately involved with today’s children. I am not. I'm retired. My grandchildren live across the country. I realized that I need to stick to stories I know. Stories I want to tell. Stories that might even include bits of history if I sneak them in just right. 

By now, you’ve probably guessed what I’m driving at. As is true for all writers, I’ve had many disappointments through the years. But I never gave up. I stuck with it.  An editor once told a class I took that it’s not so much the talented of us who become successful writers; it's the writers who persevere. I hope my friend is one of those writers. I know I am. 

Reader, please don’t let experiences such as what happened to my friend and me stop you. You might get hurt. You might suffer like we did. But if you stick with it, keep reading and studying, and keep writing, I believe you will come up with a plan that will fit you just right. As long as you stick with it.

Photo by Linda Wilson: On a bitter cold and windy day in Albuquerque, New Mexico, these pygmy nuthatches clung to a twig in the giant pine tree in my backyard. They were shaking, I couldn't tell from being cold or from the wind blowing the branch they were perched on. They'd come for the bird seed in my feeder. One by one they would swoop down, eat what they could, then fly back to the branch. They never gave up!

Remember: You are already a
success if you listen to your
inner voice and keep trying. It's
amazing how many creative ways
you will discover to do most anything!

Linda Wilson is the author of the Abi Wunder Mystery series and other books for children. Her two new releases are Waddles the Duck: Hey, Wait for Me! (2022) and Cradle in the Wild: A Book for Nature Lovers Everywhere (2023). You’ll find Linda on her Amazon author page, on her website at, and on Facebook.


Terry Whalin said...


Thank you for writing these stories about handling critique of our work. To be a working writer (an important distinction), you have to have tough skin.

In yesterday's mail, I received two published Bibles from a project I worked on about four years ago. It was ghost work (nothing with my name on it) but I wanted to see how my words were used. Bible projects have many editors and it was humbling to even find a sentence or phrase which I wrote and made it through the process and landed in the printed work. It's all part of our journey and I was grateful to have contributed.

author of Book Proposals That $ell, 21 Secrets To Speed Your Success (Revised Edition) [Follow the Link for a FREE copy]

Carolyn Howard-Johnson said...

I love your share from first person, Linda. I tell my clients to listen to reviews, evaluate what they say for possible improvements. Then evaluate again for possible flaws. When misunderstanding occur, we can fix our manuscripts so they aren’t as likely to happen again. But there are all kinds of reasons why we should decide to ignore them, too.

Carolyn Howard-Joyhson'

Linda Wilson said...

Thank you Terry and Carolyn. You can probably tell I haven't thought of much else while continuing to critique this second Abi Wunder book. Terry, your personal story about your Bible projects is so interesting. It's good not to be attached to our words and work, as you were just happy to contribute. Carolyn, you mentioned that we can sometimes ignore critiques as well. Thank you. That's an important point that I didn't bring out on my post.

Karen Cioffi said...

Linda, thanks for offering this personal and helpful advice for writers. While critiques are necessary, as we can't always see our work how others will, we do need to listen to them. You can take that critique and make a much better story or let it defeat you. And as Carolyn mentioned, you do need to figure out which critiques to take advantage of and which to ignore.

Linda Wilson said...

Thank you, Karen, for pointing out important insights. Critiquing certainly isn't black and white, but somewhere in the gray matter.

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