Showing posts with label constructive criticism. Show all posts
Showing posts with label constructive criticism. Show all posts

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 LindaWilsonAuthor.com, and on Facebook.



The Gift of Feedback

Feedback, otherwise referred to as constructive criticism, can make the heart beat a bit faster. Each of us, in our lifetime, have been subjected to this feedback, yet society doesn't tell us either how to give or receive feedback well. Consequently, even when our intent is to help another, the feedback we give feels hurtful or mean. With writers, too often, this "constructive criticism" may stop a person from writing.

Some suggestions: When giving feedback:
1. Ask for permission first. "May I make a suggestion . . ." This gives the person the option of saying, "no."

2. Use "I" statements. "I have found . . ."

3. Remember that even though you may appreciate and accept feedback well, others may be more sensitive to criticism. Keep that in mind and adapt your comments to reflect how they may be received by someone else.

4. Do not say something to someone on-line that you would not say if that person was standing in front of you.

Some suggestions: For receiving feedback:
1. Resist the urge to become defensive. Remember, it is difficult to give feedback too!

2. Take a deep breath. You are not perfect. No one is. We all have things we can work on. This is not about whether you are liked or not.

3. Listen. Then find the truth. Okay, so we are all not perfect. We all have things we can work on. Somewhere in the criticism there will be a suggestion that will allow you to take your writing to the next level. The message might be filled with untruths, but somewhere, trust me, will be something that can be taken and used. So consider and evaluate the criticism. Then decide how to act.

4. Ask for help with your writing challenge. If you need it, ask. Trust me, there are people who want to help.

Finally, thank the person who have you a gift, the gift of believing you are worthy of feedback.

_____________________________________



D. Jean Quarles is a writer of Women's Fiction and a Young Adult Science Fiction series. Her latest book, Flight from the Water Planet, Book 1 of The Exodus Series was written with her coauthor, Austine Etcheverry.

D. Jean loves to tell stories of personal growth  where success has nothing to do with money or fame, but of living life to the fullest. She is also the author of the novels: Rocky's Mountains, Fire in the Hole and, Perception. The Mermaid, an award winning short story was published in the anthology, Tales from a Sweltering City.  

She has also compiled a collection of short inspirational material for writers in The Write Balance, Journaling the Writer's Life.
She is a wife, mother, grandmother and business coach. In her free time . . . ha! ha! ha! Anyway, you can find more about D. Jean Quarles, her writing and her books at her website at www.djeanquarles.com
Her novels are available in electronic format here, or print format here
You can also follower her at www.djeanquarles.blogspot.com or on Facebook
  

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