Turn the other cheek to criticism: with the CritWrit writers’ check list

Turn the other cheek

As featured on Carnival of the Indies, Issue #29 Feb 13

As featured in Carnival of the Indies, Issue #34 July 13

Take a moment to study the woman in this photograph.

She’s on alert, on the defensive, training hard, determined, but wary. And the bandages – well, they might be for protection or they could actually be masking some pretty mean scars…

This is exactly how I feel about my writing journey lately. And I know I’m not the only one. I haven’t been the first and I won’t be the last!

Constructive criticism for the emotionally delicate writer

There’s tons of posts online about dealing with criticism. Advice varies considerably. Some well published authors don’t pay any credence to reviews at all and claim it’s not productive. Easy enough I suppose if you’re a multi-published author, have an editing team behind you and a strong following of readers. But what about the rest of us? Those of us starting out and seeking to make a living out of this craft? In this case there’s definitely an argument for listening to others…at times.

Stop! Can you hear yourself think?

The problem with listening to others too much is that you start to lose your way. You get to a point where all you can hear is the voices of all your critics (some well-meaning, others not so much). The danger in this is that your voice gets lost in all of this. If you get to that point, then stop, I beg you! Go for a walk, do some yoga or meditation or go and watch a mindless movie. Escape for a while.

Once you’ve done this, come back to it and reflect…objectively. Notice how I used the word objective here? A lot of the feedback and criticism you have received may well have been very SUBJECTIVE. And everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but you can’t afford to incorporate subjective comments into your writing until you have examined it OBJECTIVELY.

CritWrit – a writers’ critique checklist

After too many years in the business world, I decided to develop this quick checklist (sad, yes?) Actually, no. Writing is an emotional business, but it’s still a business. I’m not asking you to set your emotions aside completely, that’s difficult, even in the business world.

What I do suggest you do is that every time an opinion, feedback or criticism on your writing is aimed in your direction, sit and reflect on it as objectively as possible (after you’ve finished sobbing in the corner or throwing things around the room in your own unique variation of the writer’s tantrum, of course).

To help with this, allow me to introduce what I call  my CritWrit checklist. Notice how it rhymes with nit wit? This could be a descriptive term for the source of the criticism, or alternatively, for you being a precious writer type and not handling criticism constructively! I’ll leave leave you to make a judgement call on which option best suits…

  • Consider the source. Is it from your editor? Someone who knows your writing and what you are trying to achieve? Or is it just some random person you’ve never met before? I’ll use an example here to make it a little more real. I recently got marked down in a competition because one of the judges felt there wasn’t enough romance between the main characters in my novel. So it was from a decent source. BUT. It was primarily a romance competition and I’m writing romantic suspense. So after I reflected on it for a while, I realised that this judge was entitled to her own opinion but I wasn’t setting out to write a book heavy on the romance. I was setting out to write an action-packed suspense with some romance thrown in. This may not please all readers, but as the writer, I need to please myself first, which brings me to the next point…
  • Is the feedback or criticism consistent with your own unique writer’s voice? Hopefully by the time you’ve written a novel or two, you are at a point where you have a decent feel of your style and your ‘voice.’ Sadly, just when many writers are discovering their voice, they become overwhelmed with the voices of others. Then they make the mistake of trying to incorporate all those voices into their writing. The result? A piece of writing that is muddled from attempting to incorporating all the feedback and the voice is lost. Not very satisfying from the writer’s perspective and unlikely to be a good read either.
  • Is the feedback constructive? If you receive criticism that is purely negative and lacks explanation, sound the warning bells! It’s one thing for someone not to like something or to think that an element didn’t work, but if they’re not prepared to go into some detail about why they felt this was the case and how it could be improved, it might be worth disregarding. If you’re really worried about it, run the issue past those you can trust to give you honest, constructive comment.
  • Come back to your key theme, plot objectives and overall goals. I had some great feedback from my editor during the final stages of writing Radiant, my paranormal romantic suspense. She really got me thinking. I took the majority of it on board but ultimately there were a few areas I chose to pass on because it didn’t ring true with my chosen theme and objectives for the novel (and the series). It can be a real process to come to those decisions, but in the end, you’ll feel a lot more confident in the choices you have made as the writer.

Joy and your writing voice are good friends

Once you’ve run through check list above and possibly made some (hard) and very heartfelt decisions about your project and perhaps even your writing style, put your boxing gloves back on and get back to it.

Write.

And if you’ve lost faith, lost heart or lost hope, don’t give up. Strip it back even further. Set your current project to one side and write with only one goal in mind: for the enjoyment.

Chances are, once you rediscover the joy, you’ll start to hear it again.

The conversations in your head will begin to fade, like the distant chatter of a crowd and it will be there. It might be quiet at first, but with some gentle encouragement, slowly the volume will increase. And you’ll know without a doubt who is doing the talking.

You.

Have you ever let feedback or criticism affect your writing voice? What steps have you taken to overcome this?

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7 thoughts on “Turn the other cheek to criticism: with the CritWrit writers’ check list

  1. The Diesel-Electric Elephant Company says:

    I think that most criticism is valid – but usually only in the direct context of the person giving the critique. A sunset to one person is the beautiful end of a day and to another standing alongside it’s the start of a beautiful evening. Criticism can be absolutely valid and yet require no remedial action from the writer – you can’t, and you shouldn’t, try to edit chalk into being cheese just because a cheese-lover has wandered by. There are seven thousand million pairs of eyes on this planet, and they all see a different world.

    I try to look for good in criticism, and sometimes the good is that I can’t see anything except that someone took the time out to yell about not liking cheese or chalk. The most difficult criticism to cope with is something we specialise in here in England – the meaningful silence…

    The people in my world glaze over at what I write (and sometimes at just the sight of me!) and there’s nothing to respond to or learn from, no mechanism for any of us to grow. I think that the hardest thiing for any writer is to find themselves shuffling on like a lone penguin in a blizzard without so much as a documentary crew giving a damn about them! We write in order to try to connect across the void. In the context of writing, silence can hurt much more than any words.

    Sheesh – I’ve come over all profound. Chin-chin.

    • belindawilliamsbooks says:

      You joke that you are sounding profound, but I’ve found your perspective quite profound and really appreciate the view you’ve shared. You’re right – silence can be more frustrating than an opinion, and I like your point about trying to look for good criticism. I think too often the knee-jerk reaction is to want to change something either in your writing or about yourself when you hear criticism (or maybe that’s just me because I like to be liked??) I’m learning to look objectively at the criticism and what I should (or shouldn’t) do with it. Thanks for visiting.

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