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Friday, August 31, 2012

An Important Consideration When Listening to Feedback on Writing

Lately, I’ve been really struggling with the first chapter in my current project. I’ve edited this chapter more times than I care to count. At last, I sent it off for critique. The response wasn’t favorable. This naturally was difficult. Not only had I put tons of work into this chapter, but as a writer, it’s never easy to hear criticism on my work.

As I combed through the comments, many of which were dead on about problems I needed to correct, it became clear that, in some instances, differences in genre preferences in me and my readers affected the critique. If a reader isn’t as familiar with the genre they’re critiquing, this might alter how they see a story. For example, in romance, happily ever after is pretty much a must. However, many other genres don’t include it as a prerequisite of a book. There’s nothing wrong with this, but it’s important to understand these genre differences, especially before altering a work based on feedback.

Now, this doesn’t mean having a reader less familiar with your genre is bad. It’s actually a wonderful thing. A reader from a different genre will see things that might strengthen a work that a reader from your genre might not catch. It can add texture to a story to include elements more common in other genres. Of course, it’s important to make sure these texture add rather than detract, but they can be highly interesting at the least.

I’ve been writing for a long time, and I’ve been submitting my work for critique for many years. Some of the early critiques I got still sting. I don’t recall what most of them actually said, but I vividly remember trying to hold make tears and keep a brave and unaffected face while feeling like my work was torn to shreds. I knew there was value in what I wrote, but it felt like almost nobody else saw that. Of course, there were problems that needed fixing, and each critique revealed some. But, now, looking back, I can see that some of the negative feedback came, not so much from something innately wrong with the work, but differences in genre expectations and style.

Above all else, though, whatever the reason for negative feedback, whether it’s a difference in genre style or something really wrong with a work, the most important thing to do with critique is to take that step back and view the work as objectively as possible. Emotion must drive the creative aspect of writing, but it cannot determine the direction of edits and revisions. I am grateful to all my readers for their faith in me and their honesty. Without either, I would not have come as far as a writer and a person. In the long run, no matter how many books I sell or how much success I achieve, I will owe my readers a deep debt of gratitude for caring enough to be honest and honest enough to express their faith in me as a writer, even when I struggled to see it and even amidst those difficult critiques.

To my wonderful readers, thank you.

Reminder: Starting next week, this blog will only post on Mondays and Wednesdays. Have a safe and wonderful Labor Day weekend.


  1. My first critique experience was rough. It was in a group setting with a dozen or so people I had just met the meeting before. They were hard on my writing, but not disparaging. They found a nice thing or two to say, but the overall assessment of my talent was not encouraging.

    It would have been easy to figure that crit group wasn't for me and to look for people who would have more positive things to say about my writing, but I didn't choose that route. Instead, I revised and kept writing.

    I won't say I improved quickly or that taking largely negative criticism time after time was easy, but I will say, that crit group (which I stayed with for 2 years and 3 novels until I left to spend more weekend time with my growing family) pushed me to get better, to take my craft seriously, to study story structure, character, and so many other aspects of writing, and in general to become an author instead of just a hobby writer.

    I wish a good critique group on every writer. It might not always be pleasant, but hopeully, it will always be useful and spur us on to do better.

    Thanks for the post, Laura.

    1. Yes, Jessi, critiquers and readers are so valuable. I think choosing to accept rough critique and use it to improve is one of those essential steps to becoming a professional writer.

      Thanks for sharing your experience.