Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Constructive Criticism (Your Best Friend)

Criticism... is such a dirty word. Or is it honesty? Billy Joel? Where's my glasses?

Constructive Criticism is something all writers ask for, receive, then bitch about when they get it. HA! You know it's true. 
(I'm just kidding around, relax.)

Like most writers, I had to learn to, not only, take criticism, but to harness it in a way that would make me a better writer... and person.
(feel free to criticize that horrible sentence) 
I had a writing partner for years, so learning to take constructive criticism, and just criticism in general, was a must to survive. Yes, we argued. Yes, we often disagreed. But... more often than not, our opinions and arguments would spark an idea and make the writing even better. 

Every writer knows three truths:

1. Everybody has an opinion
2. Your mom telling you your writing is 'great' isn't helping you in any way. 
3. Often... the truth hurts. But, it's a good hurt.

I know, nobody wants to hear that their main character is too boring, or that their idea isn't well developed, or that their story is too long or short, or that their story needs to be reworked because, "I can't understand what's going on." But guess what... it's probably true, especially if you hear it from more than one person. 

Now, there's only two things you can do about it

You can pout and tell yourself, "They don't understand what you're trying to do."


You can take the constructive criticism and harness it to make your writing better!

Here's a dirty little secret

The things 'they' often point out are almost always things YOU ALREADY KNOW NEED WORK!

 When I was writing 'A SPACE STORY' I was lucky enough to have a solid group of friends around me, willing to give me constructive criticism. I would ask them to read my draft... Then beg them... Then threaten them. Eventually, they would read it. After a few months, and some more begging, we would get together and discuss what worked, what didn't work, what made no sense at all, and "what I was thinking" trying to write a book. 

And here's how it went...
9 of the 10 things pointed out to me were things I KNEW NEEDED WORK. Most criticisms were about chapters that even I hated to read, chapters I hoped to bury and maybe go back to tweak later. 

Yes... when they said it, it burned me up inside. But I wasn't mad at them, because I knew they were right. If it wasn't for them being honest in their criticism, my story would suffer. 

I hate having to go back and change things in my stories. 


But, I wrote down all their opinions, changed the things I knew needed work, pondered the things I was on the fence about, and came up with some fresh ideas along the way.

It was hard to fix everything, I had worked so hard. I didn't want to go back and mess things up. I wanted my friends to be like my mom - tell me it's the greatest thing they ever read, and how they just KNEW it was going to become the next Harry Potter!
 (refer to number 2 for a reality check)  

But they didn't. Instead, they said, "This is what you have to do, in order to even get a few people to read this drivel." 
(Okay, it wasn't that bad, but it felt like it at the time.) 

And in the end, it made the story so much better.

Understand this: The people criticizing your story are your audience. You are writing a story to entertain your audience. If your audience isn't entertained, then you need to fix your story. 
(If you aren't writing your story to entertain... then skip this part.)

Constructive Criticism is a WIN-WIN!  

We are better writers because of those who are brave enough to give us their honest opinion. You can't thank them enough. 

So, to you I say:
"Seek out those who are critical of your work, for you may not agree with all they say, but you may find truth in their words." 
(this is best said in a Patrick Stewart'ish type accent)

Now go fix that horrible chapter you hated since you first wrote it. And if you need help, I'll gladly tell you it sucks, so you will get mad at me, and then fix it. :)


  1. I ask for criticism all the time but I get hurt when I get criticism instead of effusive praise. Trying hard to get past it, not be as hurt, and just fix my writing.

    May I use the first image on this post? The one with the words "constructive criticism in progress"? I'm writing a blog post on criticism and it's the perfect image. Of course, I'll credit you for it. Many thanks! :)

    1. Yeah, it takes some time to build up a thick skin. But remember, just because someone has a criticism, that doesn't mean they are right. You are the one who ultimately has to decide if they criticism is fair or just someones opinion. I always sleep on it.

      And YES - you can totally use it. (I'm looking forward to reading it when you finish. :)


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