If you want your work published, you must learn to ask for and accept critiques. Granted, it’s not always easy. Like anxious parents, most writers feel a need to protect their “baby” when they send it out into the world. But critiques are a necessary part of the publishing process, and responding appropriately to readers’ comments helps strengthen your work. The trick is keeping those critiques constructive.
It’s thrilling to hear someone say, “I liked your story,” “This was really interesting” or “You’re a wonderful writer.” But such critiques aren’t constructive; they’re worthless, other than giving your ego a boost. You need more specific feedback to help you improve your work. Comments like, “I loved the surprise ending,” “The main character reminds me of my Aunt Betty” or “I felt like I was in the room” are somewhat better. But nothing helps as much as a specific “negative” critique.
Say what! A negative critique about your work! Yes.
When you receive negative critiques, ask the readers to be as specific as possible. Find out what they didn’t like or didn’t understand — without getting defensive or trying to explain it away. Set your emotions aside, and just listen and make notes. Again, not easy, but well worth learning how to do. If one reader didn’t like or didn’t understand something in your story, chances are that reader’s not alone. Aim to write in a way that none of your readers can misread your meaning. If it helps ease the pain, set your work aside for a while and let your subconscious mull over the comments.
I’m not saying you should make every change your readers suggest. Sometimes those changes will conflict. Everyone has different views. Weigh all comments as mere suggestions. If they ring true, you’ll feel it in your gut (once you no longer feel like you’ve been punched there). If they don’t ring true, just ignore them. Some comments will have more to do with the reader than with your work. Always consider the source.
Don’t rely on friends and family for critiques. Share your work with other writers, especially published ones. Join a writers group either online or off, or work with a writing partner. Stress that you’re asking for specific critiques, whether positive or negative. Then bring ‘em on!
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