When Critiques Do More Harm Than Good

First off, I’ve reached 20 (a little more, actually) followers! Thank you to everyone who has followed/commented/liked my posts. It means a lot. I would love to do something to thank my followers, and since I don’t have many right now, I would like to offer a critique on any reasonable length work you guys may have. (Short story, novel chapter, etc. I am not confident with poetry, but can still give it a go.) Let me know. I’ll probably make this offer any time I hit a follower milestone. 🙂

Now, on to a post about how bad the very service I am offering can be for your writing!

I would like to preface this by saying receiving critiques has been the best thing to happen to my writing. I have always tried to foist my work on family and friends, who either shower me with praise or can barely hide their lack of interest. I knew if I wanted to improve, I was going to have to do something really scary.

I’d have to post my writing for the world to see. But not only see, but pick apart. Criticize. Edit.

First of all, where could I find people willing to read my, a stranger’s, writing? (I found that place at Scribophile.) What if they told me my writing was terrible, that I would never get published? That my style was shit?

Nonetheless I signed up for the site and got to work critiquing other writers so I could get enough karma to submit my own work. I only had to do a few critiques (the first several of which were probably terrible) to be able to post the first chapter of my novel.

Three critiques immediately flooded in. I was over the moon and terrified at the same time. What would they –the world –think about my writing?

The results were good and bad. People liked it. People thought my main character, who narrates the whole novel, was funny. They were interested in the premise. They also hated the twist I inserted into my first chapter –one of which I was most ridiculously proud. After some hemming and hawing, I deleted the twist. I changed some sentences I really, really loved. There was one I refused to delete, and an older, seasoned writer even poked fun of me for insisting on keeping it when he later critiqued the revised version of that first chapter.

My writing was like a homeschooled child. With no peers by which to compare itself, it didn’t know how to exist in a world outside of the My Documents folder of my computer. By getting critiqued, it learned how to be normal. How to make sense.

I became obsessed with hearing people say they loved my work. I’d submit chapters, then judge whether they could stay by the critiques they received. People loved the chapters after the first far more. I was ecstatic.

But I kept rewriting. I kept starting over, even though I was nowhere close to the end of the book. Eventually, I was going backwards. For every chapter I submitted, I deleted and re-submitted three more. I couldn’t keep enough karma, even though I was a critiquing machine, to keep posting chapters of my novel.

The advice I received was often contrary. One person might say a chapter was perfect. Another hated it. If I rewrote it, the person who loved it would comment, “I don’t like this nearly as much, now.” Meanwhile, the person who hated it at first might say, “This is much better!”

I became discouraged, despite all the encouragement I was receiving. Sure, I had improved my style in leaps and bounds, but I couldn’t make any progress on my novel.

So I decided it was time to stop posting my work on the website. I needed space to write my story without being fueled by other people’s praise. I’d learned so much about how to write good sentences and believable dialogue, about what to include and what to leave to the imagination. It was time to use that knowledge and complete my first draft.

That being said, this is my advice to you, other writers:

1. Go ahead and get some critiques on your first draft. See if your idea is one people are excited about. Use the critiques to hone your skills, to improve your writing, to get some direction on your novel.

But then, once you have some advice and new knowledge, you need to write for you. You can always go back and edit, and rewrite, and rewrite, and rewrite.

2. Critique other people’s work.

At first, you might not want to. You have your own stuff to work on, after all! But there is something so rewarding about helping others improve. You can still offer advice to people who are more skilled than you currently are, and you can still learn so much from people who are newer and less seasoned than you.

3. Remember, you love writing. If you don’t love what you write, even if others do, it isn’t worth doing.

If you don’t love your story and your characters, it will eventually show. Writing shouldn’t feel like hard, horrible work. It is work –don’t get me wrong, but it’s the kind of work you love doing. Like solving a problem feels to an IT tech, like reconciling a bank account feels to an accountant, like seeing a child read willingly feels to a teacher. You have to love your writing.

8 thoughts on “When Critiques Do More Harm Than Good

  1. Ahh I’ve had my first critique delivered by someone other than my friends and family. It was eye opening and completely humbling. I’m so terrible and my journey seems like it’s so long. I’m not sure how I will ever be able to put in the time like you have to hone my craft. Very true article, thanks!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Finding the time is hard, but luckily, there’s not usually a time limit on learning! It doesn’t matter how gradually you improve, and by putting your stuff out there, you will absolutely get better.

      And, by the way, based upon what I’ve read on your blog, you are far from terrible! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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