Don’t Let Criticism Frighten You
by Beth Boldman
Nothing intimidates writers more than getting a review of a story, novel or poem. The words “I hate it,” stop many in their tracks, some will not write another word after one.
Any serious writer knows that reviews are part of this business and negative ones attack the things we love the most–our babies–our writing–which we have put in hundreds if not thousands of hours of our blood, sweat and tears.
Writers need to embrace reviews to assure that their creations will grow up to be published in professional venues.
When I wrote my first serious novel that I did not want to throw in the garbage, I came to the conclusion if I wanted it published, I needed to get over my fear of criticism and to turn every comment to my advantage.
Criticism is healthy and important for writers. It gives points to focus on and strengthens the purpose for writing. Through this process you will find your strengths which you want to promote and weaknesses which you want to eradicate. A good critique can offer suggestions to make your writing crisper, clearer, creating more impact and meaning.
Making mistakes on the first run is universal, and after the first deflating review, you should grab them with gusto and look forward to the next.
My initial review bruised my ego, then I reminded myself this will make the book better, and who does not want that? I hurried to my computer and started going through the novel with a list of problems I wanted to rid the work of but not destroy the strengths my reader said I had.
One of my best reviewers was an agent who went through the first two pages of my novel three or four times before she told me I had it. That process was enlightening.
If you cannot take a negative review, perhaps some coping skills would help. Here is a list of some I use myself:
1. Talk to yourself in a way a reviewer might, make a list of skills you have and those you lack, anticipate the problems and fix them before giving your story to someone.
2. Read someone else’s work and critique it, looking for sections you like and those you do not.
3. Ask your reader for the good things first, then have them tell the problems you can fix last.
4. Tell yourself over again the reader liked this scene or that bit of dialog.
Now, for the hard part–asking readers for a balanced review.
Look for people who will be gentle to start, such as a sibling or a partner. They will help you practice for more discerning readers.
Acquaintances or people at work who enjoy reading should be people you ask before hiring a professional–you should have a lot of errors or weaknesses pretty much wrapped up before hiring an impartial person who does not know your work.
There should be items you need to ask every reader, however, and here are a few:
1. I want an honest review, even if you do not like it.
2. I want to know if you could picture the scenes in your mind, want to know if the dialogue was short and to the point or if it rambled.
3. I want to know if the characters were relatable or not.
4. You might even suggest a weakness and ask him or her to be on the lookout for those, so you can remove or re-write them.
5. Making a short list of problems and strengths on a post-it note you can attach to the manuscript that would remind the reader what you want him or her to look for–those will be tended to first and you will be ready for them.
Now, take a deep breath. This is the best part of criticism–you do not have to take it, good or bad. All critiques are suggestions, well-meant, but when you graduate to the professional ranks, you will receive them–perhaps many and you can be prepared for them.
After practicing your coping skills and rewriting your work, you may come to anticipate a review, appreciating their content and value. You may even be comfortable with them and find there is nothing terrifying about them after all.
About the Author
Beth Boldman lives in Idaho and as a retired high school teacher, she enjoys writing novels and poetry.
She graduated from Brigham Young University in 1986 and taught school for 27 years teaching such subjects as English, History, and Government.
She has written 20 novels, which are available on Amazon and Kindle Unlimited by B.E. Boldman. She enjoys reading, music, crafting, and shopping with her sister.
You can read Beth’s column on the 3rd Friday each month here at Pandora’s Box Gazette.