Twelve Days of Writing No. 10: Know how to give and receive constructive criticism.
Their response? "It was good." Or, "I didn't like it." Or, "I don't get it." Whatever the answer, unless there is some constructive criticism in their response you likely will not be able to make your story better. (Here's a quick news flash: No matter how awesome you are, and trust me you are great, you can always become better. That's the nature of humanity. Our potential is limitless.)
Knowing how to give and receive constructive criticism is a valuable party of the creative process. Gaining another person's perspective can strengthen your story, or put you on a better path. But how do you do it?
• Listen. This can be difficult. I struggle with this every time I share my writing, because I grow unabashedly attached to my work. But learning how to receive the criticism is quite simple: SHUT UP AND LISTEN.
• Look at the big picture. Take a step back. Fully comprehend the feedback you are receiving. After your buddy is done, ask follow-up questions to make sure you understand any suggestions. Keep your cool and be polite through it. This person has taken their time to help your story. The least you can do is let them.
• You don't suck. Even if your pages are covered with red ink, or the feedback seems completely negative, know that you don't suck. It's easy to think you do, but you only suck if you give up and decide you don't want to become better. If you feel like crying, because the reviews were bad, go ahead. Have a little cry. But then, wipe your tears and wash your face and move on. You have work to do.
• When comments get rough, give yourself a big hug. If you're still feeling bummed, come up with some sort of mantra like, "You are awesome, Laura," and say it to yourself in the mirror a few times. You'll feel like better eventually.
• Be helpful. It is your goal to help the writer become better, and you need to follow through with this. Don't go into attack mode or be condescending.
• Be respectful and use a good tone. The golden rule of treating others as you would like to be treated never goes out of style. Also, communicate with the writer and not at. You'll be amazed how much better your message will get through.
• Look for the good, not only the bad. I guarantee every story has some redeeming quality about it. Identify it and make sure the writer knows what they did well. When a person knows, they'll keep doing it.
• Sandwich your comments. You start with a little bit of praise. "Hey, Laura, I really like how you had the characters meet. It was funny, and the timing was great." Followed by something to work on. "Laura, you use forms of 'to be' quite often. Use more active verbs and it will move the story along better." Then, finish off that sandwich with another slice of praise: "You have beautiful eyes, Laura. I get lost in them." Or something like that.
• Offer a solution. Don't just tell a writer they should fix something without giving some instruction. Be specific. It drives me nuts when someone says, "You might want to work on (vague topic)," then leaves it. Instead, try the previous example of, "you're using a lot of 'to be' verbs, but should keep your voice more active. It's challenging, but it keeps the story moving at a stronger pace."
Criticism is one person's opinion. You, the writer, ultimately decide what you will do. Don't let that stop you from making changes, though. Change might seem scary, but it often leads to something good.
Giveaway challenge: What are other ways to be a good critique buddy?
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