Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Critique? #amwriting

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Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Critique?

Last year I received some critiques of the first chapter of a fiction work in progress. The first four critiques were pretty much what I expected. They pointed out where it was weak and made suggestions for how I could strengthen it. I appreciated that they also pointed out what I’d done right—I had captured their attention and they wanted to know what was going to happen next.

There were also differing opinions. One person thought that I’d gotten into the action too soon. Another person wanted me to skip the entire first page and start at the most suspenseful part. But I expected that too because I’d read about a very successful author who’d received a scathing critique of one of her earliest manuscripts. Later when she was offered a contract for a different one, the editor asked her if she had anything else hidden away.

To make a long story short, the same editor who had hated the first manuscript ended up helping her publish it.

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Overall I found the first four critiques humbling, but helpful. And then I made the mistake of reading the fifth critique the next day while I was eating my morning cereal. I wore my freshly washed hair wrapped in a towel, and I was still in my house coat because I was planning to change into good clothes just before leaving for church.

Two and a half hours later I was still wearing the wet towel and my house coat. I’d decided to stay home.

The comments in the fifth critique had blown my straw house down.

It wasn’t just that I had been told to start over—to read: How to Write a Book for Dummies (I admit that’s not exactly what she said), but the critique had absolutely nothing good to say at all. I know, because I looked for that one redeeming comment of encouragement that would sweeten the bitter tea. Not a granule of sugar—not a drop of hope.

I knew the right thing to do was to say thank you. It was not okay to tell the person I can write well enough to have three agents request to see a full manuscript from me. Such information would have only seemed defensive (and that would have been true). And being defensive would only invite more of what I didn’t want.

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So I did the right thing—I moved into a brick house.

I remembered a post I’d done on total forgiveness and decided to follow my own advice. I forgave the Big Bad Wolf and sent her a thank you note. And that same person responded to my thank you with a comment that included a teaspoon of sugar (that’s a lot of granules). She mentioned that my story idea was good, but simply needed work. Better late than never… I guess.

That afternoon I noticed a new follower on my Facebook writer page. It was someone I didn’t know. The person had also shared my blog post about total forgiveness on her own wall.

Blush.

Was I ever glad I’d chosen to be the good little pig that moved into a brick house. Too often I act like I’m living in a straw hut when the big bad whatever comes along. So I decided to send out more requests for critiques. I remembered that my hope is built on nothing less than Jesus and his righteousness. Bring on the worst. I’ve got a God that can use anything that happens to me for good.

I’m not afraid of the big bad critique—anymore.

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I entered several more writing contests after this incident and even placed in one. And although I didn’t win the top award, I won the grand prize of sorts because my house didn’t blow down when I read the comments by the judges. Instead, I rejoiced in the helpfulness of the gold I gleaned from more experienced writers. And I rejoiced that the agents who weren’t ready to take on my other project expressed interest in seeing it after I revised it.

In the meantime I still need to finish doing that and then have it critiqued by some big bad wolves first.

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Writer’s Gold

Writer’s gold cannot be gleaned

by leaving manuscripts unseen

For panning for gold requires light

to swish and swirl the dross from right

and then the traces of good are found

instead of leaving them in the ground

So do be brave and ask for advice

like true wordsmiths who love to write.

Wendy/2016

Big Bad Blessings ~ Wendy

Have you ever had your house blown down when you’ve asked for an opinion?

Brave wordsmiths welcome good-willed critiques of their writing. #amwriting Click To Tweet

Being defensive would only invite more of what I didn’t want. #faith #amwriting Click To Tweet

Writer's gold cannot be gleaned by leaving manuscripts unseen. #amediting Click To Tweet

37 thoughts on “Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Critique? #amwriting

  1. Wendy I know that feeling when you hand that dream over to the wolves but there is always a learning curve from it and then you have to take the next step and apply all that knowledge into your words. I guess the fire went out in my writing after taking a course on revising a novel. i felt like I just didn’t have the smarts to continue and so I am concentrating on picture book at this point. But when it is done I am hoping to get back on the horse, learn some more and do the work needed to finish a novel. Keep going, keep learning and yes just let all the negativity slide whilst you pick up the gems from all that constructive criticism. Im cheering you on!

    1. Thank you, Kath. I experienced a similar extinguishing of my passion for painting when someone said something hurtful about my art. But through some recovery reading I’ve been doing, I discovered the insults were typical of a narcissist. So now I’m enjoying making art again. I will never show that person my writing–ever. 🙂 Kath, please remember all writers require editors to guide their words; so don’t give up on the book idea. Your art is gorgeous, and I’d love to purchase books by you (for my future grandchildren). I’m cheering you on too, dear friend.

  2. Love this. Yes … in the last contest I scored real high by one and low by another. It felt like that one was making fun of me. That is enough to make one fear sending a thank you note … not wanting to be recognized. Lol

  3. Another great post, Wendy. I love your poem at the end too. You’re doing what you love to do and God is using it. I never thought when I started my blog that shortly there after my husband would be diagnosed with Leukemia. So much of my writing is centered around that now and I just told my husband this morning, “I write what I know and this is all I know right now.” 🙂 I couldn’t NOT write about it. It’s my life at the present time. I write; that’s what I do and I have to be truthful to who I am so I write about this journey. 🙂

    1. And you write so beautifully too, Nancy. I get what you’re saying about “I write”. I wrote the rough draft for this post in the middle of my angst last year. Then I let it sit for months. Even if I hadn’t shared it, the writing of my truth helped me process the event and learn and grow from it. Yes, this is what we do; we “write about this journey.” xo I’m so glad Bob is winning the battle with Leukemia.

  4. I think that your house is built on the rock, Wendy, so don’t be afraid of any critique. If you feel that the critique is constructive, keep working, but if it is only a matter of personal taste – you cannot please everybody, you know it well.

    1. Thank you, dear Inese. I agree we can’t please everybody. We’re supposed to have a particular audience in mind, and if a critique represents that type of reader then we should heed the advice where it makes sense. Iron sharpens iron. 🙂

  5. As always your blog is worth reading, and spice added by the comments evoked! My issue has always been to separate the malicious critique (abuse in the guise of expertise) and the hard truth, hard to hear, but actually necessary. When I was 20 years old a retired elementary school principal gave me advice I still cling to: you will never convince someone who chooses to be an enemy; you will never dissuade someone who chooses to be a friend.
    Sorry I’ve been off grid for awhile. It was not too deadly, just a part of the sea where the wind didn’t blow enough to fill my sails…
    Peace

    1. I’ve been missing in action on much of Blogland too. I hope all is back to normal for you, dear friend. Your words: “abuse in the guise of expertise” instantly reminded me of a comment I received about some of my artwork two years ago. It was so over-the-top abusive I was shocked and stunned. But I still work on my art anyways because I know critiques are subjective. I will never show that person anything ever again. But I bit my tongue and remained civil because I care more about what God thinks of my behavior than what I think of that person’s cruelty. Praying for my meanies helps me heal quicker too. 🙂 Abuse says something about the abuser–not the abused. Thank you for your kind words.

  6. I live in that proverbial brick house as well, Wendy. My main detractors came from my family many years ago, so a stranger critiquing my work in a bad light means nothing to me now 😉 The most important thing to me is that I like my work and writing makes me feel good about myself 😀

    1. Dianne, I suspect I’m better off keeping my writing away from family members; my husband and kids are great though, but I haven’t mentioned my publishing aspirations to other relatives. In the meantime I’ve learned a lot of good stuff from experienced writers who’ve critiqued my work. 🙂 I love your positive attitude.

  7. Wendy, I read this on the train yesterday, on the way back from Chicago, after a frustrating day at an art fair. Not too many sales. A ton of people with shots from Chicago! lots of competition. It was the most expensive fair I’ve paid for, and it’s in a wind tunnel! People are losing their work as it blows away. I was more than frustrated. And I read your piece and it gave me hope. To perserver, to forgive my sloppy neighbor whose tent sides keep blowing into my tent! (hehe). And I also wanted to say, I wonder if you changed that critic with your humility. Thanking him for his critique. You softened him clearly. And then he was able to tell you that your work has potential. You changed him and he changed you. I love it. You go girl! And I hope you get this work published, can’t wait to read it. I’m affirming you will.

    1. Thank you, dear Linda. I’ve admired your photography ever since discovering your blog. I can only imagine how interesting the show must have been if you’re saying there was lots of competition. There’s lots of that in the publishing industry too, but I’m at peace with it since I believe the quote I read about God making sure the right writing gets into the right hands. Blessings on your weekend, friend. You definitely go girl! 🙂

  8. There is, I am sure, an art to critiquing which many critics haven’t learned…..from an established artist comes this post just a few days ago.
    https://playamart.wordpress.com/2016/07/07/timeout-for-art-showing-works-in-progress/ Also our harshest critic is usually ourselves. Mostly we don’t need someone to tell us what is wrong; we know that. What we are stuck with is how to make it right. So, in that sense ,we don’t need critics we need helpmates/good editors. You have a strong helpmate in your faith. 🙂

    1. Thank you for the excellent link, Gallivanta. I think waiting until I’ve got the first draft completed is the best time for me to invite critique; I learned that the hard way. Lisa is wise to suggest that for painters too. 🙂 Anne Lamott says in her book, Bird by Bird, to avoid “people who make you hold your breath”. Yup. But I love balanced critiques that make me recognize the need for changes and the glow of goodness that’s already present in my project.

  9. For the record, I LOVE this. What a precious, trusting heart you have. Loved the imagery of the straw and brick houses, too. This little piggy is encouraged to do the same. God bless you!

    1. Thanks for encouraging me and making me smile, Denise. 🙂 I suspect there are Big Bad Wolf moments in all areas of art that creatives need to wade their way through. Blessings on your weekend.

  10. Awww, Wendy. I can so relate to your post. 🙂 I had a judge from a contest rip certain aspect of my submission to shreds, and in the process, she shredded my heart for a time too. It is so difficult to take the “no’s,” the harsh words. The trick is to give ourselves a little time and distance from that first read of comments and then to ask God to show us what in their words will help us to write stronger.

    Good for you for writing a thank you note. That is grace lived out. And that is humility before God, which He honors.

    I’m so glad you’re back at it, and opening yourself up for opportunities to grow as a person and in your writing.

    Blessings, my friend!

    1. Time and distance heals all writerly wounds; that’s for sure, Jeanne. And our battle scars show we’re real writers because we didn’t leave our work hiding in a drawer before or after a critique. 🙂 It’s important for us to hear what we did right too so we can continue doing it while we correct the remainder of our work. I plan to spin gold from my critiques. I know you will too, dear friend.

  11. Oh Wendy!!! God Bless you for this post today. The same thing happened to me when I went to the Plein air painting convention earlier this year. I had one of my paintings critiqued and the judges ripped it to shreds. Not one granule of sugar. And it was one of my favorite Plein air paintings. I was so defeated I didn’t enjoy the rest of the convention and came home with the feeling ‘”I can’t paint! Who am I fooling?” I almost closed down my blog until another post you wrote stopped me. I haven’t been too inspired to paint ever since. But lately have been slowly moving into my brick house and putting what I learned to use. Thank you dear Wendy for sharing your most personal thoughts with us. Bless you my friend.

    1. Wow, Rhonda, I can’t imagine someone not being able to give a granule of praise for your paintings. I love your artwork. My mother paints, and so I’ve been exposed to art all my life. I suspect the person at the convention has a communication problem or is socially challenged. Some people aren’t able to see the good, they only see the negative aspects. Please don’t ever, ever stop painting. When I finally have my own income again, I want to buy some of your work. I also have my eye on another bloggers paintings too. Thank you for letting me know I encouraged you. Hugs. xo

  12. Thank you for your honesty, Wendy. Your time will come and we will all be celebrating with you! Meanwhile, trust in His timing and focus on hope, not expectation. Love to you, Diane

    1. Diane, I love your words: “…trust in His timing and focus on hope.” Like I feel about Cynthia, I wish all people critiqued like you both do. But God can even use abuse to bring about his purposes–though He does not approve of it. xo

  13. An excellent post, Wendy. I’m always shocked and disappointed by critics who have nothing good to say about a book. If a critic is only picking at the weak parts, s/he is only doing half her job — or less. That’s simply not good enough.

    So many great ideas and fledgling works have been shelved because they were shared with the wrong person. When I ask for feedback now, I often say: Please tell me what works well, and what needs work. I appreciate your taking the time do both.

    1. Cynthia, if all critiques were as gracious and honest as you are, there would be a lot less fear on the writing journey. A teaspoon of sugar really does help the medicine go down when it comes to editing suggestions. Thankfully I’ve only come across two ungracious critiques out of a couple of dozen. But I think they’re good for thickening a writer’s skin. 🙂

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