“I much prefer the sharpest criticism of a single intelligent man to the thoughtless approval of the masses.” – Johannes Kepler
“The final proof of greatness lies in being able to endure criticism without resentment.” – Elbert Hubbard
“Criticism, like rain, should be gentle enough to nourish a man’s growth without destroying his roots.” – Frank A. Clark
After five years of working on my first novel, The Space Between Time, I felt I needed to have some help identifying places where it needed to be tightened up, scenes dumped, or characters clarified. I needed a second, third or more set of eyes to help me improve upon what I’d written. Having someone critique your work is a scary proposition. I don’t think I’m alone in feeling this way. It’s scary but it’s necessary. At least it is for writers.
There are several things to consider when you send your work out for critique. The biggest thing you have to keep in check is your ego. This is a hard one, believe me. An artist puts their heart and soul, and a great deal of time into the thing they’ve created. A writer friend of mine, who is one of the people I asked to critique my book, spent twenty years working on her first novel! (Shameless promotion here: The novel is The Sweet Trade by Debrah Strait and well worth your time reading. It’s about five boys in the Caribbean in the mid-1600s who are tragically orphaned. After being sold into indentured servitude, they must become pirates to survive. The twenty years Debrah spent on writing it make it a treasure for the reader. You can find it at Smashwords, Amazon and other books sellers.)
Anyway, back to my friend Debrah, it took her an extremely long time to finish her book because she had a full-time job. She told me that when she thought it was finished, she sent it out to publishers and entered it in contests. Each time she got comments back, the advice she got for changes were sometimes things she didn’t want to hear. Boy could I relate to that one. But she said she took time to consider the changes that were being suggested. She compared them to the story she was trying to tell. In her heart she knew which suggestions were right and those are the changes she made.
As Debrah and other writers have said, sometimes people try to belittle you with their comments. Who knows why they do it. Don’t listen to them! But the bottom line is that not even all friendly suggestions you get for changes will add to what you’re trying to do. So you have to consider each correction carefully and use only those that enhance the message you’re trying to convey with your story. Which leads to the next thing to consider when evaluating criticism: You are the expert!
This is your work of art. Only you know what you want your audience to get out of the piece. You are the one who sits long hours crafting each character and each thing that happens to them. You’re the one who contemplates your story while you’re doing something else. Only you, know what it is that’s trying to come through to be manifest as art. Since this is the case, once you’ve given your work to those you trust, you must keep your own counsel about which suggestions you’ll use and which you’ll let go.
Keeping your own counsel brings us full circle back to the ego. Our ego thinks it’s in control of everything we do. It sees criticism as attack. It’s important to keep in mind that’s usually not the case with your friends, family and other writers, especially writers. They know exactly how vulnerable you’re feeling. At least that’s what I’ve found. Letting go of your ego is a goal you accomplish a little at a time. But like anything that makes us grow, there will be times when we feel pain or discomfort. However, a great thing will happen if you choose vulnerability. You’ll find cheerleaders, people who see potential in your work and who will help you feel good about making necessary changes.
I’m grateful for all the people who’ve read and commented on my manuscript. They were taking a risk that I would get mad and never speak to them again. Fortunately that wasn’t the case and I’m ready to move on to the next phase of revising and polishing my novel.
Thanks for reading and feel free to leave a comment.
Lucinda Sage-Midgorden © 2015