How to Handle Critique

Whether you’re in a writers group, take a class or a workshop or attend a conference, odds are at some point you’re going to have your work critiqued.

This is a good thing. You want to hear how others read your story and how they react to it. You want to know what works and what doesn’t. You want your story to be the best it can be. Often, the others in the group want this as well.

The first couple of times you let others give you feedback, it can be uncomfortable. OK, painful. Let’s be honest: it’s never easy to listen to others point out your flaws. But the more you participate in critique sessions, the easier it gets. And the better your writing will be.

Here are some tips for making the most of your critique session:

  1. If you’re given an opportunity to read from your work at the beginning of the critique, read slowly and clearly. Be confident.
  2. When you’re done reading, stop talking. Don’t explain anything. (When your book is published, you won’t be standing over your reader’s shoulder to explain your work.)
  3. Listen to the feedback.
  4. Don’t talk.
  5. Take notes.
  6. If you don’t understand someone’s comments, flag it in your notes, but wait until the end of the critique to ask for clarification.
  7. If the feedback is painful, remind yourself of the good that comes from it (thick skin, better writing, etc.).
  8. Breathe. Nod. Smile.
  9. At the end of the session, ask questions if you need to clarify any feedback you received.
  10. Thank the group for reading your work and providing feedback.

Keep in mind:

  • Critique sessions are a time for you to listen. Not to talk. It is most certainly not a time for you to promote yourself as a writer. People are there to critique your work, not listen to your sales pitch.
  • Do not use the post-critique time to justify your writing or to lash out at those who offered the feedback. (When your book is published, you won’t be standing over your reader’s shoulder, justifying why you wrote things a certain way.)
  • When it’s your turn to provide feedback to others, be honest and fair. Don’t use your time as an opportunity to retaliate.
  • Be respectful and gracious.
  • Remember it’s up to you how many changes you want to make to your work based on the feedback you receive.

Most of these guidelines are no-brainers. You’d be surprised, though, how some people respond to their work being critiqued. I’ve been in a lot of sessions and seen a lot of kooky behavior. Thankfully no one has stood on the table. Yet.

Following guidelines such as these will not only help the session run smoothly, but also help you — and others — get the most out of it.