It hasn’t happened to me yet, but I know that I’ll get ragged on for telling people the truth about writing rejection, as I see it. Writers are sensitive beings. I say some pretty harsh things. Like that you’ve got to write a million bad words before you can start writing seriously. Or that it’s easy to get published…after writing a great novel. Some of these things are not fun or easy to hear. I’m sorry for that, but I’m not sorry I say them. Why? Because they’re true.
Writing Rejection is Hard Because Writing is Hard
Writing is a difficult, solitary, extremely personal thing. People spend years of their lives pouring their souls and creativity into a project. I’m acutely aware of that fact every time I sit down to read slush. Not only am I rejecting a particular manuscript, I could be rejecting years of a person’s life. I have the potential to reduce a confident writer to one who’s riddled with self-doubt.
It’s a tremendous responsibility and an amazing act of trust. I don’t take it lightly, even if I do make jokes about bad queries or the slush sometimes to keep things lively on the blog. Many of my friends are writers. I make a living by working with writers. I write myself. I have the highest respect and reverence for both writer and the written word. And that’s exactly why I dish out the truth, even if it sometimes sounds harsh or callous.
Check Your Ego
The biggest thing that stands between a writer and their own success is their ego. A critique group can flourish on the idea of positive reinforcement. Unpublished writers sit around complimenting each other for hours and tiptoe around the problems. You may feel good, and you may feel like a confident writer, but you don’t learn or grow. You don’t go through that horrible revision that makes you want to eat a gallon of ice cream every five minutes. A lack of writing rejection or criticism means that nobody learns and nobody gets published.
It’s very difficult to divorce yourself from your writing, since writing is so deeply personal. However, writing is personal, yes, but the business of publishing isn’t. Divorcing the two in your mind is the only way to grow and learn anything. Feel free to have that “I’m a genius and nobody else understands me!” moment. But don’t get stuck there. The fact of the matter is, there are many aspiring writers out there who are constantly honing their craft. Don’t get behind just because you’re afraid of a little criticism. (Don’t follow all criticism and change everything about your work for other people, of course, but that’s for another post…)
The Facts About Being a Writer
Here are the facts, as I see them: Not everyone who wants to will get published. A lot of people’s writing is mediocre and will most likely stay that way because nobody has ever told them it’s mediocre. Some critique groups are more harmful than helpful because everyone is afraid to actually, you know, critique. Not every book deserves to be published… in fact, many writers practice with two, three, five, ten manuscripts before they ever start to see a positive response from agents or editors.
It’s tough going. Really tough. It’s in your best interest to develop a thick skin, learn how to deal with negative criticism and writing rejection, separate yourself from what you’ve put on a page, learn everything you can about the industry, get realistic, and keep writing every day. Don’t fall into the trap of being the confident writer who thinks they’re beyond learning. Writing is a never-ending learning curve, a constant uphill climb.
The one-in-a-million publication stories are the ones you hear because they’re glamorous. Most people get published through the tears, snot, spilled coffee, midnight breakdowns and rare moments of joy that comprise a long time spent chasing a dream. It’s not terribly sexy, nor is it quick. But that’s how people make it and that’s the truth.
Writing Success Isn’t An Accident
You come to this blog to learn things from the perspective of someone who sees thousands of queries, reads thousands of manuscripts and meets thousands of writers. Unlike well-meaning critique partners or clueless friends, it’s not in my best interest to sugarcoat. But I will tell you that books sell every day and that dreams do come true. When they do, though, it’s no accident or luck on the part of the writer, agent or editor, it’s hard work, determination and the hard-earned reward at the end of a long road. They’ve moved forward even after experiencing writing rejection. Unless you’re Stephenie Meyer, as this funny op-ed from agent Stephen Barbara recently pointed out. But that origin story is taken, so it’s time to find your own.
If you’ve experienced writing rejection and are ready to dig in and learn, I would love to be your fiction editor. I provide constructive criticism to writers of all levels, from those who are on their first manuscript, to those who are on their tenth.
117 Replies to “Coping with Writing Rejection: Grow a Thicker Skin”
Thanks so much for the advice! In your opinion, why do you think Stephenie Meyer had such a big break, especially since it seems she had no clue the steps to get published and her initial manuscript would make most agents send her a rejection letter as soon as they can. What about Meyer made her break out and sell out even the most incredible authors on the market?
Those Meyer-esque success stories annoy me, not so much because I expect that to be my experience, but because non-writer friends and acquaintances do.
Every week I am asked if my book is going to be published yet. They want to know if it will be a movie. The book I finished two months ago.
I also think writers need to stop circulating the “Some Huge Writer was reject 6 thousand times before becoming a trazillionaire” because while a successful writer will undoubtedly experienced plenty of rejection, lots of rejection is not a sign that you are destined to be famous.
Mainly, people need to recirculate what their college comp teachers told them (if they had good ones): “writing is rewriting…and rewriting and rewriting.”
Anyway, so says this college comp teacher.
Personally, I always wonder how anyone ever expects to get any better when they are so hurt by constructive criticism, not only in writing, but in all aspects of life.
When I send off my chapters one by one to my family and writing partner, if they DON’T have anything bad to say, I worry. I beg them. ‘Please! Tell my something bad! Tell me to change something!” When they don’t, I worry that they are not being honest, and then what’s the point of the critique at all? I know I’m not that perfect.
I thank-you for telling the honest truth, regardless if it falls on the deaf ears of most writers. There will always be at least one person who is willing to let it marinate and use that advice to improve their work, and then it’s worth it’s weight in gold.
Thick skin is a MUST!
Boy, I learned that the first crit group I ever joined. . . Gotta be able to take some honest feedback for sure. Otherwise, you’ll never grow as a writer.
Stephen’s op-ed piece was great. My crit groups favor the ‘tough love’ approach which works really well for me. I believe in direct, honest feedback and want the same from others — it’s the only way your book will get better. Family members serve the role of telling you how great your novel is — the job of the crit group is to push you to in directions you’ve never gone before. Happy Friday!
This is one of the reasons I like an online forum such as this. I find that people are much more forthcoming with good, honest, constructive criticism than when I share writing with family and friends. Anonymity helps!
Katie — She isn’t an amazing AUTHOR, I’d say. She just had an idea that was fraught with tension… tension that she could keep going for thousands and thousands of pages. Even if you don’t like the writing or the characters, you can’t possibly deny that every page has awkwardness, tension, on it, that keeps a reader reading to find out what happens next. It’s a Romeo and Juliet retelling that hit the market just as people were getting into paranormal. Her house, Little, Brown, is also very good at marketing. Things coming together on this scale is rare, though.
Love the unromantic reality of writing and publishing. Too often, people assume that completing a book is enough and instant fame follows. The Average Joe (including many aspiring writers) has no clue what it takes to make it from idea to book shelf.
I would love a brutal critique…it’s on next year’s Christmas list.
A thick skin is certainly a must, still hard to grow one for anyone in the arts. No matter how many years in the business, published or not, one rejection can knock a bit of the wind out of you and allow in glimmers of self doubt. True, it’s never as devistating after a few books but it always will sting a little.
The real trick is to grow a thick skin that can still be penitrated by constructive critic and to be able to tell the difference. Funny how some of the most untalented have the most confidence and the thickest of skins (I’ve been watching too much American Idol perhaps)
I’m married to a technical editor who takes the words of engineers and scientists and makes them easy for normal people to read and understand. He calls it “non-technical editing”. For many years he was my only spell check and grammar check. He pulls no punches when he corrects my writing errors. The skin I developed rivals a rhinoceros’ hide. He does not understand the unique content of writing for children but agrees that the ‘write/right stuff’ doesn’t change much. Now I find it slightly suspicious and patronizing if I don’t get some kind of criticism. Nobody’s perfect. My editor husband’s mantra is “everyone needs an editor, even the editor”. I’m glad he doesn’t edit my texts/email/comments etc. BTW twitter drives him nuts.
I am in the midst of a brutal critique right now, if you want to call it that. I prefer to think of it as valuable input that can make my story better. Truth be told, even the best input may not be right for you or your story. It’s important to maintain your own voice but as far as improving craft, I have found the critiques that take my writing to task to be more valuable than a pat on the back.
Well said. I received a critique from someone yesterday that broke my heart. The essential bits meant that the manuscript needed a complete overhaul. She liked my *writing* but my story had major issues. The reason it broke my heart? Not because she said it, but because I looked at the MS and realized she was right. And the worst part about it was that because I didn’t see those issues before (and it had been through several critiques), I’ve already queried a lot of agents about it. So it kills me that I may have cut off my own foot in a rush to get the story out there.
On a high note, the same person had read part of an earlier draft about eight months ago and commented on how far I’d come in that time.
So the good made it easier to take the bad.
I think you’re right. Crit groups are tricky beasts. They can help you or hurt you. A LOT.
I thank my lucky stars for DFW Writers’ workshop. We have lots of published and agented writers as mentors and the group is pretty harsh. Like…melt your face off harsh. They soooo will tell you if your POV/one dimensional characters/drivelly premise/Tom Swift dialogue/repulsive voice stinks like two month old cabbage.
And their criticism makes a lot of our members better writers.
More than once, my mentor has said there are two kinds of people who fail to take critique wisely: People who listen to nothing and people who listen to everything.
If someone offers a crit. Listen. Really mull it over and take good advice to where ever you can find it.
If an agent gives me advice, you better believe I’ll experiment with changes.
Mary, you couldn’t be harsh if you tried! You’re just honest, and in the nicest possible way. And without honesty, how would a writer ever know s/he still had work to do? I love my critique group because they’re honest but polite about it. They’ll tell me something isn’t working but they won’t make me feel like I’m a hopeless case by doing so!
Thanks for posting this, Mary and the link to Stephen Barbara’s piece.
The story I heard about La Meyer was that the editor that received the MS hated fantasy and never read it. They only read this one because of the agent it came from and were blown away. My source reckoned that had they been an avid fantasy reader they would have spotted all the bits that are so reminiscent of other books and rejected it, as not very original.
There’s probably a moral there but I’ve struggled to work it out ever since I heard the story!
This pairs nicely (for me) with Alex Bracken’s post yesterday about trends (http://www.alexandrabracken.com/?p=282) — because she began by admitting that she almost didn’t write it for fear that it would discourage some aspiring writers. Thing is, if we can’t write through our fears (that it might not be good enough, that it might not be well-received, that our passion for writing about fairies is badly timed, that we should have been plumbers) then we’re not going to get a whole lot of writing done. Ever.
I wish my critique group were meaner. Not like — your momma wears open-toed combat boots to Poughkeepsie — mean, but rather fiercely honest. Honesty is scary (both to hand out and to receive) but it’s the only way to learn.
And maybe it’s not just about getting better as writers, but about learning how to be braver. Our critique groups could be little training grounds for how to work past and through our fears. *Ah grasshopper! Now, at last, do you see the power of the critique!*
I think part of the reason that critique can be so hard to take is that most of the time, you know it’s true. We, as writers, should know our weaknesses. I usually suspect which parts of a story aren’t going as well as I’d hoped. Sometimes, my critique group disagrees and I know it was just me. Most of the time, they say “yeah, that’s not working.” And that means, back to the drawing board. Ugh. Criticism that comes out of left field is usually much more tolerable (“I don’t like your character’s name.”) because it’s irrelevant or so clearly based on personal opinion.
Great post, Mary. Thanks for the reality check on success and the mythical stories that writers all poison each other with. Stephenie Meyer is the exception that proves the rule.
I would love to get an unvarnished critique of my work. I’ve had to do a lot of challenging things since becoming a writer. Accepting critisism is just one of them.
It’s too bad people think that being a writer is a good “get rich quick scheme”. I don’t think most people say, “I’m 5′ 250lb and can’t walk without tripping, so I think I’ll become the next Kobe Bryant. But everyone things they can write a best seller.
Your words are honest and writers need to hear that. The ones who want to grow and move forward anyway. Yes, it’s also true we writers are sensitive beings. We must keep that edge, which makes for splendid writing, all while taking in enough criticism and rejection to sink a cruise ship. Those that can withstand it, grow and never give up. Those who can’t, abandon ship.
To stay on board takes great persistence, a willingness to listen and take what we can use, but most of all an unyielding passion for the written word.
I recently attended a Writer’s Conference in Hawaii and the first ten pages of my manuscript were examined honestly. It was tough to hear I hadn’t captured what I thought I had. I cried. In front of the class. I hadn’t expected to do that. So, I’m human. I’d been working on that second novel for three years, but knew something was missing and also believed my instructor would get to the bottom of it.
And I’m forever grateful for what she taught me. Had I arrived there with the notion nothing but pretties regarding my work would be offered, I’d of left with nothing but my ego in tact. No salable story. As it was, she helped me find the true voices of the tale. I reworked those pages, am now rewriting, and feel extremely proud of the discovery. The conference was the best money and time I’ve ever spent.
Ego’s get in the way every time. We have to set them aside to mine the good stuff.
I appreciate your honesty in this post, Mary!
I have to great wholeheartedly. At one of the first writing conferences I attended, a news reporter sat in to do a story on the conference workshop. He later told us how surprised he was by the brutal critiques that were given.
I know from my experience, that it’s when I get the hardest critiques, my work comes out shining brighter. Locally, we’ve started doing writer’s retreats twice a year for a whole novel. I have to admit that after a three hour discussion of my novel, part of me wanted to break into tears while the other part wanted to kick my story into shape. I also find that the stories I love the most, I tend to critique the hardest because I want to see it succeed.
There are even some published books where I wish the writer has spent more time to make their story stronger — because I love what they have so far, but it really had so much more potential. Has anyone else ever felt that way?
Sometimes it isn’t easy to give a critique that will be helpful when you are dealing with younger writers, particularly when their attitude is that of, ‘when I finish something it is ready to go … no changes are necessary.’ Recently I was introduced (through an online chat) to an 18 year old son of a friend. My friend asked me if I would talk to her son, knowing that I am a writer, and was hoping that I might be able to give him some pointers. Well, over the holidays she sent me the first chapter of what I can only guess is supposed to be a novel – perhaps a novella – and I began to read … at least, I tried to read. What should have only taken perhaps ten minutes at the most to read seemed to take forever (a true test of the theory of relativity) as virtually every sentence in the piece had … issues (I’m trying to be kind).
Rather than writing a message right away I had to wait several days before addressing what I had encountered, and in the end my ultimate recommendation was for her son to gain a fundamental understanding of English grammar, an understanding of the simplest things in writing such as the presentation of dialogue in which each speaker requires the beginning of a new paragraph rather than a cascade of opening and closing quotation marks that made it virtually impossible to keep track of who was saying what at any given time.
One of the things that I wrote to her son was that it is very important for writers to be able to be dispassionate about their creations, particularly when it comes time to examine the work from a critical perspective. There are things that have to be done in order to perfect (as much as this is possible) a work, but none of this is possible if the writer retains their passionate connection to their work, holding the created thing as something akin to a child which must be protected at all costs. If we truly love our works we must allow them to be – when needed – ravaged, to be ripped apart and put back together in a better form. If the work has the potential for being ‘great’ (given the present state of publications, ‘good’ or even ‘average’ is more than likely enough of a standard, but I’m picky), they will be able to stand up to this severe criticism.
One technique that I practice – and recommend to everyone who will listen – is for all writers to read their work out loud before submitting it to someone else to read. When we hear our work (now, think about this for a moment – don’t just read the text out loud to get through the task – read it out loud and LISTEN to the text, listen to the rhythm of the words, listen to the syntax, the choice of words, whether the sentences make sense when ending and beginning … does that sentence really have to begin with ‘but’ or ‘and’ … really, no sentence NEEDS to begin with ‘but’ or ‘and’ … that is laziness and the sign of a writer that just doesn’t care enough to think about an alternative) we react to things differently than when we read them; we catch things that escaped our eyes alone, when we pay close enough attention to what we are hearing.
This works, of course, only when we take the time to do it diligently enough for it to make a difference; scanning the text as it comes out of the printer, just before you stuff it into an envelope, is not enough of an investment of time to count as having examined the text in a critical manner. I can’t count the number of times that I missed a stupid mistake on a paper I was submitting when I was in college or university that could have been corrected had I only taken the time to re-read my paper out loud. Trust me; I learned how well this technique works from years of experience.
In many ways it is a form of editing that has served me equally as a composer as well as a writer, but that’s another story for another time.
Wie viel ist Aufzuleiden!
Stephanie Meyer proves that dumb luck still exists. (I feel I should stop now because I’m very anti-twilight and occasionally rant about it).
Sometimes I wonder what Twilight could have been if the thought & effort had been put into it. Or maybe it wouldn’t have been at all.
I’m not thick skinned enough. I need to work on that.
Mary, you tell it like it is. Sometimes writers need to hear that their story sucks. One can give negative comments in a kind way, but it still stings. It’s better than having a pile of form rejection letters and no clue why no one wants your stinky story.
When I started out I submitted some stuff that wasn’t fit for the bottom of a bird cage. It would have been nice if someone had told me so. (Not like that, of course!) I participated in a critique group in which three of us were quick to point out what wasn’t working (and what was). The others were just as happy to sit around, pat each other on the back and say great job. While it’s good for the ego it is totally useless when it comes to improving as a writer.
I may be the only (English speaking) children’s book writer in all of Costa Rica. The children in my area don’t have books in their homes or read for fun. My husband didn’t even understand the concept of a library. That is why I am so thankful for SCBWI’s critique blog and the valuable feedback I get by posting and critiquing the work of others. It’s not easy to be told what your doing wrong but it’s important.
Thanks for this post. It’s sometimes easy to forget that most of the time it’s not glamorous and that there is a long learning process. Thanks for the reminder.
This post definitely has the realistic viewpoint of publishing today. It’s a long hard road.
A million bad words? No problem. It’s the honest critique that I’m lacking. The worst thing you can hear from someone is how wonderful your book is and nothing contrary or constructive. It’s similar to business. How do you know if the coffee’s bad unless someone says something? Sometimes we’re blind to our own deficiencies. Well, I’m not, but I hear other people are . . .
I’m on queried book numero 4 I’ve gotten positive feedback on each from agents, but most of the time it’s rejection. I’ve done a million bad words (probably even 10,000 hours of practice). The thick-skin to rejection’s the easy part. It’s knowing whether I’m across (or going to cross) that mediocre hump that creates a significant portion of the misery.
And, yeah, SM’s success is a nice little dagger thrust to the flank every time I hear/think about it.
Thank you for writing that books sell everyday and dreams do come true. It’s a joy to read something positive about this industry.
I’ve finished book number 5 (I’m completely past the Stephenie Meyer stage – what a story!) and am a full-time nonfiction writer of about 400 articles so I must be close to that million word mark. It’s time to break through.
Does your skin ever get thick? I’ve learned to not read the changes that an editor’s made in what I write so maybe not. 🙂
“Most people get published through the tears, snot, spilled coffee, midnight breakdowns and rare moments of joy that comprise a long time spent chasing a dream.”
I love that line. In an odd sort of way, it makes me feel hopeful.
LOL It’s like saying if you walk through broken glass barefoot you’ll eventually get there.
Mean while a bunch of us have glass shards in our feet and are asking, “It’s it very far now?” And Mary says, “Yes it is!” (Envision Papa Smurf.)
Sorry know I’m warped, but I’m one of those gluttons for punishment who is still limping along.
An honest, insightful but hopeful post, Mary. Keep them coming!
Thanks, Mary, for telling the truth in love once again.
I learn more from every shovel to the head I get from one of my critque partners than I do from a dozen compliments. Does it hurt to hear “wow, that stank?” Heck, yeah. But, I feel if you take the craft seriously enough (and most of us do), the hard work will pay off. Then we get to do the victory jig in the living room!
Good advice and thanks for the encouragement. I’m new to your site and am exploring and enjoying it.
Great advice. And I loved the article about Stephenie Meyer. It reminded me of the American Idol season when Simon predicted rather early on that Carrie Underwood would win, stating that she had the “It Factor.” I think every industry has those “Mona Lisa” people where no one can quite define their tricks or secrets of success. But that isn’t to say that people without the “It Factor” can’t be great, or that you should even worry about how other people achieved their success. As you said, no one is going to get it the same way.
I’m a believer of the Malcolm Gladwell 10,000 hour theory. Unfortunately not many people are patient enough to stick with that exercise and wait for the greatness to emerge before pursuing publishing. If you wrote for two hours every single day it would still take you nearly fourteen years to reach that 10,000 hour status. I’m not sure even I’m that patient, and who can actually calculate their writing time?
We live in the age of “I want what I want when I want it.” Thus, the slush pile looms, the rejections flow.
I always appreciate your honesty, Mary. It’s the main reason that this is my favourite agency blog and I look forward to more brutal honesty in the future.
I feel a degree of sympathy for those people stuck getting false critiques. Sure it’s hard to hear that there are problems with your story, but at the end of the day if you don’t know where your problems are then you can’t fix them.
With each ms I edit to completion, I hope that this might be the one that gets me published, but if it’s not I’d still like it to be something I’m proud of.
“There is not a truth existing which I fear or would wish unknown to the whole world.” Thomas Jefferson.
I adore your tell-it-how-it-is manner. Though I don’t think it’s ever harsh or unwarranted. It’s the main reason I ignore my family to visit your blog instead. (Ha, ha!)
Through the snot. LOL. I don’t think I’ve had the chance to write through my snot yet, but the image made me laugh. I certainly have had the chance to write through the tears and sweat and laughter, though.
I loved your comments on critique groups and growing that thick skin. It wasn’t until my third critique group that i found a group of writers willing to lay it all out with each other. Our one aspiration in being together was to be published. To this end, all comments were fair. The first time I had someone say to me, “This isn’t near your best. It looks like you didn’t try on this one. Try again.” I was a little taken aback, but I also listened. The first drafts have been easy. It’s those third and fourth and fifth and on where I really, actually write to my best.
The payoff in all this – that critique group wrote its own poetry anthology due out soon from a major publisher. Sweeet!
Thanks for your thoughts on this and your continued encouragement of the craft.
I’ve been working on my current MS a long (long, long) time. I learned to write with it, and everything I learned came through honest critique. For me, so much of writing is just staying on the dance floor. It’s finding folks who will give you clear feedback and then incorporating that feedback again and again and again. (Thanks, Slushbusters!)
Whenever I get discouraged with the process of critique and rewriting, I think of something I read about Harrison Ford. He’d been in Hollywood a while without much happening, and realized that the folks who made it were the ones who just didn’t give up. Success was about perseverance, not innate star power.
Here’s to sticking with it!
Well said, Mary, but of course, should we expect any less? Sarah, yes to the P word. Perseverance. And the other P word, Patience. And then the other one, Practice. It takes all three combined to get anywhere in this industry, add to that being open when you’re getting critiqued and not closed off with a “my writing is just fine, thankyouverymuch” attitude. It surprises me, really how many writers that are out there with this mind set. How can anyone ever expect to master their art if they never accept the fact they aren’t perfect to begin with? Blows my mind.
Thanks again! See you in April.
PS: Jmartinlibrary was astute in her summary of our workshop, DFWWW. There hasn’t been a day I haven’t come out of the room learning something about my writing, realizing something that may need to change, or you know, having my ego dropped a peg or two (which is a good thing at times!)
I’m learning to grow armadillo skin. I know I need to listen to advice to improve my writing, but I can’t let it get to my heart.
What a great post and so true. I can’t imagine not listening to critique partners/groups. My favorite crits are the really rough ones. It’s always tough to hear/read, but better from critique partners than to query something that isn’t polished.
I read somewhere once that pursuing the dream of getting published is like crushing on that super cute guy in math class who doesn’t even know you exist. One day, you hear that your nerdiest, geekiest classmate (the one that you never gave a second thought to before in your life) is now his girlfriend, and they’re madly in love.
The instant reaction would be FML, right? Years ago, when that was me, (okay, the girl in question was in no way the nerdiest and geekiest, but still) I spent years moping and wondering what on earth was wrong with me. Years later, when I first started querying my (totallyamazingandsuperawesome manuscript), and the form rejections came in, I found myself in the exact same dark pits of self pity…
And then I read the analogy above. Until this day, I don’t know WHERE I read it from, but it is pretty exact. The lesson learned? Someone else’s path to success will not be the same as yours. The best things in life don’t come in the form of instant gratification. Most of all, sometimes, the long and arduous process of making yourself (or in the writerly case, your manuscript) stronger and better after failure is the most gratifying process of all. At end of the day, you’ll find the love of your life/ a manuscript that you’ll personally love, and even if it doesn’t get published… you’ll be proud to read it again thirty years down the track. And, of course, friends in your crit-partners. 🙂
Yeah, writing is tough. Getting published is tougher. But anything worth doing usually is.
I don’t understand people who don’t want to improve – and critique groups that are more like love fests flabbergast me. Frankly, if all your groupies ever give you is positive feedback, they’re probably not very good writers themselves. EVERY manuscript needs work. Even the ones that (eventually) get published.
P.S. I like how your blog gives me this nice little geometric design every time I comment. Makes me feel so…welcomed:)
I was a closet writer of short stories and poems for probably a decade before abandoning it to make time for career building and the clinical writing necessary in my profession. It has only been in the last year that I have returned to writing daily for “fun” again, making 2-3 hours of time for myself daily, early in the morning before my family rises. This time I made an agreement with myself that if I was going to committ to this, I needed to actually let people read it. 🙂 I finished the first of my early drafts of a novel manuscript in about four months and honored my own directive by finding a critique group to review my work and give suggestions. I was SHOCKED. It was like pulling teeth to get them to say anything negative. Being an avid reader and the most outspoken member of my bookclub several years running, I expected people to approach my novel in a similar way. Heck, I was giving them permission! How hard could it be? Only the high school English teacher friend really gave me as much negative as positive and his comments have been the most valued by far!
Can you, Mary, or anyone with some experience with critique groups, answer this: What are realistic expectations in regard to a critique group? Unfortunately for me, people seem to really resonante with my plot and the “page turner” pace, sitting down and reading it in one sitting. Why do I say unfortunately? As one reader put it, “Even though it is slow to get started, I loved the rest so much, I’d hate to see you change it. That was part of my experience of the book and I loved the book, so don’t change it okay?” Huge compliment, but “I’d hate to see you change anything” isn’t going to help me create a stronger start to my book! Is it realistic to expect any critique group to give me the nitty gritty, down and dirty, or do most people eventually have to suck up the cost and get professional editing help?
P.S. Loved your post Peter!
Mary, I’ll take honesty over lies any day at any time. Keep these great articles coming. I am hooked and will come back daily for more.
Great post, Mary. Thanks. I linked to it on my blog. It’s something every writer should know.
I have been fortunate enough to find a critique group where everyone is serious about the art of writing (on some days, though, writing feels more like a science experiment that never goes right), and is committed to the mutual growth of the members as writers.
I completely agree that there is no point in having your work critiqued, if you’re not willing to take the criticism offered your work. My critique group follows the implicit rule that any criticism can be offered constructively. Though it doesn’t necessarily mean that you get your kid gloves out every time you critique anyone’s work, I’ve found that expressing your opinion as an opinion rather than a hard fact, and critiquing the work rather than the author herself (thus effectively divorcing the author from her writing – love that phrase and concept, btw) is a better way of providing critique.
I couldn’t agree more with you, Mary, about the need for growing a thick skin, but boy, is the road to get there steep, or what? However, hasn’t someone said that the second you stop learning, you’re dead?
Tears…check. Snot…check. Spilled coffee (and tea and beer and wine and water)…check. Midnight breakdowns…check. Rare moments of joy…check.
I’ve spent the last six months buried deep in that revision that constantly makes me want to eat a half gallon of ice cream. (I had to stop buying ice cream.) The worst part about it is that I know this book might be another practice novel. It might never be good enough.
That’s the hard part, keeping going when I know it might not end in success. I understand why so many writers cloak their brains in an I’m-a-Genius fantasy. It slows their improvement to a glacial pace, but it makes life a lot easier.
Terri, I’m happily settled in a critique group that always speaks their mind, so I’m not sure how much help I’d be. But…
You may want to look for a group that will point out the flaws in your MS.
If this is the only group you can find, perhaps you could give them specific things to look for. What do they mean by slow start? What parts were boring? When did it really start for them? Were there any parts they had to read twice to understand?
And if you’re happy with pacing and tension, ask for feedback about characters and setting. Can they describe the personalities of your characters back to you, etc.
You might also want to check out online forums for cyber critique partners.
Good luck to you!
So true, so true, writing is quite difficult. And it seems that passages I love just look like crap a couple months later. It’s an ongoing process.
Great blog, by the way. Lots of good stuff I need to check out later.
You’re absolutely right about the importance of having a thick skin and learning how to take criticism. I’ve worked as a playwright for many years, so I’m always used to the give and take in constant readings with actors, talks with directors, feedback with audiences, and reviews in the press (talk about needing a thick skin).
The funny thing is that I’m used to feedback when I’m working on play scripts, but when I started writing fiction, I found it took a while to develop the ability to have a thick skin about comments and feedback–the work is (especially at first) so much closer to home. I’ve been lucky to find a good critique group who are experienced writers and readers, and who know how to give feedback in a way that can lead to useful improvements.
Being in a writer’s group that’s too nice can be a problem, but so can being in one where people give the wrong kind of feedback at the wrong time. If you want to be really helpful in a group, you not only need to give honest feedback, you need to do it in a way that makes the opinions/ideas useful to that particular writer. Obviously I don’t expect that from agents/editors–I just want the straight unvarnished truth from them. Though I would imagine that over time, agents also learn how and when to give feedback to their clients in ways that are most appropriate–not every writer needs the same kinds of comments, in the same tone.
Snot and breakdowns, wow–you make it sound so glamorous. 😀
Awesome post, as always. Very, very true. That’s why, even though I cringe a little before I open beta comments or attachments from my crit group, I do it anyway–bc I know they’re only going to help me grow as a writer.
I dunno if I’ll ever get that elusive thick skin you talk about, lol–but I do want the truth, pain and all. Hmmm…does that make me a masochist?
So glad this blog exists, and you along with it.
Thanks for the sugar coating-free post. Snot, tears, and all, I’m enjoying the facts and the assertion that hard work, constant revisions, and years is what it’s all about.
Last night I discussed writing with my husband (around the background noise of our 4 young children). I told him I see people who want to “just get published” as absurd as parents who “just want adult children already.”
Where is the journey in that? Why skip all the good stuff to just get to the end? And find that the end is just probably another beginning?
My critique group are monsters. There is only one of the five (she happens to be represented by your agency) who makes an effort to soothe the lacerations they inflict. Of course, I snap a mean whip, too, but I try to emulate her kind ways whenever possible and truthful.
One of the panel sessions at the Fall 2009 SCBWI Carolinas Fall Conference in Durham, NC, was “Confessions of an Online MG Critique Group.” (See page 18 of Pen & Palette Winter 2010 at http://scbwicarolinas.org/Pen-and-Palette/.) At one point, two of the writers had yet to be published when a third, published, writer joined. Chris admitted that she was intimidated by Lisa’s status and wrote wimpy critiques until she realized one, that having a published author in their group was a huge opportunity, and two, that they were going to lose Lisa if Chris didn’t start giving critiques as good as she got. That story has stayed with me and parallels this post. Criticism is your friend. (http://www.rebeccapetruck.com/index-1a.html) Keep writing, everyone!
I’m in an on-line group that submits stories anonymously, and we get assigned stories to crit. It really helps to take the personality out of the writing… you crit the words and don’t think about who wrote them. In other groups you form bonds and friendships, it’s then hard to be honest about how you feel. I guess when it’s face to face it must be tough to tell someone you don’t like their work. (Stay out of punching reach!)
Not only will not everyone get published, but for those that are, not everything you write will get published. I have a whole file box of manuscripts that are what I now consider “writing exercises.” I think they definitely helped me become a better writer, not only in content, but in how to map out a plot, do research, and develop characters.
Growing a thick skin is definitely important, but it’s also important to be prepared to grow that thick skin. So many people think that they’ll be a special case, like Stephanie Meyer, and that’s why they find themselves getting frustrated about a little constructive criticism. People just need to realize that getting a novel published or represented by an agent is not an easy thing. I’m always being asked, “When are you getting something published?” when people find out I’ve written novels, like they think all you have to do is write a book, send it to an editor, change a few typos, and BAM – you’re published. Things don’t really work that way, not usually, anyway, and new writers need to realize that. That’s why, when people ask me that question, I tell them, “Probably never, but I’m going to try anyway.”
I don’t mind hearing how difficult it is, so long as I still read about people getting agents and selling their work. Love that article by Stephen Barbara. Thanks for the laugh!
My skin should be bark by now. I’m so thankful for criticism-it improves my writing. Yes, it stings, but every bit I’ve ever had has made my work better, whether it’s art or writing. In college, our art critiques were absolutely brutal, face-to-face, in front of the class. Writing-the same. Having the professors read it out loud, anonymously, for everyone to tear apart…yikes. Brutal. It thickened my skin, for sure, and always made the project better. It’s hard not to take it personally, but critical feedback is so powerful.
I wish I had a critique-group. Right now it’s only my husband-the absolute pickiest, hardest-to-please person I know.
I LOVED that article about Stephenie Meyer. Anyone who thinks it’s easy needs a definite wake up call. Her story, as great as it is, is one in a million. Thank you Mary for the insight about critique groups, I was just thinking about this the other day. I would really like to be part of a group, or at the very least partnered with someone, but I fear the time that is involved. With running my own company, chauffeuring children to activities, keeping up with the house, and finding time for my own writing, I can’t imagine having to read through someone else’s work on top of all that. However, I have never done it, so I really don’t know how involved it would be. Regardless, I think I’d like to give it a try anyway. I’ve been working on the same ms for almost a year now, and a fresh new pair of eyes could be useful. Thank you again for all your wisdom and advice!
I actually wish I could get harsher critiques from some of my critique partners. I think my partners are generally pretty honest, but I still have that feeling in the back of my head that they’re still being too nice.
Thanks for your advice. I’ll come back for more 🙂
When I first starting stacking up the rejections, I knew I was going to become a better writer. Every rejection made me determined to submit more; now I receive ‘yes’ slips as well as ‘no’ for my poetry. At first, my husband proudly posted my rejection notes on my corkboard in my office. He got the idea from Stephen King’s memoir On Writing. I took them down because I didn’t want to look at them every day. I keep them in a file. But now that my skin is ‘thicker’ those rejections don’t bother me as much. I often revise my work according to the ‘suggestions’ and those pieces have been published. No, it isn’t easy to get a rejection letter and sometimes my hackles still go up, but the more you write and the more you send out, the easier it gets to accept criticism.
Thanks for telling it to us straight! It’s hard to hear that your writing needs to improve, but honestly, who had perfect writing? No one. We’re all somewhere on the improvement scale, hopefully moving up!
Thanks for a great post.
It’s funny, because I’m so hungry for people to tell me the truth, hard as it may be. I’ve been in critique groups where people tiptoed around each other and I felt like I was offending if I dished out a true critique. And some people just don’t want to hear it. I’m a fairly seasoned writer, and I once critiqued a beginning writer’s first chapter. It had some pretty substantial problems but I tried to be nice as I pointed them out. He wrote back and told me why I was wrong on all points and that he’d submitted it to an agent!
I spent several years as a reporter and then freelance writer, so maybe I got used to people dissecting my writing, it doesn’t bother me (okay, not much. And the part of me that does get bothered? I tell her to go stand in the corner). The hard part is to get someone to be honest! So thanks–I just recently found your blog, and I’m glad I did.
As a creative writing student I’ve found constructive criticism through workshopping to be one of the most helpful aspect of my studies. Having said that, these sessions are challenging – not just when receiving feedback but also when giving it. For me, evaluating the work of others ‘on the spot’ is a skill that one develops with practice. I’m getting better at it but still have a long way to go!
You speak the truth in a wise and witty manner.
Don’t get behind just because you’re afraid of a little criticism. (Don’t follow all criticism and change everything about your work for other people, of course, but that’s for another post…)
Help! I have thick skin, truly. It’s not that I’m stubborn, just the opposite, I really want to learn. So…how do you know when to stick to your guns about your own writing and when to change your story? I get so many conflicting critques I’m drowning in confusion about this!!!!
This post is so true. I have a few writer friends that are very critical and I always know that if I get positive comments from them I’ve got something good!
I think you can also learn a lot from a good critique. I had an agent critique a picture book manuscript at a conference once. As discouraging as it was, it really helped me to understand the picture book market and to realize that my writing style at the time was probably better suited for chapter books and novels.
I agree that critique groups can potentially be harmful if they aren’t actually critiquing! I know it is difficult to be candid and honest and at the same time encouraging of another’s work. But, I won’t give, and hate to receive a blanket response like “This is great!” when I know it isn’t.
I love a critique that challenges my work and ultimately me!
When I joined my critique group, the first few criticisms stung, mainly because I’d never shared my work with anyone before. To be honest, it still stings sometimes, but my perspective has changed. I want my story to be as strong as it possibly can, and that means fixing the things that make it weaker, which means really listening to people when they point things out. I’ve been lucky enough to find some great beta readers that aren’t afraid to point out the weak parts. Seeing my story from someone else’s eyes has been a wonderful experience.
Criticism can be a bitter pill but no better medicine. Our job as writers is to put ourselves out there. It doesn’t end with agents and editors. Once published every reader is a critic. Cherish your harshest critics — often your best teachers.
Thanks for your honesty. I think it’s a rare treatment when you’re an aspiring writer. People see all the hope and promise you wear on your sleeve and don’t want to be the one to send you to the Cleaners.
My reality check came one evening last fall in a critique group hosted by a well respected Canadian Editor. I read my picture book story and got totally slammed by everyone, to the point where the Editor was questioning if I had successfully completed the prerequisite course to be in his class – how embarrassing! If I had a tail it would have been between my legs!
It took a while to get over, but it provided me with a new resolve to strive to better myself.
Here I am. Writing again. This time I’m writing about what I read about writing. The writing was about when to write, how to write, and how to listen to what writers say about what they read of my writing.
This writing I read was valuable.
I cannot stop generating words. I cannot stop reading words. I cannot stop my ego. I’ve tried and she’s stronger than I am. I want others to read my writing. I want to make money. I don’t have a choice. These wants surface, no matter the unlikelihood of getting what I want.
The rejection is good for me, and it’s good for the world. If I succeed, I’ll make more money and use up all those dwindling resources. Even as a poor American, I already get more than my fair share.
We need failures like myself. There is not enough stuff to go around.
Growing thick skin definitely doesn’t come overnight. A while back I was digging through some old stuff and came across an old notebook I used to write stories in as a kid. I thought, oh I should write, getting published is probably the easy part. I was way wrong. I have since studied the industry, attended a gazillion conferences, and critique groups.
Finding the right group of people is key. Join a critique group in your genre. Make sure to find trustworthy people who will be honest with you about your writing. I think so many writers stop writing because they go to critique groups or hear family members tell them their writing is the best thing since sliced bread, then they hit the send button and get disappointed. Sometimes you need to step back and take time to make your story great. 99.9% of writers are not Stephanie Meyer! Just keep in mind what the professionals will tell you and take your time.
Accepting criticism can be hard but good criticism can often help a writer. The truth is that once we get past the sting of some of the comments and look at our work to find them truth of them we often find that there are things which can be changed for the better. I think part of it can also be how the reviewer handles the critique. I’ve heard that the best method for reviewing another writer’s work is to try to find at least two things you liked about the piece and mention those first then make comments on what can be improved. I think this is a good method since it keeps you from turning the other writer off by only giving negative criticism. Plus it helps me to try to see good in the writing even if there are a lot of other things I don’t like.
Sometimes I think my critique partners are agents and editors in disguise. Thanks to their honest comments I’ve learned to enjoy the revision process. I’ve been with the same writers group for many years and keep my fingers crossed that we’ll be able to continue for many years to come. However, it is time to branch out. Your blog, Mary, will serve as a new beginning, a place to gain insight from others (I’m a first-time-blogger!). I look forward to revisiting kidlit.com.
Terrific post! Thank you! I’ll be sure to refer my readers to it.
As a writing teacher, I’d like to add that there’s a way to give honest and thorough feedback–to tell the writer everything she needs to hear, both positives and challenges–in a way that empowers her to make those changes and succeed.
Don’t get me wrong. No matter what you do, it won’t always be received that way. There are a handful of folks who simply refuse to hear anything but praise and others who couldn’t hear good news, even if it were delivered via a chorus of angels. But far more often that not, it’s an entirely productive and positive experience.
Cynthia — Thanks so much for checking out the blog! And your point is well taken.
Critique, above all, is a process of growth, learning, empowerment and evolution. The aim of a critique-giver should never be to cut down or “toughen up” their partner. The work of dealing with a critique and interpreting it lies solely with the writer. The job of a critique-giver is to, like Cynthia says, be honest and thorough and constructive. That’s not a synonym for “fake nice” but it doesn’t mean “snarky” either.
Thanks for this post, Mary, and for your blog. Any critiquing expertise I had comes from my awesome MFA program at Vermont College. Bold promotion!
There I learned that positive feedback means pointing out what is working in a manuscript. Specific comments about specific passages help the writer notice her/his strengths. Sometimes a critique partner must look hard for evidence of strong writing, but there is always something -word choice, economy of words, character development possibilities. I try to begin my critiques with positive comments before addressing challenges.
In pointing out a manuscript’s weak points, I try to formulate questions that make the author think. One of my pet peeves is listening to a critiquer tell a writer exactly how to word a passage!
Also, listening is key in a critique. I have sat through too many sessions where the writer spends precious critique time defending the manuscript. I think that unless clarification is essential to the discussion, critiquers should not engage the writer. The end of the critique is the best time for a writer’s comments. Think of the additional feedback that is gained!
I believe specific positive feedback, not global gushing, helps the most. Constructive comments that challenge the writer to reassess can be made in a professional way without damaging anyone’s psyche.
The truth hurts. That’s why so many people avoid it. But from what I have read in this blog, your truth is balanced with hope. And that’s refreshing. Thank you for taking a risk and sticking your neck out for us, the lonely writers!
This is one of the most helpful articles I have read. Yes, of course I would love to hear that my book is fantastic and will be on the bestseller list but I know that’s not likely to happen. I do believe in hearing the truth and any suggestions and opinions that tell me what’s wrong with what I wrote can only make me a better writer IF I don’t get upset and give up after a harsh review.
You’re right, us writers are a sensitive bunch. Although criticism may hurt, it’s how we improve our writing. I find the more of it I get, the easier it is to take. Thanks for taking the time to write this blog and all the advice you give.
That’s one of the first things I tell someone when I start to read their manuscript. “I am brutal.” Because I would hope they’d be just as brutal when they read my manuscript. It doesn’t help me when someone says they like it. I need to know what they don’t like so I can fix it!
In the animal kingdom it’s not unusual for certain species to eat some of their young so that rest of the litter can survive. My point? Simple: It’s a cruel world and as adults (or quasi-adults) we have to learn to live with rejection. Sometimes you get the mother’s milk, other times not…
Writers who can understand this and not take criticism and rejection personally are the ones that go on to have careers. And no matter how bad negative comments may seem, it’s not a matter of life and death. It only feels that way.
Thick skin is easier to develop when you start with a critique group that has your best interests at heart. It still hurts, but when comments come to you lovingly, you can at least pretend you’re OK until you actually become OK. Give yourself time. Remember, your work is being judged not you. So, smile, say ‘thank you’ and move on!
Is it kosher to query an agent who rejected you before with a new piece?
This is the hardest part of the writing process for me–listening to someone else rip around the parts of me that I wrote into my work–but ultimately, if they offer good criticism, my work will be the better for it.
I’ve really enjoyed going through all of the information on the blog. Thanks for opening up the publishing world to the rest of us!
Mstruitt — Yes, but do give it some time. We might’ve rejected you because of certain reasons to do with the writing or idea, so if we get another query very soon, we’re going to reasonably think that some of those issues are still going to be present in the new piece. I’d say to query with another piece, but wait about 6 months.
Like Cynthia Smith, I teach writing and I teach how to critique in a way the writer can use. I find even — or is that especially — for myself, that I don’t actually know what I’m doing well, often. In fact, I tend to be better at catching that things are sagging, but may not know why. So I need both, and I need specific. I don’t let people give generalizations, and I ask them to speak for themselves, not try to proclaim universal truths — that’s good etc.
The most important thing about getting published I ever heard was from Madeleine L’Engle, who couldn’t get anyone to publish A Wrinkle in Time. Walking down the street one day, she recognized that writing was what she had to do, that was the end of it. Almost as important was Doris Lessing’s experiment. She was widely published, internationally acclaimed, and sent out a ms under a pseudonym to several publishers, starting with her own. She was turned down over and over. I read the novel — it was as good as any in the Martha Quest series and stays with me still. All to say, it’s not useful to be smug about the publishing game — it can be a rough ride. Publishers are people with opinions. Often the good stuff gets published, sometimes that happens eventually — and sometimes it’s not in vogue until a later date or …
It’s wonderful to get forthright, specific and insightful feedback. The insights are only as insightful as the person giving them. Truth is rarely universal. So thanks for the post as a heads up — and remember Madeleine L’Engle.
Yes- skins need to thicken — but our hearts need to stay strong –and soft and understanding! We have to remember why we are writing in the first place- our love of story, of living with characters in worlds we create- of wonder- of wondering too, what will happen next, of our excitement as we begin a new chapter- or our character reacts to a situation and we type away, hardly knowing what will happen next ourselves. Let’s keep on reading- and reading great blogs like this one. I have been in sales, and because some customer said no, I did not stop selling, –because an agent turns me down, I will not stop writing–or reading their fun blogs, interviews or their advice. It’s all good. 🙂
Marie — This does bring up a thought for me. The other end of the spectrum is getting hardened, jaded and discouraged. Once that worms its way into a heart, it’s hard to get rid of.
I’m new hear, courtesy of a friend who pointed me to this site and the current Kidlit contest. I’m enjoying what I’m reading and consider it educational procrastination.
When I was taking Writing in Depth classes online with Caleb Warnock, our group had a big discussion regarding whether or not you could be “nice” when doing a critique. It came down to semantics. The point had been you need to offer honest, constructive criticism. We are not critiquing the author, but the author’s work. There is a difference. I felt you could be nice in that you were not telling someone they “sucked” but in offering helpful explanations about why something in their written work was not meeting the expectation of the reader.
I’ve read books that needed editing. It makes me wonder where the beta readers were and how they missed mistakes. Anne McCaffrey renamed a character between two books. Whoops.
Even the best writing group will miss things. I like that we can rely on an agent to be honest. A professional who will offer an objective eye on our work in comparison to those we work with on a regular basis, even as we know opinions are subjective. If you get the same comments from a few agents, you need to accept the fact that you must work on those million words a bit more. (Was it Heinlein who first made that statement?)
Harry Potter got rejected at first. But who among us are the next J. K. Rowling? Most of us won’t get away with a million dialogue tags in our first novel. With hard work and considered critiques that we accept and apply to our editing process, we can hope to write good books and find the right agents to get our happy endings.
It’s good to know I’m not the only one who struggles with the writing process. I hope I can come to grips that there is no such thing as a perfect piece.
A question: how do we edit comments after submission? I meant I’m new “here” – I ought not type with an almost 4 year-old in my lap!
I feel fortunate to belong to a weekly critique group that is not afraid to truly critique members’ work, but does so in a supportive, helpful manner. Flaws and shortcomings are pointed out and accompanied by suggestions about how to overcome them. We all learn and grow from each manuscript we read. From points of grammar and usage to voice and setting, we cover it all. I’m not sure if we leave each week with a thicker skin but I do know we carry away a deeper sense of what it takes to be a good writer. Members’ news about acceptance and/or rejection and good/bad news about marketing trends also bring the reality of the writing life home to us as we sit around the table. Now that I think about it, I suppose that reality does, in fact, thicken our skins!
I recently joined a writer’s critique group. Sometimes it is tough to listen to their comments. They are trying to help me become a better writer. Their comments have helped me see areas in my writing where I can make improvements.
I have semi-thick skin, but it’s so hard to find blunt critiquers.
When I return from my critique group feeling elated I indulge in the evening off. Well, I should say…I indulged in the evening off once. ONCE! Generally, I come back, fling the comments on my bed, lock my room and sulk in the kitchen in the company of two slices of Kraft’s single’s cheese. Then, I call my mom. After which I open the door to my bedroom door. Ignore my bed and do the laundry instead. The sun’s generally set by the time I can face the comments. And I go through the entire spectrum from denial (maybe they just don’t get it), anger (Im in a sucky critique group), bargaining (hmm, maybe that one comment there is correct but the rest is just crap), depression (how lousy a writer am I…maybe I’m just fooling myself and should give up), which I stay in for about 36 hours and acceptance (ok, fine I”ve got to cut 2k words and rewrite a whole chapter but I can do this.) I go through this journey of emotions once a month and if I don’t experience them after my group meeting I know…just know that I haven’t paid attention that day. That I haven’t pushed myself to the edge where you improve, learn, become a better writer. I don’t have a thick skin, don’t think I’m going to ever get one, my writing is personal -no two ways about it- but I make up for it by pretending I’m a freshman in college whose just got a C. The difference is….my professor is telling me I can retake the test. How cool is that! So I listen, sulk, cry, analyze and do my prep to retake the test because that’s the way I will become a better writer.
I like to think that I have thick skin. When someone tells me that something is awful, I don’t get mad or sad. I look at it. i figure out where they are coming from and try to make it better.
I think there is something deeply rooted in human beings to sugar coast things. I am in agreement with your article. I don’t want my critiques sugar-coated. I am in a critique group and they are very helpful. I know when all of them are pointing out the same issues with a MS it means something in my story isn’t working. I love honesty. I don’t beat around the bush and I respect those who don’t do that with me.
My feeling is that if I hear a criticism from an editor or an agent that I did NOT hear from my crit group first, they aren’t doing their job. It’s not enough either to simply say that they don’t like it, there must always be a “because” or it’s useless. Maybe I’m a bit harsh, but I guard my writing time jealously and if I have to pull myself out of my own world long enough to read, digest, analyze, and report on someone else’s writing, I’d better be getting something useful for me out of the deal. I feel fortunate to be a member of an established group of like-minded writers. We complement where appropriate and all criticism is always accompanied by reasons and sometimes helpful ideas.
I count myself very lucky to have both writer friends and reader friends that will bluntly critique my work and tell me that they don’t like my main character and find she has no redeeming qualities (ow, that one hurt) or that a scene is so boring they wanted to go to sleep. But every comment like that is worth it to me when the next time they read pages, they are speechless. More than anything else, I think a good critique partner and/or group is the best investment of time a writer can make, other than actually sitting down and writing a bunch of words. Thanks for the great post!
I’m a huge fan of critique groups. I am a member of an on line group that was formed by chance at an SCBWI convention. We are five women strong and we support and nurture each other with truth and constructive criticism, as well as praise and encouragement. We also share information about agents, editors, contests, and anything else having to do with writing for kids. Over the years we have become friends who cheer and comfort each other through the roller coaster of life. I am also lucky to be part of an on going live group that meets once a week, run by a brilliant YA writer/poet. Although I have not attended the live group for many months due to some ‘life gets in the way’ stuff, when I do attend, I find the feedback invaluable, not just to have my work critiqued but to have a support system. Writing is not the easiest profession in the world, as Mary can attest to, and it sure helps to have others with whom to commiserate!
Thank you for this post!
When it comes to writing, I was born with incredibly thin skin but I’ve been trying to thicken it up by joining two critique groups (one in-person and one online). Fortunately, I’ve been lucky to find a group of women who offer both helpful criticism and encouragement. Sure, sometimes their comment can sting, but it also makes sense and makes my work stronger.
Still…I wish I had naturally thick skin!
My worry with regular critique groups is that they could get as close to your work as you are. Well, not quite as close, but the danger is there that they lose perspective the more they read it, just like we all do during the writing/editing process.
You are completely right – developing thick skin is one of the most important things for a writer, published or not. I’m definitely one of those who is naturally sensitive about my writing, but I can’t imagine sending anything out without having it critiqued to shreds first. If something seems harsh or hits a nerve, I take a step back and remember not to take it personally. Our emotions can get so wrapped up in creative endeavors like writing, that it can be really difficult to separate our writing from ourselves! But – hey – it’s just preparation for publication, right? Reviewers and Amazon readers will no doubt be way more brutal than helpful CPs ever could be!
I hate constructive criticism, it’s like someone telling you how to be a parent. But as much as I hate it, I know its useful and can be extremely helpful. It’s a writer’s best tool. I also know a lot of people that say they love constructive criticism, which I know is a complete lie because anytime anyone says something bad about a person’s work, that doesn’t sting?
I think I’ve reread this same post about 5 times now. I like everything about it. It’s the just the right amount of realistic while still being encouraging. As someone who has a few failed drafts behind him, your post makes me feel like I’m getting closer to my goal rather than just making mistakes. I am definitely sending my best queries your way and I will keep reading this blog even if they do not meet your needs at this time.