I debated what to take to the peer critique on Friday. I signed up for a one-on-one with a fabulous editor on Saturday. I knew that I didn’t want that piece to be critiqued by my peers and make me doubt it for the one-on-one. I had some other chapter books, but none of them were really ready for this kind of critique. They needed a more focused critique with my own group. So, I chose one of my picture book manuscripts.
I read it aloud, surprised my hands weren’t more shaky. Also surprising, the text made some of the group members laugh. Out loud! Two illustrators were the first to critique.
“I couldn’t work on this book,” the first one said. “You left it too wide open. I need some more description.”
“I would love to work on this book,” the other offered, “because it is so wide open. I could do anything I want. But you might have to work with your editor to reign me in. I wouldn’t want to offend your sensibilities.”
“If she wrote this kind of story,” another critquer chimed in, “she doesn’t have any sensibilities.”
The statement would have been really funny, if only the person had a sense of humor. After all, my book is about passing gas. But I think I approached the topic tastefully and with kids in mind. Certainly not without sensibilities. Oh well. What was I expecting from the same person who said “It just needs a little tightening?”
Once I rubbed away the sting of the ego-bruise, I was able to take a few useful things from this critique. It was probably because, regardless of how nasty or nice it is, here is how I approach critique:
I take tons of notes. I really listen and try to write it down in the critiquers words. If I have any immediate thoughts on the critique, like how I could fix what they’re discussing, I make a quick note.
I address the small stuff. As soon as I can, which is sometimes the same day or the next day at the latest, I fix anything like typos or missing words or minor misalignment.
I put the notes away. I stick them in a drawer, at least for a couple of days but sometimes longer.
I revisit the notes and ask questions. When I am ready to take out the notes again, I make sure I can do it with fresh eyes and fresh attitude. Most of the time, waiting has allowed me to disconnect the critique from the speaker or my initial feelings so I can approach it and decide if it is truly something I want to change in my work. Asking myself some questions about the critique can help my decision too. For example, I might think about why the person had a problem with a certain part. Was the way I wrote it unclear? Is a character underdeveloped? Was it just a matter of wording? With my feelings about the critique put away, I can answer these questions honestly.
But sometimes I still can’t answer the questions. That is when I have to remind myself of a few other things.
1. Sometimes, what a critquer says isn’t meant for the piece of writing in front of them at all. They’re saying something to benefit themselves.
Maybe the critiquer feels they need to say something to make them sound more literary, as unpackedwriter pointed out in her comment on Monday’s post. Maybe they’re addressing their own insecurities. Maybe they’re a little jealous of your work (as supportive as the writing community is, it does happen sometimes). Maybe they just had a bad day and need to take it out on someone. Critiquers are still human.
2. Though it sounds like an insult, and maybe was meant to be, a nasty critique might actually be saying something positive about you.
Having “no sensibilites” sounds like a bad thing, but I turned it around. I learned that I might have a talent I hadn’t recognized. I might be able to set aside my adult sensibilities when I write. What children’s writer wouldn’t want to do that?
3. Changing my work is ultimately my decision.
It doesn’t mean I’m always right, or that I won’t end up making changes anyway, but I decide whether or not to take a critique into account as I revise. if I don’t like a piece of advice, I don’t have to take it.
Going through my normal process with critiques and keeping in mind that the person critiquing my work is still human, I was able to take some useful things away from this nasty critique. I learned that my book is not for everyone. Some people are really offended by bathroom humor. They are not my audience, but that’s okay. I don’t think any picture book truly is for all readers. I learned that I’m gaining confidence as a writer. I wasn’t afraid to take a chance and put this story out there. Even when I got a negative critique, I didn’t let it knock me down. I just grew another writer size.
Links You Might Like:
A post from someone else “who has no business in children’s books:” http://taralazar.com/2012/11/09/piboidmo-day-9-kelly-light/
What you can gain from negative critique: http://www.humblebunny.com/defending-and-overcoming-negative-criticism/
Rapper Eminem’s thoughts on critics: http://www.directlyrics.com/eminem-on-fire-lyrics.html