Friday, January 4, 2013

It's Okay to Ignore Those Critiques. No, Really.

I'm going to say something really unpopular.

Are you ready for it?

There are some critiques you can tell to go kiss your butt. And online fly-by-night critique forums are 98% useless.

Now, don't go out there and start telling a bunch of people who were just trying to help you out that they're wrong and you're right and Emily White told you so.

But DO feel free to fantasize in your own mind that you're telling a certain critique to go walk the plank and imagine all those words swirling around like yummy little alphabet cereal.

Because guess what...

Unless you're getting a critique from a trusted alpha or beta, the person (who is most likely the sweetest, most selfless person ever) doesn't know enough about you or your writing style to give you worthwhile advice.

Now, I'm not talking about grammar mistakes or glaring problems that are easy to pick out.

What I am talking about is the nitpicky stuff. The stuff that a person picked out because it's a critique forum and they want to be helpful, so they really go searching for something, ANYTHING. The stuff that essentially means, "Well...I wouldn't have written it this way."

This is why the fly-by-night critique forums full of people who are there for a week and you probably won't ever meet online again are 98% useless. The 2% of helpfulness comes from the fact you get a chance to meet people who could potentially become your trusted alphas or betas.

And believe me when I tell you that I am absolutely, 100% guilty of giving really bad critiques in forums like these. Like everybody else, I was just trying to be helpful.

But as the years have gone by, I've realized something. You really can't give good advice unless you've read several pages and gotten a good handle on the writer's personal style. The only help you're going to give is helping that writer come up with a cookie cutter version of a novel.

And though there are very wonderful, important rules to crafting a novel, the amount of variety writers can come up with is far more vast than cookie cutter advice can come up with. There are rules to painting, too, but you can tell one artist's work from another. We should be able to do the same with novels.

I joined one of those forums about a year back (the kind that's there for a week as part of something bigger) and a writerly friend of mine joined as well. At the end of the week, and after getting a lot of different forms of advice, my friend wrote a very sad blog post about how he/she thought that he/she should just give up on the story.

The story is brilliant, readers. Brilliant.

And those are the critiques that should be ignored. Instead of seeing how brilliant the story was, all everyone saw was how it was different and not how "they" would do it.

Critique is good and open, accepting minds are great, but get your critiques from people who know you and have read more than the first page of your work.

But don't be rude to these fly-by-night critiquers. They really are trying to be helpful. Take to heart what is useful, but silently (so silently you're the only one who knows it) ignore what is not.


  1. Amen! And it's always harder to ignore the harsh critiques. It's like they have the potency of skunk and it lingers in your head for days. Best to avoid it ;)

    1. Oh, don't even get me started on the harsh critiques! One of these days I'm going to open up my can of whoop-ass for all of them to see.

      Harsh critiques done on friends, though. I'd never publicly display my anger in defense of myself. That's for my husband to see. :P

  2. Yep! I learned this a few years ago, that critique forums or groups like that DO NOT work for me. If i don' even casually "know" the person giving me a critique, it gets my defenses up like cray cray. CRAY CRAY i say!

    1. And you know what? I think the problem is they don't really work for ANYBODY. I belonged to a permanent forum at Writer's Digest a few years ago and I noticed that as time went on, all the stuff we were critiquing for each other started looking the same. There were a couple people who, just like most social situations, started standing out from the crowd and becoming "leaders" for lack of a better term. Once they said something, everyone would wholeheartedly agree, no matter what it was. Eventually, you couldn't tell one writing style apart from another. Small critique groups filled with people we trust and who value differences are what we should be looking for.

      And by the way, YES! When someone I don't even know comes on and starts schooling me on things, my defenses go RIGHT up. And you should see me when I'm angry. I'm like a rabid squirrel, baby! LOL!

  3. Excellent advice Emily! The trick is to know what to pay attention to and what not to pay attention to. Your writing should be YOUR writing. These critiques can be devastating to some authors while they can also be very helpful to others. I've found if you ask them to critique specific things it seems to be more helpful. For example, I always ask them to look for grammatical errors and holes in the story line. If it is someone I trust I seek their advice on other things such as "Would my character say it like this or like that?"

    1. That's why small critique groups full of trusted writerly friends is the best way to go. 1. You're more likely to hear what they have to say and 2. If you're far enough along in your writing career that you realize you need a critique group (why yes, young and immature writer Emily used to think I was soooooo far beyond that), you usually know what is good advice and what is not (and you're more willing to enter into a dialogue with the critiquer rather than getting insecure and just doing what a pack of people say).

  4. Terrific advice! Definitely sharing this blog post. I just got my manuscript back form Betas and realized that maybe I didn't choose some of the best. One person was annoyed that the Main character didn't end up with the right guy. The sad thing is, it was never a love triangle. The second guy was strictly a friend.

    The point is, they clearly didn't understand. And they didn't like it because that isn't how they would have done it.

    Thank you for the awesome post!

    Konstanz Silverbow

    1. Ah, yes. I have been there. Once, I had a beta who sent back my first chapter entirely rewritten. I think maybe twenty of my original words were still there. She thought my MC wasn't spunky enough (the first chapter is very dark and intense and no, my MC isn't spunky anyway), so she rewrote the whole thing how she thought I should do it.

      The best thing to do in those situations is just calmly inform your critique partner that you think you and he/she probably should go your separate ways. People have different ideas of doing things and that's okay, but you definitely want your critique partners to "get" you and what you're doing. They can't help you otherwise. And thankfully, I've now learned to always go through a trial run with a potential critique partner (we each send the first chapter to each other to see if our styles mesh) before any permanent commitments are made.

      And yay! Thank you for sharing. :D

  5. I just critiqued something for someone for the first time. It was just a short preface, under three hundred words. I mostly just pointed out that she had the habit of using the same words several times in the same paragraph and maybe it would help to look in a thesaurus. (Which she agreed with.)

    Her writing style wasn’t the same as mine at all, but I realized that from the start and made sure that any ‘problems’ I found, weren’t because of the differences in our style, and that nothing I told her would change her style at all.

    Do you consider something like that to be more harmful than good? I personally would find it pretty helpful… Thanks!


    1. Now that's the obvious stuff I was talking about. Too many repeated words and such. That is easy to see right off the bat and anyone can be able to point it out. And differences in writing styles? That's okay, so long as all parties understand that it IS okay and wonderful and should be encouraged.

      This stuff is helpful and a very wonderful way to approach critiques in the setting that I talked about in the post. In fact, this is exactly how I've approached my own critiquing in temporary forums. People still love getting feedback and it's honestly helpful.

      The only unhelpful stuff comes about from seeing different styles, etc. and trying to change that to fit a "norm." Can you still give this type of critique? Sure! But the writers getting that feedback shouldn't feel discouraged or immediately go about changing the way they write.

  6. I have never used one of these... I guess I won't try to now. Haha.

  7. One of the best bits of advice I got from my crit group over the years was, "Take our critiques to heart, but never take them personally." Balance that with giving yourself permission to ignore at least a third of the comments, and you'll find those helpful nuggets that make critting worth it.

  8. Remember our days in the Writers Digest forums? I did actually get some useful critiques from there, and met some fabulous people (present company included). :)

    But you're right about the bulk of what you receive!


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