Journey To Wisdom

Photo by Moyan Brenn, Flickr

“If you listen to constructive criticism, you will be at home among the wise.” 
– Proverbs 15:31 NLT

At some point in the writing process, your work will need to be scrutinized by different eyes in order to rise to the next level. If that sounds scary and intimidating, it’s because it is. It’s as though you’re placing your Waterford crystal heirloom out in a hailstorm.

But no matter how well you think you write, or no matter how well you do write, the truth is, everyone makes mistakes and many of those errors can only be caught by another reader. When you write a particular scene, your internal narrator clearly knows what you mean, therefore, every time he reads it back to you, it makes sense. It may, however, still be quite hazy to someone else.

And, if you haven’t figured it out by now – unless you plan on writing something and taking it to the grave, never having seen the light of day – somebody’s eventually going to read and criticize your work. Better it be an experienced writer in a trusted critique circle early in the game than a reviewer canning your masterpiece-of-crap after release.

So for today’s Sunday Inspiration, I picked the quote above, and would like to address three components:

  • Listen. Take the cotton out of your ears and put it in your mouth. There was a good reason you picked your CPs or beta readers, so listen to what they have to say. Don’t defend your work – at all – even to yourself. When reading feedback, it’s easy to think, “But that’s because…” STOP. That’s defending. Once you’ve entered into that mode, you’ve quit listening. You’re justifying why you wrote it that way, which evidently was unclear, so shut up and open your mind to the suggestion. Give everything consideration; it doesn’t mean you have to change it, only contemplate it. 
  • Constructive. This means promoting further development or advancement. Ideally, you’ve picked people who want to help you improve your work and who take that responsibility seriously. Lay down the criteria for critiquing beforehand. Do you want them to give a developmental critique (pacing, plot, structure, characterization), perform line edits, or find copy and grammar issues? Then choose people whose work reflects strengths in those areas and can relate those problems back to you effectively. “This bites” just doesn’t cut it.
  • Criticism. The art of analyzing, evaluating, or judging the quality of an artistic work. Notice I said “the art,” not “the act.” Provide your criticism with grace. Your advice will be received much more readily if given with tact and consideration. Defenses won’t flair; earn your CP’s trust. Besides, everybody who reads any piece will perform the act of criticizing to some degree, even if it’s only to say to themselves, “This guy’s a genius!” You don’t mind that, do you? Then be willing to accept the offering from the person who says, “This dude can’t write worth a flip.” If he supports his thoughts with valid reasoning, then take it into consideration. Note all feedback, good and bad.
As the proverbial sage says, “Do this and you will be at home among the wise.” And maybe, just maybe your book will be at home among the classics. But always remember to listen with a discerning ear. “This masterpiece is reminiscent of Homer’s, The Odyssey” means something entirely different than, “This book can easily stand on the shelves beside The Odyssey.” Check your shoes…you may have just been peed on during that hug.
Enjoy your Sunday!


26 thoughts on “Journey To Wisdom

  1. Important points. It's hard to be critiqued. I've been pursuing writing for years, and I still cringe when I hand my work over to someone. Only way to get better, right? Thanks for stopping by my blog!

  2. Mike, I learner a lot both by having my work critiqued and by being a CP for two other writers. There has been good and negative in the experiences. It's a learning curve either way. Accepting thoughts without acting on the need to justify why you did what you did is difficult. As you said, you put the cotton in your mouth. My suggestion too is to just sit on the feedback for a week or so and let it simmer. Let the emotions and the critiques just be there. I found after the initial "I suck" feelings, I was able to start thinking about my MS more clearly.

  3. And thanks for returning the favor, Theresa!My gut always suffers whenever I put something out there; I think it's only human nature. Having the ability to let the immediate reaction go and consider with an open mind what's been said is an enviable trait.

  4. Yes…I've found that keeping my mouth closed and sitting on the critique can really change my tune. Remember how full of dialect Monty originally was (and how I was bound and determined to leave it in the narrative)?Your suggestion is the perfect way to proceed. After a few days, your initial response will have waned enough to see what the reviewer meant, and it might be a good thing.And your writing never sucks…trust me. :o)

  5. Excellent, excellent points, Mike. I remember the first time I ever put my work out there to be critiqued. I cried. And I listened. After a few times, I learned to start filtering out opinion from helpful facts. If one person says one thing and no one else mentions it, odds are your dealing with an 'opinion'. If 5 or more people out of 10 tell you there's a problem with a certain point, odds are you should probably take a look at that section and see how you can tweak it to address the problem. Trust your betas. That's why you have them. I know I would much rather hear the 'bad' news from them than an agent/publisher.

  6. You've outlined some excellent tips for both the person being critiqued and the person giving the critique. Offering constructive criticism is indeed an art. I believe writers need to be at a certain point in their journey before they are ready to join a critique group. For me, this included getting to a point where I was willing to put my "baby" out there and hear the hard truth about it. But I found it even harder to tell others the truth about their "babies." What I've discovered is that when group members truly want to see each other succeed, critiques are given in that spirit and everyone wins.

  7. Great advice, Mike. Are you getting Monty critiqued already? Damn. I have different levels of terror when letting others read my work, ranging from complete indifference, to bleeding fingernails. (It's a bit like public speaking really.)I try to keep in mind that a pianist doesn't just sit down and play perfect Mozart a month after deciding to become a pianist (except for that show-off Mozart). There are plenty of music lessons to endure, and bad notes to be played before earning an appearance at Carnegie Hall. It's important to never lose sight of the end goal.(I wish I could follow my own advice sometimes.)

  8. Very good points. We all think we can handle criticism well, until we get it, and realize we need some practice.I've come to know that before responding to anything where initially I have a defensive stance, to wait it out. Then reason comes home and I can take in whatever I felt defensive about, get the good out of it, and honor God with my response. Sometimes, it might take a day or so before I can respond. :)The hard thing is when you get a negative rating without any critique attached. I had to wait about a week after that before commenting. When nothing changed, I just left it to God.

  9. Wonderful post!! I'm sorry I'm a tad late to it.When I was first critiqued and again when I was first professionally edited, I did a lot of defending. It took a while to learn to listen and contemplate.

  10. Those are all great points, Jenny, especially the one that said, if everyone is telling you this, consider it! Thanks…sorry it took so long to get here. Got wrapped up in tomorrow's post and forgot about you!

  11. Wonderful analogy, Egg! And those show-offs like Mozart ruin the curve for all of us.No…I'm not at critiquing at all. Not even finished with the last two chapters (I'm catching up on neglected writing). I just saw this quote and it spoke to me.Sorry it took me a couple of days!

  12. Don't apologize…you're "tardiness" reminded me to get my butt back in here. I had missed the other comments! I learned that defending shuts the door on openmindedness. Thanks for coming by!

  13. Awesome post. Well said. Love the cotton out of ear and into mouth statement. So true and so needed during critiques. I've been with an awesome critique group for a few years and they make a huge difference in uncovering things in my manuscript I don't see (or don't want to see). Giving and receiving critiques is definitely an art form and because of that (and lessons I've learned from critiques groups) I'm very picky about the groups I join. I need true, productive critiques with people who aren't afraid to give and receive.Also liked how you connected the Bible quote/verse to this post. Nice and seamlessly done.

  14. You are very lucky to have found a great group, Demetria. Cherish them! Finding people with great skills, good demeanors, maturity levels, openmindedness, and the like is akin to searching for a piece of hay in a needlestack. Painful and difficult!Yes, I really loved this verse. I've tried to remain a little neutral in the religious tone of my blog, not wanting to seem overzealous or pushing a certain belief, but a great quote is a great quote. And the Bible is full of them! I'm sure I'll be using plenty more.Thanks, Demetria. You're so appreciated. :o)

  15. What are you, a one-liner king? You crack me up. I love the reverse metaphor "searching for a piece of hay in a needlestack,"—it's painful and difficult. Never heard it reversed before. Love it! I'm so using it. You have so many one liners I enjoy. And I'll just say this too, I tremendously enjoy you and our new found friendship, Mr. Swift. You are a treat.

  16. As I suggested in my first comment about cherishing your group, you are part of the group that I cherish. I learn from and enjoy everything about you. You're truly a sweet, kind, talented, respectable, and upstanding woman with a good head on her shoulders.The one-liners? Just how I see the world. I thought, "What's difficult?" Finding a needle in a haystack. Too cliche. Hay in a needlestack? Perfect…it's the way God has blessed me. And friends like you keep me on my toes."As iron sharpens iron, so a friend sharpens a friend." Proverbs 27:17Thanks for keeping me sharp! :o)

  17. Ha! Funny. :o) Sitting her down and gently caressing her hand, my mind searches for the perfect words to express myself. "Honey…sweetheart," my voice lilts, then continues softly, "your baby…this young, innocent little treasure…well…it's ugly. I mean, hideous."How's that? Too much?

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