There are two types of critiques, the face to face, the report that lands on the doormat...
There are three types of critiques, the face to face, the report that lands on the door mat, the online supportive group of friends...
There are four types of critiques... the first three plus the online site where no one knows anyone and you get a message that says, I'll critique yours if you critique mine and can I be on your bookshelf, I'm slim at 20 thousand words and my cover is gorgeous. And I'm cheap to buy.
There's probably more.
But how to cope, how to take the knock when it's face to face? Because it will be a knock. There will be something wrong. There always is. Why? Because you're asking people to CRITICISE! So, people, being kindly folk who like to please, will do as you ask.
Let's take a closer look at The Face to Face
We have a habit in our face to face SCBWI York and Middlesbrough groups of critiquing anonymously or pretending we don't know who's written the piece.
Because two things happen when an author is being critiqued face to face.
One – the author defends their work – Oh, but I meant this. Or. But you don't understand, he does that because he fell over when he was six and trapped his nose in the drain cover. He's ultra sensitive about the size of it.
Two – the critiquers address the author directly with solutions. I think you should add in three more characters, move the whole thing into space, and get rid of the drain cover. It just blocks the characters POV.
So, number one – the author defends their work. But why would you?
This is your baby, this is something you have poured yourself into, sweated over, checked and re-checked so even letting someone else look at it is a major accomplishment and deserves chocolate. As silence descends and the other authors read your work you sweat a bit more and secretly scan their faces for a flicker of a hint of interest. Was that a glimmer of a smile? A raise of an eyebrow? Then papers are shuffled and the critique begins.
You glow under the obligatory first layer of the critique sandwich.
The 'say something positive' first layer of wholemeal bread.
You sag and deflate under the Marmite/mustard/difficult to digest layer of tough criticism.
Then you glow again (hopefully) as another layer of wholemeal is slapped on top.
If you can stay silent during all of that then you are a star! And it's very important to try. Because these are just opinions, just what a group of people think. But, if you listen hard you'll see that although everyone will have different opinions some of them will match. And it's these that are the important ones. If you jump in to defend, you'll miss them.
Make a note of what's said, it'll give you an excuse to look down. Think about the comments. Forget about them. Remember them. Think about them again. Do you agree with them? Do they have a point?
Analyse them – are they subjective or objective? Focus on the objective ones – I don't know what the character's goal is. The protagonist doesn't make his own choices. The use of that particular metaphor is inappropriate.
Coping mechanism - Pretend this is not your work. Forget the protagonist is based on your son. It'll make it easier if they don't empathise with him. Forget the time spent writing the work and focus on the learning that has been gained through writing it. Focus on the insights the critiquers are giving into the craft of writing. Focus on what would you say about the work if it was not your work.
Number Two – the critiquers address the author directly with solutions.
It's so tempting for a critiquer to come up with solutions. And they can be useful to you. But it isn't their job to come up with all the solutions. That's your job. The critiquer is there to point out the good and the bad.
So what to do if your group constantly tells you how to cure your plot, beef up your character, and inject a bit of humour into your dystopian darling. Before the crit begins ask them to focus. Give them a job. Please can you comment on how I've used food to define character. What do you think about the introduction of the antagonist, is he bad enough to hiss at? Have I deepened the relationship between the squid and the jellyfish, is it believable?
Coping technique – write them all down, all of the ideas. Then put them in the bin when you get home. And probably one of them will stick in your head and trigger an idea of your own. And that will be the best one. Use that.
Good luck and don't forget to avoid this at all costs.
Maureen Lynas also blogs on her own blog which she creatively named - Maureen Lynas