The Joys and Anxieties of Getting Critiqued
by Mira Reisberg
Hi there, I’m so delighted to be on Kathy’s blog today sharing about critiquing. If you’re like me, and both love and dread getting a critique, I want to share some tips with you for making this process easier as well as some pointers and resources for critiquing your own work, getting critiqued in critique groups, and
getting a professional critique.
As Don Miguel Ruiz, author of the Four Agreements says, Do Not Personalize! The critique is about your work and not you. And the reason you’re getting a critique is because you want your work to be better, which usually requires changes. Those suggestions for changes are not any kind of reflection on, or
rejection of, you as a writer. They are comments on that specific piece of work by a specific person, and they are very subjective. So if you can, try and wrangle your ego and sensitivities aside to get the most out of it. Humility can be a wonderful thing. We’ll have more about this later.
Honor Your Own Belief
Chances are as many people that you show your work to, that’s how many opinions you’ll get. And that’s why it’s important to honor your own belief in your work if it’s something you feel strongly about. We all know stories about people staying true to their vision of their own work, like JK Rowling, or Kate DiCamillo, Dr. Seuss, or Yuyi Morales among many others. They endured massive rejections until someone finally “got’’ their work! At the same time if multiple people have the same comments, concerns, or suggestions, it might be worth listening to them. Keep your original, but also try their suggestions and see which version you like best.
The key is to allow yourself to be vulnerable, reflective and non-defensive so that you can be open to hearing advice that might be helpful to your writing or art.
See It As A Learning Experience
By the time you get a critique, you’ve probably put a ton of time, heart, thought and soul into your work. So when someone suggests changes that sound like they are asking you to redo a whole bunch of your precious work and put even more time into it, you may encounter some resistance. Talk back to your
defensiveness and see if you can see it as a wonderful learning experience where you get to “take what you like and leave the rest’’ (AKA TWYLALTR).
Trusting Your Peer Editor
Whether you have a special critique buddy or a critique group, it’s important to trust them, even if it takes time and a few critiques to do so. Check in with yourself before your critique – how much do I respect this critiquer? Even if you don’t particularly trust their expertise, what might another pair of eyes see that you may have missed? And of course remember no-one’s words are etched in stone – just TWYLALTR.
It’s really hard to critique your own work and be objective, which is why peer and professional critiques are so helpful. It’s a bit easier with illustration as you can fool the eye by looking at your work upside down or in a mirror. You can also look for underlying geometric shapes or squint to focus on the negative space for composition. Unfortunately there aren’t any tricks that l know of to fool the eye or mind to see your written work in fresh original ways, other than putting it away for a period of time. There are however things you can look for and things that you can do to hear it better.
One of the best of these is to have someone read your work out loud so that you can hear where they stumble or pause or where anything sounds awkward or could be improved. If this isn’t possible, record yourself reading it out loud with something like SoundCloud and then listen to it as if it was written by someone else. There are certain elements you need to attend to with writing such as character, voice, plot, pacing, language, underlying themes, and with nonfiction, structure, voice, pacing, language and subject matter. If you’d like to download a reusable critiquing template for Self or Peer critiques click here bit.ly/CBA-Gift
Trusting Your Professional Editor
If you want to work with a professional editor make sure to check out their qualifications first. Look at their level of education, number and quality of books traditionally published, years in the industry, and testimonials. Just like working with an editor at a publishing house or an agent, you need to work with a
professional who either “gets’’ your work, or is sympathetic to what you are doing.
Different editors work in different ways. Some just do overviews with general suggestions like, “This could use a stronger voice” or they point out parts that are incongruent or hard to understand. This usually happens in shorter critiques at conferences. Still, even though it’s brief, learning about these things from a practiced eye can be very helpful.
Longer critiques from professionals generally are more helpful as they are much more in-depth and usually more specific. When getting a critique ask if they’re going to do line edits, or more of a proofing for grammar, typos and providing overall suggestions. The clearer you are about what you want, the less likely you are to be disappointed.
Personally, I love line edits with specific suggestions rather than generalizations. An example might be where the editor says “You might want to make your character more sympathetic” versus them saying, “’If Joe helps a younger kid at school, it will make him more sympathetic.’ Or, you could have him say, “I love you Mama,” at the very beginning, which will also make him more sympathetic.” (This is called “saving the cat” where the unsympathetic character does something nice so that the reader will like him or her better because they’re not a complete jerk.)
I’m a lifelong learner so as a teacher and editor, I try to show with examples and explain the Why of things. With my own critiquing, I see it as a collaboration going back-and-forth via Skype asking questions, clarifying things, pointing out underlying themes or ways that your words or art connect with children’s lives, emotions, or intellectual interests/curiosities with as much kindness as possible.
It’s a magical process that I treasure. Sometimes it feels like a collaborative collage where we move around what’s already there to make it more dramatic, dynamic, humorous, relevant, and logical. For me, weird as this may sound, I feel like I get to channel the person I’m critiquing to help take their work to the next level and make it more marketable.
At the same time, I’ve been lucky enough to be critiqued by some extraordinary editors, who have not only made my work much stronger but made me a better critiquer as well. Because I’m secure in their love for me, and because I admire their tremendous talents, I’m super receptive to what they have to teach me, which makes it easy to let go of ego and defensiveness and hear what they have to say through both my head and my heart. I believe it also makes me a better editor as well.
I have a bunch of manuscripts that, because I’ve been critiqued by experts, I feel pretty good about. Still, getting over the procrastination and fear of sending out your work when it’s ready, is a whole other topic. I’m happy to say that I’ll be talking about this, and other super practical things including writing techniques, in the brilliant Hillary Homzie’s and my FREE live and recorded webinar on Saturday, March 25 right here! bit.ly/7KidLitThings We’d love for you to join us.
Finally, because I spend so much time teaching and responding to former students, as well as my own creative work, I rarely do critiques outside of courses. But if you’d like a critique with me, join our mailing list to find out the rare times I open up my schedule for non-course critiques right here http://bit.ly/CBA-Tribe-SignUp and also receive a handy dandy plotting template as well as other timely and helpful information!
Bio: Dr Mira Reisberg is a multi-published, award-winning children’s book illustrator and author whose books have sold over 600,000 copies. She has helped and continues to help many children’s book writers and illustrators get published. Mira has worked as an editor, art director, designer, university professor teaching kid lit writing and illustration, as well as a literary agent. She has a PhD in Education and Cultural Studies with a focus on kid lit. Starting April 3rd, she and Hillary Homzie will be co-teaching a radically effective course for complete beginners to award winners on Writing and Illustrating Middle Grade Novels. Check it out here http://bit.ly/1RiHEqz