Accepting Critiques of your Work: Sanctification

criticism (2)

Courtesy of bing.

 

The rough draft is done. The rewrite is done. The first round of alpha readers is in. (You know who you are: thank you!) Adjustments are made, notes are taken, and the story is ready to simmer while the rough draft of Book 2 is written. Rinse and Repeat.

This is my general cyclical habit when I’m writing a novel.

Last year, I added in a new step via Scribophile. As I read, critique, and learn from other writers at various stages in their craft, I share my chapters to be critiqued in their turn.

What a different world. I get the email notice that my work has been critiqued and I’m instantly nauseous. This is not my writing group of gentle suggestions. This isn’t fellow believers who see the beauty of the gospel in my work. This isn’t friends who’ve been reading my work for years. This isn’t even acquaintances of friends who wanted to see what I write. These are people who don’t know me and are willing to take any given chapter apart word by word. (I’m now crawling into a corner.)

If you’ve never opened yourself up for a sound critiquing, you need to know there is little in the world as painful. I had to build a tiny network of friends/fans/readers just to talk me down off the rough every time I got a critique.

I will admit much of the negativity and harshness is in my head. The critiquers have, over all, been very encouraging, kind, positive, and helpful. But, God is a master at using every element of our lives to point out our remaining sin and make us more like Christ. Getting critiques of my beloved story was the perfect opportunity for God to help me see my pride.

Sigh. There was a lot of it.

Paragraph breaks, commas, dialogue, telling, info drops, confusion, descriptions. Each time someone pointed out something that needed another polish with the old rag, a little voice of anger rose up in me: “Can’t they see that this is the greatest work ever???? What’s wrong with them?” Whoa. Hold up there, Betsy. Greatest work ever? Really? Come on.

Someone’s struggling with pride. Me.

Lesson 1: Getting Critiqued Requires Humility. If you want to survive any type of criticism and come out better on the other side, you must willingly admit that you are in need of improvement. You do not have it all down. You aren’t perfect. And you can’t see everything. It’s a scary and vulnerable position to put yourself in even when you have a computer between you and a critiquer. But! It’s also very healthy. I’ve done my greatest growing under strong criticism. (Generally, after some pity-partying, but I’m working on that.) Thinking you have it all together, that you have no room to learn, grow, or improve is not a good place to be. It’s a place of pride and a place of stagnation. We all have ways we can be better. Better writers, wives, mothers, church members, and just all around human beings. If we don’t accept criticism, we’re probably in danger of also deciding we don’t need to listen to the preaching of the Word, or our spouses, or our parents. This leads us right into rebellion.

God used an online critique group to really poke at my pride. It wasn’t fun. But, I’m thankful he didn’t leave me thinking I was all that, and didn’t need to keep growing.

Lesson 2: Getting Critiqued Requires Confidence. Having other readers and writers tell you a name doesn’t work, or a sentence doesn’t fit, or they don’t like the description here, or a character isn’t making sense to them is very important for the storyteller to hear. But, the storyteller can’t blindly apply every suggestion given. Why? First, constantly contradictory advice is given. What works for one reader doesn’t work for another. One person loves a description and someone else hates it. You must decide what works in your book. Second, only you the storyteller sees the end. You know that the description is important, or the character, or the name. They haven’t read the whole book yet.

So while you humbly listen to their advice, you also sometimes have to confidently reject it. They don’t know your story as well as you do. You can’t make everyone happy. Sometimes a critique is wrong.

I’m the kind of person who hates conflict. (ISFJ, here.) I’d rather sacrifice what I want in the name of peace and quiet, then stand up for something. I’ve had to learn that it’s okay to ignore critiques, advice, suggestions, and outright demands. I don’t have to do what someone says just cause they really hated something. It’s my story.

This flows out into the rest of my life as a warning about who I listen to. I need to be very careful who I allow to critique my life. My pastors, my husband, close, wise friends. These are the people I need to listen to and I can confidently trust. I don’t need to accept every criticism the world or people level at me. I don’t need to listen to people who tell me how they think I should manage my health, my life, my home, my schedule, if what they say doesn’t line up with the truth of the Word, or what my husband has laid out. I can confidently ignore them. They aren’t my authority. Sometimes this means preaching to yourself when you read a blog article, watch TV, read magazines, or even talk to friends. Sometimes it means talking to your husband when you get home about what a supposed authority said.

 

criticism

Courtesy of bing.

 

From having my work critiqued by strangers, I’ve learned that you must hold in one hand great humility, and in the other great confidence. You must be willing to admit you need work, while at the same time know what’s best for your story.

Life is the same. You must humbly listen when others point out faults or make suggestions. You must confidently stand strong so you don’t try to be everything to everyone and forget who and what’s important in your life.

God is good and uses everything, even a harsh critique of a chapter you love, to show us our sins and to make us more like Christ!

 

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14 thoughts on “Accepting Critiques of your Work: Sanctification

  1. It’s like you’ve been reading my mind lately. 😛 I definitely needed to hear this too. It’s a tricky balance, holding onto both humility and confidence. Which is why I have to constantly pray about it and lay it at God’s feet. Thanks for sharing your experience, which is strangely similar to my own. Haha! It was both convicting and encouraging. Love you!! ❤

  2. What helped me was this realization: writing fiction is a skill that must be learned; writing fiction well is a skill that takes a long time and a lot of effort to learn.

    Freeing myself from the expectation of greatness was a huge turning point in my ability to accept criticism.

    That being said, what I want to hear (that was The Awesome) versus what I need to hear (to improve it, do this, this, and this) are two very different things.

  3. Applicable in many arenas of life. Particularly difficult to sort through in creative endeavors because they are so subjective, by their very nature.

  4. Abby,

    Can you tell me more about the site you referenced; scribophile? Seems like you are giving it a ringing endorsement.

    By the way, pride is something that afflicts almost all of us. From the rich to the poor. When I listen to how people speak, they are always heroes of their own stories. People always tell the story about how they saved the day and to a lesser extent how they are right when others are wrong.

    Probably like you, I really try to be humble out in real life. I try to listen more than I talk and I try to make others feel respected and appreciated. By the way, I’m not bragging, just saying how I approach life. But sometimes it really takes effort not to try to trump someone else’s story about a time when I did good.

    But when writing my characters, I try to let them brag about how they really are saving the world even if it a world inside my head. In my mind, I play them up and make them into something more than just a regular human. I am not sure it is pride you are feeling, but it is something more like love for your characters. I think it is perfectly natural to have some pride in something you created, even if someone else thinks it is garbage.

    A slightly different thought that I had when I was reading your words. When I apply your words to the best author ever, God. And I think of the character he created in me, all I can be is humbled. Just think of the Humility or Confidence that God exhibits when he allows a knucklehead like me to critique him. I am just a small time character in this great story of humanity but he still created me perfectly and allows me to learn and grow in this thing we call life.

    Great article, and I am so happy that you shared it.

    rob

    • Love your thoughts, Rob! Scribophile is an online critique group. You critique other writers, earn karma, and in turn post your own work to be critiqued. It’s been extremely challenging and I’m thankful to have found it. You can do it for free, or pay a small fee and get more benefits. I highly recommend it.
      Hope you’re well.
      Abby

  5. Love this! It’s so true how we need to have simultaneous confidence and humility. And to have both those things we really have to be finding our identity in God and resting in Him. 🙂

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