Who’d be a critic? I’m not talking about the flesh-tearing but insecure ego-tripper as in Sebastian Faulks’ A Week in December, but more somebody who assesses manuscripts and/or mentors writers.
Sending your baby out for review produces numbing fear in a writer; desperate for feedback, but scared the reviewer/assessor/critic will deem it a heap of crap. So when that envelope thuds on your doormat or that email pings in your inbox, it’s a moment of pure courage to open it. Over the shock and the flouncing about, what to do?
Think about this to get balance:
- Reviewers/editors are generally acting with good intentions and good ones want to work with you to help you improve;
- There are positive, encouraging comments in the report – you may have only concentrated on the negatives;
- The criticism is about the work, not you personally.
So what can we do with the report?
- Leave it alone for a couple of days;
- Read it through thoroughly – make a copy and mark it up, sentence by sentence. Don’t dash off and change the manuscript at that moment, keep going through and mark it up: D (disagree); A (Agree); * action point; underline (Oh, how true!) and scribble all over it.
What do we learn?
- Perhaps you didn’t get a particular point across well;
- You may have been lazy by not showing rather than telling;
- Was that piece of dialogue an indulgence?
- Perhaps your protagonist is a tad boring;
- Did you miss an opportunity to show reaction/emotion?
- Perhaps that fab sunset or those rolling hills have nothing to do with the character or plot, but were something you are proud of (kill your darling alert);
- Those things you know in your heart that are wrong have been exposed.
What is the result?
- A note of strengths – check the good comments and be proud of them;
- Weak points have been scooped up and dumped back on you to improve;
- You’ve been made to think, not just the points under scrutiny, but the whole thing. You have been granted ferret-like awareness to root out other discrepancies. Profit from it;
- You’ve been given a professional assessment, so be equally professional and listen and act on it.
You wouldn’t be human if you weren’t a little hurt by the negatives, but do you really want an assessment that says ‘You were wonderful, darling,’ when deep-down, you know you might not be 100% wonderful?
Coaches say that you should turn any set-back into an opportunity. I know I sound like Pollyanna, but it’s true. I firmly believe that while I may not agree with everything the reviewer says, I know that each time I undergo such a process, it sparks off a frenzy of brain activity. Sure, I see cringe-worthy mistakes, lapses and lacks but I discover I am writing at a higher level, my imagination brings out fresh insights. I have developed the ability to slice through the dross and replace it clever plot turns and deeper characters. (Well, until next time 🙂 )
So, bon courage!