“Critique” or “What Doesn’t Kill You Might Make Your Work Stronger”

That’s right. The dreaded “C” word. …Um, no, not whatever other “C” word you’re thinking of. Critique, people, critique! “A critical review or commentary, especially one dealing with works of art or literature”! The artist’s best friend slash worst enemy.

Some people wholeheartedly enjoy having their work torn to shreds by others for the sake of personal and professional betterment. (Looking at you, Tirzah.) The rest of us (I’d say “the sane ones”, but, well, then I wouldn’t qualify) would really rather have a perfect world in which no one has anything but complimentary things to say about what we’ve done because, hip-huzzah, we’ve earned that and more! Erm, don’t look now, though, but… the world isn’t perfect. Neither are we. And neither are our books, our poems, our fill-in-the-blank. And sometimes – dare I say, oftentimes – in the interest of taking ourselves closer to perfect, we need someone else to help us see where we’ve stepped off of the creative straight and narrow.

Now, to restate for the sake of clarity: I do not like receiving critiques. At all. But too bad for me, because there are times when I’ve got to deal with them. And to help me through those times, I try to keep in mind a certain incident from not so very long ago…

            * * * FLASHBACK! * * *

Fire Elemental, one-point-oh

I’d just finished a picture of a character of mine, and being really pleased with how it had turned out, I showed it to my mom.

Me: Behold, Mother – my fire elemental!

Dearest Mumsy: Pretty cool, honey. But he doesn’t look so much an elemental as some guy with a fiery background.

Me: But… but… b-but… *mopes*

Fortunately, some of my best revisions are done while moping. I went back to the drawing board (or, more accurately, back to my drawing pad ‘n’ stylus) to make some modifications. And however long it was later…

Fire Elemental, two-point-WHOA!

Me: Betterness?

Mother o’ Mine: And how!

The changes weren’t huge, but the difference totally was. And I don’t think I ever would have thought to add the needed touches if my mom had simply said, “Pretty cool, honey,” and left it at that.

There are bound to have been other examples since then, but this is the one that always comes back to me, that moment when I first truly understood: Critique can be some nasty medicine to swallow, but it can be totally worth it.

There are tons of blog posts, articles, and self-help chapters that deal with different views on this topic (such as this piece on Emerald Barnes’ blog, which first put the notion of eventually writing this post in my head, or these tips I gleaned from the Gotham Writers’ newsletter). Clearly, then, my thoughts are not the end-all, but they’re what I have to give and what you hang around here to read, so here they are, in summary:

1. Gather some reasonably trusted opinions. (Not just anybody knows what they’re talking about or wants you to succeed. Use your judgment.)

2. Keep your defenses down as low as they’ll go, and honestly reflect on the feedback. (And, um, try not to bite your critics’ heads off…like I sometimes do… Yeah, having people all up in your stuff can nettle, but if you followed Step 1, they’re probably just trying to help you.)

3. If a suggestion is way off base, happily ignore it. (Feel free to whistle and strut while fixing a celebratory sandwich.)

4. If what you’re hearing has some merit, take it and improve. (The fire elementals in your life will thank you.)

Floor’s open: What’s your standout experience with critique?

2 thoughts on ““Critique” or “What Doesn’t Kill You Might Make Your Work Stronger”

  1. I am a huge fan on your “how-to” guide on critique. Administering critique in a way where both parties come away satisfied is difficult, but worth it. As long as tact, acceptance and good intention is involved, it can be extremely helpful. Though, having said that, I wouldn’t say I’m great at hearing critique! I think I’ll be the one happily ignoring and making celebratory sandwiches.

    • Thanks, Louise. (: Funnily enough, I do believe I was busy writhing in the throes of a critique at the very time you sent this comment. X) Ugh, I give myself maybe a C+ for how I handled that… But both critic and artist survived, and now on to revising accordingly. Save me a celebratory sandwich for when I get the thumbs-up from my partner in avoiding literary crime!

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