Sharing Your Work for Critique: Let the Conversation Happen

Nov 12, 2020 | For Beginners, Inspiration, The Business of Publishing

One of the essential skills of a serious writer is being able to share your work, receive feedback and evaluate the criticism given to you. As author Sarah Aronson says, “How another person receives the words on the page can help you improve your story. Make it deeper. More meaningful. More relevant.”

There are so many ways to get feedback on your work:

From your peers:

  • Critique/writing partners
  • Critique groups
  • Roundtable critiques (in-person or LIVE on Zoom!)

Professional critiques:

  • One-to-one meetings with mentors at Highlights Foundation workshops
  • Informal consultations at workshops
  • Faculty-led roundtable critique sessions at workshops
  • Paid editor or agent critiques at conferences
  • Work-for-hire editors (can include a variety of things)

What Peer & Paid Critiques Have in Common:

You’re putting yourself, and your work, out there! What can that bring?

The Good Stuff:

  • New ideas
  • Validation of you and your work
  • Valuable insights
  • New ways of looking at your material

The Bad Stuff

  • Disappointment
  • Resentment
  • Discouragement
  • Hurt feelings
  • Loss of confidence

Don’t let the Bad Stuff keep you from sharing your work. The questions that you’re asked may guide you toward a deeper understanding of your project. They may challenge you to find answers beyond what is currently on the page. They may direct you to add or subtract. They may leave you with more questions. Somewhere in the questions you hear, you will find some insight to help you on your journey.

Let the Feedback Conversation Happen

Erin Dionne, leader of The Art of Giving and Receiving Critique, is an author and college professor who teaches creative writing. She says, “Every professional writer that I know, when they are sharing their work for critique, they are entering into a conversation about their book.”

When receiving critique, Erin suggests:

  • Try not to be defensive and just let the conversation happen.
  • Listen to what people are saying about your work and seriously consider it.
  • Take notes.
  • Know that others may be hearing something useful for their own projects.
  • Feel free to ask for specific help: “This is what I feel like I’m doing well in my story, and this is what I need help with.”

Remember, says Erin, “You are the final arbiter of your own work. What you have to do is listen–and you get to decide HOW to solve the problem.”

After Your Feedback Session

Listening to others talk about your work can be a very emotional process! Some things to do and remember:

  • Be kind to yourself: take some quiet, nonreactive time to process your feedback.
  • If you’re feeling attacked or defensive, hit the reset button. Do something you love before you dive back into the work.
  • Remember that you don’t have to take every suggestion. Just be willing to consider what you heard and how it could improve your work.
  • Give yourself a pep talk.
  • Roll up your sleeves, get organized, and start to apply the feedback to your work.

With practice, receiving feedback will get easier, and you’ll see the benefits in your work. Below are some blog posts and articles we’ve collected that might be of interest.

Peer Critique Versus Professional Editing: When, Why and How to Use Both, a guest post by Barbara Linn Probst, on Jane Friedman’s blog

Feedback and Affirmations, from Sarah Aronson’s Monday Motivation newsletter

Are You Being Served? A Recipe for a Great Critique Group, from editor Emma D. Dryden’s blog

#HFGather: Sarah Aronson and Agent Linda Epstein Talk Feedback & Process

The Braintrust Critique, with Nicole Valentine & Rob Costello, Episode #8 from the Highlights Foundation Into the Words podcast. The braintrust critique method is a round-table critique method that includes the author in the conversation.

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