reasons not to listen to your critique partner

6 Reasons Not to Listen to Your Critique Partner

Critique partners, critters, alpha readers, beta readers, proofreaders, editors, loyal slaves and subjects—whatever you want to call them, they’re a vital part of any author’s arsenal. No matter how talented and studied we may be, we’re always going to need an objective pair of eyes to look at our work and point out the flaws we’ve inevitably missed. Those of us who are lucky to have one or more dependable crit partners are blessed indeed. Critters should be pampered and courted and thanked profusely at every opportunity.

But, believe it or not, this doesn’t mean we don’t have every right to completely ignore them at times. It’s often hard not to surrender to incumbent doubts and make all the changes your critter suggests, especially when he is more experienced or forceful than you are, or when a critique group gangs up on you. Surely, they know best. Surely, the story will be better their way than yours.

But will it? How do you know when to heed criticism? How do you know what’s worth listening to? You can start by asking yourself the following six questions:

1. How experienced is your critique partner as both a reader and a writer?

In other words, does he know what he’s talking about?

2. Does what your critique partner is saying resonate with your own instincts?

Take a moment to brush off the sting of criticism, sit quietly, and ask yourself if the suggested change feels right for the story. Chances are your critter may have seen something you missed. But, then again, maybe not. If your gut tells you your story is better your way, listen to it.

3. Has more than one person mentioned the same problem?

My personal policy on criticism is that two people (one of whom can be myself) have to agree on it to make it worth changing. If I agree with one critter, then it’s a no-brainer that I’ll change my manuscript to reflect his suggestions. But if I disagree with one critter only to have his opinion backed up by a second opinion, I know I need to take another long hard look at the passage in question.

4. Does the critique partner understand what you’re trying to accomplish in the overall scope and tone of your story?

Sometimes critters unintentionally try to conform your writing to their own style. His style may be just as good as yours, but if it’s not what you’re going for, don’t hesitate to ignore irrelevant suggestions.

5. How long has this person been critting for you?

If your critter is a person who’s read your work over a long period of time, he probably has gained a very good sense of you, your work, and what you’re capable of. The longer someone has critted for you and the more established your relationship, the more likely his advice will be worth listening to.

6. Do you know your critique partner’s strengths and weaknesses?

If you’re able to have more than one person read your manuscripts, sometimes it’s best to ask each of them to focus on a particular facet of your story. Some people will be stronger at catching inconsistencies in character personalities, while others will be better at finessing your dialogue. And, likewise, each will have his weaker area, in which his opinion may not be as valuable as someone else’s.

In short, you’re not likely to discover a critter whose advice is worth listening to in toto. You’ll have to sort through his suggestions, balance your mindset somewhere between discernment and humility, and discover which juicy bits of criticism can lift your story to a new level—and which cannot. In the end, no matter how brilliant your critters may be, your story is still your story, and whatever you change or don’t change must line up with your own vision.

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About K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland

K.M. Weiland lives in make-believe worlds, talks to imaginary friends, and survives primarily on chocolate truffles and espresso. She is the IPPY and NIEA Award-winning and internationally published author of the Amazon bestsellers Outlining Your Novel and Structuring Your Novel. She writes historical and speculative fiction from her home in western Nebraska and mentors authors on her award-winning website.

Comments

  1. This is a unique take on a problem many of us run into. FOr the first time ever, I had critique partners read my latest WIP. It was interesting to see where they agreed and didn’t. I found sometimes that I totally felt they were changing my entire direction, but mostly they were right. THank you for this post!

  2. A writer friend of mine (Ruth Ellinger, author of “The Wild Rose of Lancaster”) told me once to “follow advice in order to CORRECT and CLARIFY, but do not change your style.” I love that statement, and it is backed up by all of the points you make in this post :).

    Great job!

  3. @Terri: I do a lot of critting, so I’m very aware of how difficult it can be. But I also know that as hard as I
    may try, my suggestions are never all going to perfectly line up with the author’s vision for the story.

    @Kat: GREAT advice! Thanks for sharing.

  4. Fantastic post. I have a couple of critters who I really love, but sometimes I just want to smack them because of what they tell me about the story. Once, one of them told me that one of my characters was being “too blunt” for a certain scene and that I needed to change that, but in reality that’s just how the character is.

    So yeah, I definitely subscribe to the “take it with a grain of salt” camp of critiques.

  5. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  6. I always enjoy hearing how other people think my characters should react. But ultimately I’m the one who has to make the decision how they should act.

  7. Another consideration is to take into account what audience the writer typically aims for. The opinions of YA/MG authors might not hold the same weight on an adult-oriented manuscript as they would on a YA one.

    That’s not to say their crits aren’t useful (two of my crit group are YA/MG focused and they both pick up on important things) but it’s something you might have to consider.

    Other than that, I completely agree with this. I’m lucky enough to have one writer friend who gets exactly where I’m trying to go with my completed MS. She’s invaluable in that respect.

  8. Good point. Genres are so specialized these days that the “rules” that work for one author of one genre may not work for the author of another genre. But it’s always good, too, to get varied opinions.

  9. Great thoughts, Katie! (And thanks for linking to Word Wanderings!!!)

    I think I follow *most* of your suggestions when I review your crits and other folks too. Probably my biggest thing is whether or not they can see the whole picture, and whether their suggestion fits in with the grand scheme of things. I also try to take genre into consideration.

    One of my best critters is primarily a fantasy writer, and I write mysteries. While I tend to take most everything he says to heart, there’s a few things that just won’t fly for me. Now, when I’m working on my sci-fi, I listen to his advice very closely and try to take everything he says into consideration, weighing it against the intention behind my story.

    Thanks again!

  10. Critique. I cringe at the sight of that word. I perspire and my heart rate rises.

    Whether I’m the critiquer of I’m the critiquee, I shy away from the task.

    When the time comes when I need to have my word critiqued, I’ll remember this blog post. If you say all the above is so, I believe it. The proof is in the pudding, meaning your books are proof of your advice.

    Bye.

  11. @Liberty: You’re welcome!

    @Shaddy: Getting critiqued is never much fun, but it’s soooooo important!

  12. You always have to be careful that people aren’t just telling you how they would write the story. That’s not useful information unless you want them to write the story.

    I think the best sounding board is an ordinary reader. But that’s probably from my years of hanging around the theatre. The audience tells you when something works. If they can’t get into it, or start rattling papers and shifting their feet, you know you’re in trouble. Playwrights get their best critiques standing at the back of the house.

  13. It’s true that some of my best beta readers “just” readers. Although I always want at least one knowledgeable writer to take an analytical look at my work, I don’t want to get so hung up in the little technical details that I miss the big pictures. Plain vanilla readers might not pick up on the technical gaffes, but they’re invaluable with their feedback.

  14. Thanks for this post. A great list. I really liked your phrase, the balance between discernment and humility. That says alot about both giving and receiving critique.

  15. Unfortunately, I only have one Critter so far and she is my daughter. Need I say more? :-) She would say all the right things, no matter what.
    I have found a writing group that I will be involved with and can’t wait to hear opinions of my work. I so appreciate this post and all of your insightful thoughts.

    Thank you so much,

  16. Good points here. I never lasted very long in a critique group…maybe I needed some of your tips. I think I’ll tweet this one. Thanks!

    Elizabeth
    Mystery Writing is Murder

  17. @Paul: It’s a balance we’ll never quite perfect I imagine – but it’s what I’m always striving for.

    @Cynthia: The encouragement of family is fantastic – but, you’re right, it probably isn’t the best idea for critical advice!

    @Elizabeth: Thanks for the RT!

  18. I’ve been blessed with a great critique group. I went through about four groups before this group was formed with the specifications two of us were looking for. The first criteria – only historical romance and second, critique nice but critique honest. The group has been together a year and a half and I trust them completely. No, I don’t always make the changes they suggest and there will be at least four separate readers on anything I submit. However, when they all mark the same thing, I know it needs to seriously be reviewed and most likely revised.

  19. “Honest but nice” is the basic rule of good critting as far as I’m concerned. A little sugar always helps the vinegar go down more easily.

  20. Good advice! Some Critters you can’t trust at all. My husband thinks everything I do is fabulous. It’s sweet of him but other than changing a misspelled word, I take the rest with a HUGE grain of salt :)
    I can see how a good critter would be of great value.
    Blessings.

  21. It can actually be a little dangerous to have the wrong critter read your work. I made that mistake several years ago when I gave the first few chapters of a WIP to a non-writer, non-reader. At the time his negative advice thoroughly confused and dejected me. But I see now that he had no idea what he was talking about.

  22. Thank you so much – this is an awesome post, and I really needed it right now. I have been getting a little overwhelmed with the amount of criticism I’m getting, and this post is confirmation that I need to decide when to listen to critiques, and when not to!

  23. Glad you found it encouraging. It is easy to be overwhelmed, but don’t let it discourage you. Writers just have to develop a thick skin.

  24. I think it’s always great to get at least one other opinion on your work, if not more. But in the end it’s your project and you have to make the decisions. But you should really consider their suggestions.

  25. I do think there’s such a thug as too many opinions. Sort of like too many cooks in the kitchen.

  26. I found your blog from Erica’s, and I’m glad I stopped by. This is great advice. I just joined a crit group last week. So far their suggestions have been wonderful, but it’s good to know when to listen and when to go with your gut.

  27. Well, it is *your* story, so it’s *your* gut instinct that has to be the deciding factor. Glad you stopped by!

  28. I’m so excited that I found another Nebraska writer! :-) I grew up in western Nebraska (around Scottsbluff) and now live in Lincoln. Looking forward to reading your blog!

  29. Hey, let’s hear it for Scottsbluffians! ;) Thanks for commenting!

  30. Great questions to ask. It’s important to remember that no matter how much experience a person has, the opinion is still subjective.

  31. That subjectivity is both frustrating and liberating, isn’t it?

  32. Thank you for the tips! I’ve been afraid to seek out critique because I’m afraid of stumbling upon the wrong critiquers. I don’t want to be homogenized into somebody else’s vision. But I DO want to improve.

  33. Finding the “right” critter is largely a matter of trial and error, in my experience. Plus, because critting is such a huge dedication of time and effort, critters come and go on a regular basis. But finding a good one is definitely worth the effort.

  34. The critiques I sought in a general writer’s group were different from what I look for in “readers” for my novels … for the novels, particularly now, I have one person I trust implicitly to read – (hi angie!) as my first reader – she knows me, she knows my style and voice, she has good instincts, etc – and most important, she knows it is too important to me for her to be “nice” – and she has to be tough. If I get more than one reader for the novel I am working on now, that will be nice, but I don’t know yet if that will happen (and the publishers/editors will be reading it as well).

    As for general critters – Even the ones I don’t agree with or think they are missing the mark, I still mull over their comments – sleep on them – because many times there is some bit of truth to it, or some angle I can look at from their comments — sometimes people are not sure what it is that is bothering them, so they just make something up or guess – or they aren’t experienced enough to know the term, etc.

    The more I write, the sharper my instincts – so now someone can many times just tell me “Something isn’t right with this paragraph” and I can figure it out. :)

    Great post!

  35. It’s interesting how we can be completely blind to something, but if someone so much as nudges us in its direction, the flaw suddenly becomes as clear as police-car sirens! Sometimes, for me, all it takes is punching “send” on a new manuscript. I’m *sure* to spot a plot hole right after I sent it irretrievably into cyber-space!

  36. Excellent points! There are times I get caught up with what someone says even when I know the person is clueless. I often wonder why I ask my mom or a friend I have! LOL.

  37. Excellent points! There are times I get caught up with what someone says even when I know the person is clueless. I often wonder why I ask my mom or a friend I have! LOL.

  38. Excellent points! There are times I get caught up with what someone says even when I know the person is clueless. I often wonder why I ask my mom or a friend I have! LOL.

  39. I’ve learned that I have to be very careful whom I ask for advice. If I’m not likely to listen to them anyway, why ask? It’s unfair to them and it’s likely to plant seeds of doubt in my own mind.

  40. Hi, K.M.! Thanks for coming by Write in the Way! It’s great to meet you! I look forward to getting to know you!

    Love that name–critter! That definitely takes some of the sting out right there! Critique can be difficult to read, but it’s important to remember that it’s supposed to make us better. I really try to do that and it helps a lot!

  41. You’re very welcome! :)

    Not everyone appreciates being called a critter, but, personally, I get a big kick out of it. I love cozy nicknames!

  42. What a helpful post! I love my critters but I don’t always take ALL of their advice.

  43. The crit relationship is definitely a love/hate one – but in the end critters mostly deserve LOTS of love. :D

  44. I usually end up finding ideas that excites me too much and do it. By far, I am blessed with good critiques
    But that doesn’t mean it will always be that way. So I better learn this lesson now. :)

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      Sometimes the best critiques are the negative ones, even though they’re never fun.

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