6 Reasons Not to Listen to Your Critique Partner

6 Reasons Not to Listen to Your Critique Partners

Your 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 critique 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 you 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 critique partners suggest, especially if they’re 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 about your critique partners and their feedback.

1. How Experienced Are Your Critique Partners as Both Readers and Writers?

In other words, do they know what they’re talking about?

2. Does What Your Critique Partners Are 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 critique partner 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 critique partner, 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, I know I need to take another long hard look at the passage in question.

4. Do Your Critique Partners 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 Have These People Been Critting for You?

If your critique partners have read your work over a long period of time, they probably have 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 Partners’ 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 different facets of your story. Some people will be stronger at catching inconsistencies in character personalities, while others will be better at finessing your dialogue. 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 critique partner 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 critique partners may be, your story is still your story, and whatever you change or don’t change must line up with your own vision for it.

Wordplayers, tell me your opinion! What is your best rule of thumb for getting the most out of your relationships with your critique partners? Tell me in the comments!

6 Reasons Not to Listen to Your Critique Partner

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About K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland

K.M. Weiland is the award-winning and internationally-published author of the acclaimed writing guides Outlining Your Novel, Structuring Your Novel, and Creating Character Arcs. A native of western Nebraska, she writes historical and fantasy novels and mentors authors on her award-winning website Helping Writers Become Authors.

Comments

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

  2. 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.

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

  4. 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!

  5. Hey, let’s hear it for Scottsbluffians! 😉 Thanks for commenting!

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

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

  8. 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.

  9. 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.

  10. 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!

  11. 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!

  12. 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.

  13. 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.

  14. 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.

  15. 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.

  16. 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!

  17. 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!

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

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

  20. 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.

  21. Thanks for the advise! I have had a critique partner for over ten years and here is what I learned: Not only is good to know what they think about your work and to know their own work, but also what they think about pieces none of you have written. Then you will know better where do you agree and where you don´t and the advice will be more useful because you will know when it is just personal and when there is really a problem. At least that is something that helped me 🙂
    M.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      That’s genius! Definitely gives you a good sounding board for finding common ground as readers.

  22. Yes, exactly! And I think it´s very helpful to know where the critic is more relevant and when it comes to things you liked in other authors and your critic partner just didn´t.
    M.

  23. I had a critique partner who nearly made me stop writing. She tore my stuff apart without explaining what was wrong or offering a suggestion on how to fix anything. She told me her critiquing was a “gift” I should accept gratefully and I should NOT say anything while she was critiquing. You article made it very clear that what I was looking for in a CP was okay. Fortunately, I dropped her years ago.

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  1. […] likes your ending but hates your main character. Don’t believe all of them—or even any of them. Weigh their opinions for exactly what they’re worth and make up your own […]

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