Wednesday, June 20, 2012

How to Take Critiques - Guest Post by Julie Hedlund

It's Wednesday!  That means we've got a guest on the blog.  Today we welcome a real "knockout."  Welcome, writer Julie Hedlund!


Critiques:  How to Take Them
By Julie Hedlund

My brother was a boxer as a kid.  One of the first things his coaches taught him was how to take punch.  If you're going to take one in the gut, you have to harden your belly to reduce the impact.  It might still hurt, but probably not enough to bring you to your knees. 

Critiques are like that.  As writers, getting feedback on our work can be like taking that punch.  But if we're not willing to take it, we can't even enter the ring.  Nobody - and I do mean nobody - is so gifted a writer that s/he can birth a masterpiece with no input from others. 

Yet, many writers are so in love with and so protective of their "babies" that they can't even hear feedback, much less incorporate it into their work.

At a workshop I attended a couple of years ago, author Alane Ferguson said it best.  Sometimes she comes across writers who are so unwilling to consider revisions "it's as if they think they are channeling God's words."  To which she said she always wants to respond, "Honey, God is not that bad of a writer."

So, how can we "get over ourselves" enough to use the golden nuggets of feedback we get from critique groups? 

Mind your defensiveness.  I have noticed, in critiques, that when someone gets very defensive, it’s usually over an issue that is very important to the direction of the work, and one that almost all of the other critiquers agree upon.  I know I do that too.  So take note: the points that make you feel the most defensive are probably also the ones you most need to hear.  When you start thinking, "They just don't 'get' it," or “She doesn't recognize my genius," or "S/he doesn't know what that s/he's talking about,"  that is precisely when you need to stop talking and start taking better notes.  You'll decide later after you have more distance whether the feedback makes sense, but if you tune out or talk over it, you'll miss a huge opportunity to evaluate your work.

Pretend everything is true.  Nancy Mercado, editor at Roaring Brook Press, said she had one author that used to get riled up every time he received her edits.  They always spent lots of time wrestling over them.  Then one day he called her and said, "For two weeks, I decided to pretend everything you said was true."  He revised the manuscript according to her suggestions and found that the vast majority of them made his work better. I've tried this myself, and I’ve found it gives me the emotional distance I need to decide whether certain comments work for my manuscript or not.

Give it time.  Do not make revisions immediately after receiving a critique.  You need a bit of a "waiting period" while your brain comes to grips with the suggestions so you can decide what is true for your work.

Writers can be sensitive souls. But even though the feedback you receive from critiques might sting sometimes, remember that even the act of considering it will ultimately make your writing stronger.

Believe me, because I know how to take a punch.  My brother was four years older than me, and he had to practice on somebody. :-)



Julie Hedlund is a picture book author, a member of SCBWI, a monthly contributor to author/illustrator Katie Davis’ Brain Burps About Books podcast, and the founder and host of the 12 x 12 in 2012 picture book writing challenge. Julie’s website is http://www.juliehedlund.com.

45 comments:

  1. Great post - very fun and full of good advice! I especially love that quote from Alane Ferguson :) And I too was the punching bag - serves us well in later life, doesn't it? :)

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    1. Gotta love brothers who box! :-) And that Alane F. quote is priceless.

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  2. Great advice, Julie. We really need to remember to roll with those punches during crit. It's hard sometimes but worth it. We all have had those cringe-worthy moments! I'll be keeping your words in mind when I meet wih my group this Friday! :)
    Thanks!

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    1. I got a particularly "thorough" critique at the NJ-SCBWI conference so I had practice putting all this advice to use. :-) Good luck on Friday!

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  3. Ouch! Great post, Julie! You're exactly right...take some time first before revising...let it all sink in. Sometimes it's hard to distance ourselves from our stories.

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    1. I usually take at least a week after receiving feedback to start revisions.

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  4. Excellent post, Julie! Thank you for your words. I need to remember them at all stages of my writing.

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  5. You threw some great punches here, Julie! Just what we needed to hear. Great advice. Than you!

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    1. @Beth @Joanna - thanks for stopping by, and glad you found the post helpful!

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  6. Thanks for the great advice, Julie! No matter how many times you have your work critiqued, it can still hurt - especially when you really love a particular line. I've started a file of "gems" I've had to cut, for the benefit of the story, to hopefully use in another future story - it's way easier than just deleting them.

    Love Alane's quote!!

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  7. All great advice, Julie, and all true.

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  8. Yay Julie! This advice is spot on! I save the better junk in hopes I can use it in another story. But only the better junk, you understand. *wink*

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  9. What a great post especially for those of us starting out in critique groups. I liked what you said about listening,
    "...that is precisely when you need to stop talking and start taking better notes." Thanks for sharing with us Julie!

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    1. I only give advice I need to take myself - LOL!

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  10. Thanks for all the great comments guys, and THANKS to Rate Your Story for hosting me today!

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  11. I love this post! Back when I was in college and knew ALL the answers to ALL the questions, it was very simple. Anybody who doesn't like what I write is an idiot. Happily, I learned to take a punch, and sometimes it's more a well-deserved, head-to-toe beating, ending in a total smackdown. Important lesson to learn. :)

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    1. It's funny how we "know" less as we age but are far more wise. ;-)

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  12. Great advice! Particularly the part about imagining it's all true as a way to emotionally distance yourself.

    Writing is easy. It's revising that's hard, and revising well is what makes us writers. Or, at least, what makes us cry and moan and rend our garments. (Or maybe that's just me.)

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  13. good advice. I like the "pretend everything is true" idea...

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    1. Right, because if you're only pretending, you can always change your mind. :-)

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  14. Great post, Julie and Rate Your Story! Julie, if you don't mind, I'd like to give printouts of this to my students. I'll be teaching some writing workshops in fall, and this would be a nice complement to my Rules for Critiquing handout.

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    1. Sure, that's okay. What writing workshops do you teach?

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    2. Thanks, Julie! The two I have scheduled are Personal Stories (essay writing) and Buffing up on Basics (helping writers get back into a writing routine). I've been away from teaching workshops for a few years. Eager to get back to it.

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  15. Great advice!!! I know I have gotten defensive. I'm much better about it than I used to be because I look back at what I was defensive about and....lo & behold...they were spot on!!! I love what you said about giving it time. It's sort if like grieving---we have to say goodbye to some of the lines we love and it isn't easy, but time heals gives us time to grieve & gives us a new perspective.

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    1. It is like grieving having to remove the lines that are most precious to us. Great point!

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  16. Thanks Julie for your great advice. Will remember when receiving feedback.

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  17. Solid advice. I really like the comment from Alane Ferguson. In April, I worked at the pitch desk at a writer's conference. It's interesting to observe those open to change and those "not so" open to change. I do my best to not be defensive and just be a sponge during a critique session.

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    1. Right, because you can always be defensive later in the comfort of your own home - LOL!

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  18. Very good advice Julie. Something we all need to be mindful of and not take personally. I was fortunate that I spent 40 yrs as a journalist, and there is NOTHING like the red grease pencil on your work to humble you. I think it takes years to get used to it, and realize that someone is really giving you great advice. In fact, I would question the authenticity of someone who didn't give you advice to improve your work. I have always found that other people's suggestions get me thinking again. Excellent post Julie!

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    1. In my former career, I got edited up the wazoo, but it's always more difficult when the work feels more personal. But it's also true that your work will never improve without it. Thanks Pat!

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  19. Thanks for the needful advice, Julie! I think I need to do a few sit ups now. :)

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  20. Thanks for this wise advice, Julie.

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  21. This has been a growing experience for me, Julie. You have good insights here. "Mind Your Defensiveness" was one I need to ponder often!

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  22. I like the idea. The only person I can practice my "cool techniques" on in the house is my dad. :( My little sister is too young and sensitive. I will take this post to the brain (or just memorize it. I don't know if my brain likes gifts ;) )

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  23. Great advice from Julie, as always.

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  24. Fresh eyes are an amazing tool! Think of a critique(s) as a way of brainstorming.
    [I geek brainstormning!]

    Critiques fuel my literary fire in a good way :D Sometimes the resolve is immediate while others need to simmer. But love when the wheels turn and new paths/directions open up!

    Ouch! Egos can be ugly :O I was totally blown away at a conference once. Two writers sitting at my table returned from their paid critiques severally bashing the pro because of his comments. He didn't write the story!! Don't get me wrong, we don't have to nor should we change everything if it doesn't ring true to us. But for the love of Golden Books, at least synthesize.

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  25. What wonderful advice, Julie! I agree that taking a little time and stepping away from the critique might be a good idea...it's kind of like when you are going to have company and walk through your home with a "company-is-coming" eye...you see so many things (at least in my house, I do) that need to be cleaned, refreshed, changed, etc. The critique provides us with that "company-is-coming" eye. When you write something, it is part of you...so sometimes you don't see (or hear) the problems...it is hard to "take the punch"...but it's so important if you want it to be the best it can be. And thanks, Miranda, for providing this forum...I need to bite the bullet and submit something to Rate Your Story...everyone has such amazing things to say about this site!

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