Does the Critique Have Merit?

Recently, on a LinkedIn thread I subscribed to, a woman posed a question to the rest of us pertaining to a critique she’d received from her group. Apparently everyone agreed she needed to deepen her character’s POV. She said she followed their advice, but she wasn’t happy with it.

This tells me one of two things: either she writes in a genre where the omniscient, or at least a more distant POV, is required (and yes, there are some genres that work best with a distant POV), or she doesn’t quite know how to deepen it effectively.

She wanted to know what the rest of us thought, and I was surprised by the vehemence of the responses. “Don’t let anybody tell you how to write your book!”

You’re kiddin’, right?

If you read my blog very often, you probably won’t be surprised by this: I jumped in with an opposing view. Yeah, yeah, I know–someday I’ll learn to keep my mouth shut. Anyway, I told her the truth: in some genres, the deep third person POV has become expected by readers and publishers alike, and it wouldn’t hurt to work with it some.

Apparently my response threatened to strip the veneer off the “We Are Perfect” award bestowed only upon those who write. I tell ya, they crawled all over me like fire ants on a hot dog. Eventually, I did everything but apologize for living and bowed out of the discussion. (I’m yellow that way, I guess. Though I don’t mind presenting an opposing view, I hate fighting over it. I’ll just use 777 Peppermint Place to skewer everyone who participated in dissing me–some of whom aren’t even published. I wonder why . . . )

Where on earth did authors get the idea that because they could string a few sentences together, they have obtained some sort of artistic nirvana and deserve to be worshiped? We’re authors–not gods. We haven’t been endowed with special wisdom. We’re not better than anyone else. The idea that these folks wouldn’t even consider a criticism bugged me.

Perhaps some of us need a lesson of humility.

The best way to approach any criticism of your work, either through a critique group/partner, contest judge, or an editor, is open-mindedly. Does it have merit? Is it worth experimenting with?

As I wrote before (see “First Round Contest Results are In“), critiques in general hurt. But once you’ve calmed down, study your work through the eyes of whoever offered something constructive. Do they have a point?

One of the editors looking at my novel suggested I pull a character out. After loosely skimming the manuscript, she wondered whether the cat lady’s role in The Cat Lady’s Secret was really necessary to the story. I’m not sure where she got that. Pulling the cat lady out would’ve done serious damage to my novel; it would’ve changed it entirely. That’s major. I refused.

Deepening a POV isn’t major.  Repairing structure, changing wording, moving this paragraph from here to there–none of these are major. Cutting certain scenes may or may not be major–who knows? Try it and see if it makes the novel better. Keep in mind, many things our critics suggest aren’t intended to change the story, but to enhance it.

The lady who started the LinkedIn thread at least tried the suggestion. She approached it right. I wonder how many in that group would’ve pitched a fit. Their attitude, “the author is always right!” seems to answer that for me.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

For those who are concerned: Mom’s better, she’s just weak. I managed to take care of her at home and didn’t even need a doctor, PTL! I’m going to be here a while until she gets back on her feet, which hopefully won’t be too long. I expect to be home by the end of the week.

Thank you to everyone who held us in their prayers. You couldn’t possibly know how much we appreciate it!

About Linda W. Yezak

Author/Freelance Editor/Speaker (writing and editing topics).
This entry was posted in Writing, Writing Tips and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

35 Responses to Does the Critique Have Merit?

  1. I loved this post, Linda! It’s taken me 12 years of studying writing to finally be emotionally ready to do the things to my novel that I know I need to do. And it’s better; maybe even saleable!

    More importantly, so happy to hear your mother is doing better! PTL indeed!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. joannesher says:

    So much to learn – and that is the best knowledge we can have. If we think we’re there, we will be useless.

    And THRILLED mom’s doing better. praying for both of ya!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. The author is the master of his or her story. We’re the ones who conceived the vision for it. We’re the ones who know where we want to go with it and what we want to achieve with it. So, in that sense, the author *is* always right. If nothing else, he has veto power and that *makes* him right.

    But the scope of our non-objectivity about our writing is ridiculously vast. I had an experience with a story I’d slaved over for several years until I thought it was P-E-R-F-E-C-T. I mean I was dead sure. Then the critiques started rolling in. And after a little consideration (and much wailing) of what these readers were telling me, I could not believe how blind I’d been.

    Authors, even the godlike ones, need objective opinions. Bottom line.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Linda Yezak says:

      I like your bottom line. I agree–we authors do know where we want to go with the story and what we want to achieve with it. But veto power doesn’t make us right all the time, and it never hurts to consider criticism objectively.

      Wait–we artistic types are challenged in the “objectivity” category! Head smack! What was I thinking?! Of course we think we’re superior!

      Liked by 1 person

    • darkocean says:

      Yes a thousand times yes. I find it helps lots to step away from a ctitique cor a while and goif iff for a time before replying. Well, with online critiques. I just git a great one the other day that pointed out just how dry a chapter was. Oops. I was silly and didn’t follow what I preach (a little) And went and asked in a copple of other writing blogs if my writing really sucked that bad? With a short example. I thanked her of course, always do even if I don’t agree with everything.

      Now that I’ve calmed down I can see how helpful that critique was. It just stung a little, as the other chapters before it are pretty good — only because they’ve had lots of help though. ^o^ Articles like this are great too.

      Like

  4. Stacy A says:

    I think critiques are very valuable in helping us see what we otherwise wouldn’t because of our own blind spots.
    HOWEVER …
    We should never tell someone else to write their story the way WE would write it — that’s stealing their unique voice.
    And even though there are things (like Deep POV) that may be popular at the moment, that doesn’t mean everyone should bow to what’s popular. Deep POV is very “hot” right now, and with good reason — it brings the reader even closer into their book. I’m currently learning how to write Deep POV because I think it will work best for my WIP. However, there are still many, many books being published these days that are not DPOV, and they work just fine. I still feel engaged with the characters, still feel pulled in by the story.
    Writing rules are good. Getting critiqued by others who write can be extremely helpful. But never, ever, ever should we make suggestions that will eradicate the author’s own unique voice.
    We are not cookies made from cookie cutters. We are all God’s special workmanship, created to be unique. If we all write alike, what’s the point?
    Just my 50-cents’ worth.
    Stacy A

    Liked by 1 person

    • Linda Yezak says:

      I agree with you about not letting our voices get lost or being cookie cutter images of anyone else, and I certainly hope I didn’t leave that impression.

      But if we’re so protective that we ignore advice that could make us better writers, we’ll never grow or improve. That was the point I was trying to make in the loop and the one I was trying to make here. I really don’t believe being close-minded to suggestions does us any good. It doesn’t mean you have to take every bit of advice dropped your way, but it doesn’t mean you should blow it off either.

      Like

      • Stacy A says:

        Oh, absolutely, Linda, I agree we need to be open to advice. Just as in “regular life” we need to be able to listen to and take good advice, listen to positive criticism. You made that point well. I do think that when we critique we need to keep in mind that each person’s voice and approach to a story may be different from ours, though, and offer our criticism in that light. The author isn’t always right, for sure (especially those of us who are beginners). But we do each have our own unique way of writing, so finding a way to use that AND listen to positive criticism is important.

        Liked by 1 person

    • darkocean says:

      That’s just perfect I should print that out. ❤

      (Yay Im logged in again. lol.)

      Yes, whatever fits the book best. I love deep piv, but do find it’s a headake some times.

      It gets draining after a while and I just have to pull back to regular third. So far no complaints. Don’t know if that’s messing the book up or not … x.x

      Like

  5. stargazer12 says:

    My Goodness. To critique or not to critique, is that the question? I’ve actually lost a critique friend or two by being what I thought of as “just honest” with them. How about listening to that oldie but goodie:”If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen?” While this may seen harsh, I believe writers have to learn to take the bad with the good and use each in a productive way.

    So glad your Mom is feeling better. Happy May tomorrow! And happy critiquing, or is that an oxymoron? How chipper! I seldom get to use that word. :>)

    Like

    • Linda Yezak says:

      Oh, yeah. I’ve had folks get mad at me for not loving their “perfect” novels, too. Mine always comes back red-inked, so I know how it feels, but if you don’t want my opinion, don’t ask (or pay) for it!

      I’m awful, aren’t I?

      Have a “chipper” Monday! 😀

      Like

  6. It is so hard to not take it personal. I had a critic from my writing group a couple of years ago that brought me to my knees. The group which had had over 300 traditionally published books from its members has us listen to the critique, not respond, and encourages us to do nothing with the critique until three or four days pass. It took me six weeks to have enough courage to read again. I have been published regularly since 1981 and still have lots of room to improve and learn. You always have the option of not taking advice … and not getting published. I remember 9 rewrites for my first published magazine article. I had a kind editor that worked with new writers. I recall the reason my article was finally published was I listened, didn’t take it person, made the recommended changes, and didn’t complain when the editor changed it a little more before publishing. I got the check and the by-line. If it was easy everyone would write and publish … I still get rejected and still publish a few things. It’s not personal. It’s business.

    Like

    • Linda Yezak says:

      Thank you, Jimmie! That’s great advice: listen, and sit on it awhile. It is hard not to take criticism personally. We’ve all been there. But like you said–it’s business. Unless you have someone truly hateful as a critic, no one is trying to sabotage your work or your voice.

      Like

  7. dyuhas62 says:

    Great post. We can all do with a little humility. As always, we must separate silver from dross, consider the source, & never throw out the baby with the bathwater!

    Like

  8. C.L. Dyck says:

    I think part of the problem among indies is that there are a lot of self-proclaimed authorities out there–whether self-pubbers or insta-indie-publishing-companies that have appeared out of a whim and a pipe dream. Either one can have a credible base of experience when it comes to understanding reader preferences…or not. And many are extremely pushy about it. (Not you, Linda. 🙂 I’ve encountered a large number of indie writers who are kinda like a ruined horse: just downright hard in the mouth, full of bad habits and adversarial reflexes.

    Unlike a horse, they are fully in charge of their own lives and can make autonomous and informed decisions about how to deal with the opinions that tend to ruin them. But, like a horse, they may be smart and beautiful, but somewhere along the line they didn’t know better and got hurt by someone’s pseudo-authoritative advice. Curing that is tricky.

    It’s one reason that as a writer, I’m often picky about who I engage with in the indie world, and it’s an area where I believe traditionally-published authors and editors can offer a haven of refuge for those who’ve had a shark tank experience. Often, they have simply worked on more books. But also, they have valuable experience with self-presentation, informed perspectives, and personal boundaries in business. Seems it’s the business hat that often trips up writers.

    Like

    • Linda Yezak says:

      Oh, I agree about the injured “horses.” Many of the editor-hating authors I’ve come across have had some hack attack their work with all the noise, grace, and finesse of a chainsaw. One “editor” tried to do that to me. Fortunately I had enough experience to shut her down.

      One thing I’ve learned recently and I’m going to incorporate it into my way of doing business is to offer a sample edit. Many of my clients don’t seem to realize what they’re getting into, and before they spend the money, I want to be sure they’ll be pleased with my work.

      Like

      • C.L. Dyck says:

        “with all the noise, grace, and finesse of a chainsaw.”

        Ha! 🙂 Yep, that’s a hack alright. 🙂

        “One “editor” tried to do that to me. Fortunately I had enough experience to shut her down.”

        Yep, same here. I ran for the hills promptly. It just reinforces to me my own reasons for maintaining a strong commitment to serving my clients well.

        Samples: Definitely a best practice. I normally do 1,000 words annotated, but lately I’ve had a lot of requests for synopsis-based work, so I’ve done some sample evals on 1-2 page story summaries as well. Frankly, it also lets me know whether I’ll be happy working with them.

        Like

        • Linda Yezak says:

          “Frankly, it also lets me know whether I’ll be happy working with them.” — I hadn’t thought about that! That’s definitely a bonus!!!

          Like

          • C.L. Dyck says:

            It is indeed. What you said: “Repairing structure, changing wording, moving this paragraph from here to there–none of these are major. Cutting certain scenes may or may not be major–who knows?”

            When those are a client’s needs, having them respond to the sample with “Wow! This is exactly what I was looking for!” really helps a lot, because there’s initial trust earned.

            Like

  9. patgarcia says:

    Hi Linda,
    I was on that LinkedIn thread and really can identify with what you wrote here. My first book is now by a Publisher in the United Kingdom. This publisher was kind enough to read my manuscript and even though it was rejected,I received a letter giving me some advice that I took to heart. You see, she told me I had an excellent story but it needed a lot of editing and she didn’t have the time to do it. I wrote her back and thanked her for her kindness and told her I couldn’t afford an editor but I would work on the book myself. I never expected to hear from her again.

    Keeping a long story short, I began to learn what it means to really edit my own books and stepped into a large vast whole of learning by doing. This year, this same publisher started following me on twitter. It was in January and I had been thinking about her because of her straightforwardness and her kindness to me and suddenly I received a twitter message telling me that she was following me. I immediately twitted back wishing her also a Happy New Year in the middle of January. When I twitted to her that I was almost finished with editing my book, she tweeted back, Patricia, send the book back to me. Isn’t God good!!! I was in heaven.

    So you see, for me having someone to give you direction is important. I had been submitting that book and getting rejections slips with no comments for almost nine months with no comments!!! This small publishing company took the time to read my manuscript and then the publisher herself gave me feedback. That was the biggest blessing for me.
    Yes we do need editors, but not even the best editors can help, if we as writers have not discovered our own voice and know what we want to say. Unfortunately, many writers write to please others, instead of finding out within themselves their own voice.

    Ciao,
    Patricia

    Like

    • Linda Yezak says:

      Thank you, Patricia! I was feeling a bit under attack over there! 😀

      I love the story of your trail to publication. Good for you!!! I’m so glad you had the right attitude when it came to dealing with someone else’s opinion of your work. You’re bound to go far as an author! Congrats!

      Like

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