Surviving the Carnage of a Hard Crit

It’s hard to develop the thick skin necessary to accept crits. But then, writing is a difficult business to be in and a tough skin is essential. That said, when you receive a long and detailed crit that also includes negative responses, let yourself go through the steps of ‘mourning’ that your work isn’t perfect. Even though your mind might acknowledge that it isn’t perfect (and that’s why you solicited for crits) your heart is another matter. You have to train yourself how to deal with it, and each writer will be different on that.

And as someone who just received a big long crit with many bad points in a story pointed out, here is what I did, in hopes it helps:

First, realize this is YOUR story. You know what you wanted it to be, the story you wanted to tell. Remind yourself of that first before looking at the crits. If you happened to write down your theme or your ‘hook’, take the time to read it. (I did this, and it was a very good thing. See below)

Then go at that crit in one massive read-through, but do it with a pen and paper next to you. If you don’t agree with something, keep moving. Put it out of your mind. It doesn’t matter anymore.

However, if you find something that you think might have a little bit or a lot of merit, write it down on that piece of paper in your own words. When you write it down make a note of the area in the story to find the problem to help you track it down later.

Remember to compare the crits with the theme and story you want to write. If the suggestions take the story in a different direction, ignore them, even if the suggestions are good. Filling the work with a bunch of themes and unconnected ideas will only make it worse, not better.

Do the above until you are done with what was said in the crit. Then put the crit away. Don’t look at it for a while.

What you will have left is the piece of paper where you wrote down your notes. Because it’s in your handwriting and in your own words, your mind and heart won’t view it as if another strange person is trying to infiltrating your writing. The notes are now YOURS.

This is a little bit of a mind-game. By doing this you won’t be opening up the crit continually, and possibly getting yourself upset with too much negativity or constantly seeing things you don’t agree with. You are giving yourself distance from the crit while still moving forward with advice that could possibly make your work stronger.

But, it also has a practical purpose. You’ve now condensed out of the crit only the things that you agree (or somewhat agree) with. You can focus only on them. You don’t have the work of looking through a long crit to find the little bit you need out of all the things mentioned there. You have a condensed to-do list that you can condense down further or cross out as you finish the points or decide you don’t agree after all.

As I mentioned previously, I received a difficult crit. The above steps made it much easier to deal with, especially reviewing the theme and story hook. Going through the crit all at once made me realize the critter was giving suggestions to turn the story into a novel. The story wasn’t a novel, and I didn’t want it to be. With that realization, I was better able to sort through the advice and use details here and there to help improve the story without allowing the short story to become more than I wanted it to be.

Every critiquer comes to the story with their own slant, their own preferences, likes and dislikes, wants and needs. Those wants and needs may not coincide with you or the story you want to tell.

Be flexible while reading the critique and see it objectively. But also be strong enough to say ‘no’ if it conflicts with what you want the story to be. Just because the advice is given doesn’t mean it must be followed.

Never forget this is your work, your words. Only you know where you want it to go, what it should be when it is polished and finished.