Thursday, May 27, 2010

Yay! Criticism

Hello again! Ufuoma here and I have a quick question for you:
Show of hands? Who likes to be criticized? Anyone? No one? Surprise, surprise.

I recently joined a writers' critique group. Critiquing the work of others was a pleasant experience and much easier to do than receiving critiques of my work. The first ones were not so bad, but after a few days I almost began to dread checking my email for fear of what other criticism I might find.

One critic only read the first sentence in my chapter and sent me a note telling me that she gives harsh critiques so she would only continue if I could assure her that I was thick-skinned. My pride wouldn't let me admit that I'm not as thick-skinned as I would like to be, so I gave her the go-ahead to critique my work. The truth is that I haven't worked up the courage to open her emails since.

This got me thinking. There are so many possible responses to a not-so-glowing critique. You could internalize every negative comment and feel like giving up, believing that you got it wrong, and God didn't call you to write. Or, you could totally disregard any negative comments, believing that you know best; after all what do 'they' know? But I think most people fall somewhere in the middle - appreciating the feedback, pondering on the comments made and making decisions on what to implement and what to ignore.

I found that even though it's hard looking at a sea of red or lines crossed out of the work I put my heart in to, I was glad for the chance to be able to answer some questions or defend my reasoning for putting certain scenes in my manuscript. I was also sometimes thrilled at the new ideas I got from reading other people's suggestions.

Much of life is about finding the right balance and I've had to pick and choose what to pay attention to and what expend energy on. But to make the best of this gift (and indeed it is a gift of other people's time, thoughts and creativity), one must be open, totally honest with one's self, willing to learn and over all, love your story enough to want to make it the best story it can be, all the while maintaining it's integrity.

On the other hand, when critiquing someone else's work, let's not forget to be pepper our honesty with kindness. And be open minded about the story you're critiquing. It's not yours. What I'm trying to say is, offer constructive criticism, but don't knock someone else's story. You may not like it, but God may have given them the raw materials to eventually bring a beautifully crafted story to fruition and you could be a wonderful (not painful) part of the process.

I end this post with the awareness that I have much to learn and I'm grateful for the brilliant critics (teachers and encouragers) that God had placed in my path. I trust God that I am a stronger writer for them.

God bless you.


Ufuoma Daniella Ojo is a technical writer, working very hard to finish editing her first novel and trusting God for it's subsequent publication.


  1. I think you need to find a new critique group. I learned early on that there is a right way and a wrong way to present criticism, as well as to receive it. It is absolutely vital to be able to find the right people to help you hone your craft, and as you say, not to knock you down while doing it. This actually makes me furious. There are many wonderful authors out there who go out of their way to teach, mentor and support the many writers who are in various places on their journey to publication. Find those people and hang out with them. You need encouragement and it doesn't sound like you are getting it from this group.

  2. I agree with Catherine. It's important to find people who read the kind of books you write, who are knowledgable about the conventions of the genre and who are there to support you in honing your skills. No one needs destructive criticism. We can do that for ourselves : )
    It's also important to have more than one critiquer. If one person doesn't like a scene but three others do, you might chose to leave it alone. If everyone finds a problem with the scene, it's worth studying that scene again. But it is *your* story and ultimately, you decide how to tell it.
    Good luck.

  3. I also agree with Cath and Alice, and I encourage you to find other writers who can gently and honestly help you improve your work :-)

  4. I was surprised by the strong reactions to your post, Ufuoma. I didn't see that you were complaining or that anyone had said anything so negative that it required a new group. In fact, you seemed quite up beat at the end of the post. Of course, if you are feeling 'wounded' beyond repair, then by all means, find a new group. I didn't sense that was the case, however. I like what some wise person once said - "Whatever doesn't kill you will make you stronger." Hang in there!

  5. I am also on the side of Cath, Alice and Naurelle. (Sorry Tracy :-)) Critiquing is a privilege and can be a tremendous blessing to both the critter (G) and the recipient. Yes, it's hard to have our darlings torn apart and re-formed, but at the same time there's no point in a critique that pats you on the head and says how wonderful your writing is. (Then you may as well give it to Mommy or Hubby.)
    However there are clear rules for doing a critique. Your job is to build up, correct and advise - not to destroy.
    Find yourself a group that will make you a better writer, not one that will destroy your confidence.

  6. I am compelled to share this. Quite some years I ago, as a published author I was mentoring a new fiction writer who lived in a rural area and not able to attend writers' meetings. There was not even an email loop in those days! This programme was organised through the Romance Writers of Australia and the plan involved the writer sending me a few chapters at a time. My heart sank when I received the first email attachment. The plot certainly had promise but that was really the only thing this writer had going for her in this story. Believe me, I prayed and sweated over this before sending off a few suggestions to improve it. When she sent it back with the changes, I praised what I could and suggested more! This went on for a period of time until the manuscript was completed. I cannot remember if this particular manuscript was ever published, but to my absolute delight this writer now years later is a very multi-published, successful romance author. However, there were times I was concerned I had not told her enough about ALL the mistakes she was making in that first manuscript. We have become good friends and a while back I plucked up the courage to ask her what she would have thought and done if I'd told her that first time everything that was wrong with her writing. She laughed, said, 'wasn't that aweful, Mary! I don't think I would ever have been brave enough to keep trying!' I was so fortunate to mentor someone who was very serious about wanting to write and was also VERY teachable!