Charlotte's Web

Blogging my world since 2006

Seven Stages of Receiving Critiques

23 Comments

I’m at the stage with my novel where I’m leaking chapters to a few trusted readers. Some are real-life friends and others are friends from my online forum. The forum has a rule that the only correct response to a critique is ‘thank you’. This is absolutely true. Another rule is that as writers we have to grow a hide as thick as a rhino’s because after the beta readers (if we hit the next stage), we will have to face critiques from agents and publishers. The idea is: get used to it!

Having kept this novel to myself for the past two years, it has been a swift growing-up process for me learning to put it out there in front of others. At times it’s felt like placing a baby in front of sharp-shooters and saying, ‘Duck, my darling.’ Baby grows a thick skin fast.

Even if the only correct response to a critique is thank you, and even if the critiquer is absolutely right, facing criticism is very much like the seven stages of grief:

1. Shock/Disbelief

How can he say that? That’s my carefully crafted sentence/paragraph/chapter! How can he just rip it apart like that?

2. Denial

Never heard such crap in my life. Deleting my adjective build-up? This person clearly has no idea.

3. Anger

Does he think he can write? Try spending 24 months slaving over one manuscript, fighting off children, the laundry pile, dinner dates and and, visits to the hairdresser! in order to do this. What does that writer do? Probably stay indoors and write for 12 hours a day, stopping only to order flat food that delivery boys slide under the door. I have a life! And I wrote this, and I won’t have it fixed.

Anger can go on for quite a long time. This is the moment where the writer should avoid pinging back an email by return post.

4. Bargaining

Email to the critiquer: I know you said xyz, but I really need to keep it there because of abc, you see. It’s crucial to the narrative. I know you think it should come later, but you’ll see, really you will, that this is the place for it.

5. Guilt

I’m wasting their time. I’m boring them. I’ve presumed to ask them to be my beta reader and now they’re propping open their eyelids with matchsticks trying to get through my turgid prose.

6. Depression

I am awful. I am crap. I’m nothing.

I am so freaking bad that when I finally approach an agent all I’m going to hear is the sound of roaring laughter across the English Channel, through Belgium and down into south-western Germany. People will be looking at me saying, ‘She’s the one who caused the laughter.’ The whole of the Burg will be looking at me and laughing, and I’ll be … naked.

7. Acceptance and Hope

I think I just might move xyz. That will make the chapter stronger and more resonant. I am so lucky to have such great beta readers. My manuscript is improving. One day maybe, maybe an agent will read this and think, hmmm, not bad.

This is the point where the writer should ping her beta readers and say those two little words: thank you.

Thank you to my beta readers, near and far, present and future. Thank you for your time and patience. Thank you for helping me grow up and for making my manuscript into a much better read.

Author: charlotteotter

Novelist, feminist, crime writer

23 thoughts on “Seven Stages of Receiving Critiques

  1. publish online. shake the dust off and let your sack out. (proverbial sack that is) let the monsters see it. if you come out the other side in print you’ll be stronger.

    peace

    im

  2. God, how I recognise all of the above! Bad enough that we put ourselves through each of these stages but then we’re obligated to go and do it all over again with real people. Real people with the substantial drawback of possessing impartial opinions and sound critical minds. Madness! It’s amazing writers have any friends at all.

  3. LOL. I think you have the stages right on! But I have to say…it doesn’t really get any easier. You just know that there are stages.

  4. Oh Charlotte, you’ve nailed it in one. It’s exactly like the seven stages of grief. Unfortunately it seems to be a rolling phase that never actually ends. But your vital signs are excellent – I relate so absolutely I can’t help feeling this is all just as it should be. Thinking of you from my parallel universe. xx

  5. I know these stages too, but from submitting scientific papers for peer reviewed publication. Where reviewers can completely dismiss your work and say it’s not sufficiently novel, or rigorous, or even interesting enough to warrant publication. They can make a comments that can mean hours of work, just to add an extra sentence. They can completely misunderstand because they were too busy to read it properly. Or they can be patient, consider your work carefully and make enormously valuable comments – even if they don’t suggest publication. The advice from our supervisors is to put comments in a drawer for a week while you cool down! But in the end, when it’s accepted, the paper is always better.

  6. All so absolutely true! Great post.

  7. Well done for surviviing such a harrowing experience with humour intact. You’re a brave woman!

  8. The first time I received a critique on my work, it was devastating. Now I’m much quicker to get to the point of acceptance. I usually manage to find something helpful, even in the most brutal critiques. Most of the time I already know there are problems, but I can’t pinpoint them. So if a critique resonates, I know they spotted something.

    On the flip side, giving critiques is difficult, too. I don’t want to crush anyone’s spirits. I always worry about whether I’m being helpful enough, gentle enough, firm enough.

  9. Charlotte, you made me wince while sitting a pool of blood – the overflow from my editorial evil red pen. Crits are hard and, while I’m never cruel when rejecting a manuscript, I am honest as to why it didn’t meet my standards. I try to be cognizant of the writer on the receiving end, but I can’t control how they’re going to feel.

    I fear you nailed it, and I cringe in your general direction.

  10. Ach! Don’t you worry! I have faith in your beautiful, exciting, funny breathtaking and heart-wrenching writing, even if you don’t sometimes…

  11. Very wise, Charlotte. Giving vent to all the different emotions and then getting to the acceptance part where some valuable (but annoying) criticism could be very helpful. LLook forward to reading it eventually. And you know we’re already big fans of your writing.

  12. Charlotte
    Emma raved about your manuscript when she visited us in Cyprus last week – and that was an older version she’d read. Sounds amazing, can’t wait for it to come out! Having been down the self publishing route for my husband’s business book (we’re editing book #2 right now, hateful process), I agree it is a long and drawn out process but so exciting when finally in print!

  13. This sounds like quite a growth process! I know that you are committed to telling the story you’ve written and with that can only come success. Wishing you all the best as you continue on this journey.

  14. I’ve recently taken on the task of slogging through manuscripts for a literary journal – I’m only doing one issue but I was asked to choose the essays because I have expertise in the field (care at the end of life) – it has been the BEST writing experience I could have. I’ve learned so much from reading others writing and as soon as I complete this task I intend to turn my attention to my manuscripts and continue being ruthless.

    I think you asked if I was ready for beta readers and I have to say, I don’t think so. I’ve come to realize this novel was, for me, truly a first novel in that I worked out so many issues I’ve wanted to write about but never did. I still like the story a lot and I know it will see the light of day sometime, but it will be quite different than it is now.

    hmm, I made my comment all about me when what I wanted to say was BRAVO to you for making it through this process, and for sharing your work with the world. Seriously, bravo!

  15. My grandmother was frequent to remind us that there are only two words appropriate when you receive a gift: thank you. Despite the grief stages, I’m sure that all the critiques you’ve received are a gift well-intended. And if some of them are the weird sort of item that you have to keep in storage at the back of the closet, so be it!

  16. Fabulous post, Charlotte! (I came upon it through Lynn Price’s blog). I’m going to send my blog-readers over to you when i do my next post on this sort of topic. As someone who not only writes (and had many rejections before publication) but also gives critiques, I know the truth of what you say from both sides. If you choose a good critiquer, the only response can be Thank You, because it’s a very very hard thing to do well.

    Good luck!

  17. very, very funny. and true. and I’m so glad I’ve just discovered this blog.

  18. Ah, Charlotte, how brave you are. I am so well acquainted with these stages and the possibility of them that I have protected myself thoroughly from them by not actually writing a book. (!) If and when I ever get that brave, I will try to remember your wisdom and practice saying “Thank you”.

  19. LOL! So true! I’ve been at each stage–frequently. Fortunately, I have graduated to the final stage–HOPE.

  20. Great blog, Charlotte. I laughed out loud at ‘duck, my darlings”.
    I recognise all these stages (and a few more, including grinding teeth when I hear of others’ success and am torn between feeling glad for them and disappointed for myself).

  21. Pingback: Week’s Links « Diamond–Yup, Like the Stone

  22. You have SO nailed my gut reaction to criticism!! Fabulous. Applies equally to the writer of a novel or a blog post. As always, you rock🙂

  23. Pingback: The Story of My Novel So Far « Charlotte's Web

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