Overcoming the Fear of Critiques
One of the things I have found the most difficult about being an English major with a concentration in creative writing is the fact that I have to put my work out there in the world. Honestly, I wasn't sure why it shocked me to find out that I was required to take workshop classes. Like, literally, I was the surprised Pikachu meme.
But what is the best way to get better at creative writing? Well, what is the best way to get better at almost anything?
You get feedback.
I know, it seems really simple. But, if you’re anything like me and worry a lot about what other people think of you, then receiving feedback is probably a nightmare. For my first workshop class, I lucked out with the fact that it was over a Zoom call and I wasn’t required to have my camera on, so it was definitely more comfortable to receive feedback that way. It just felt easier to me when it didn’t feel like my classmates were looking right at me when critiquing my work.
But the next semester, I wasn’t as lucky.
Not only was this class in-person, but my workshop date was one of the earlier ones. I would be one of the first students in my class to receive critiques, and that just did not help my nerves at all.
If anyone is not aware of how a workshop usually goes, it involves a group of people (at most 15 people) tasked with reading and giving feedback to whoever is assigned for that day. All the critiqued person has to do is sit there and stay silent as they receive feedback and are usually allowed to ask any questions at the end of the workshop. It seems simple, but I just found it so nerve-wracking.
But after having my in-person workshop classes, I found I was becoming more comfortable since my first feedback. I think what really helped me was that my instructor really set up some expectations for the class. He made it clear what was a good critique and what was a bad critique, and also just really emphasized that everyone was there for one thing: to get help with our writing. I think in doing that, he created a more comfortable environment for everyone in the class.
So, in this post, I decided to write some tips or things I try to remember when approaching feedback that I have learned from my classes. Hopefully, this eases the nervousness of getting your work critiqued!
Things to Remember When Receiving Critique
1. Don’t take it too personally.
I was originally going to write, “don’t take it personally,” but it is difficult when it comes to your writing. Like I get it, this is something you’ve probably poured a lot of time and energy into. And if you’re anything like me, then you probably see your WIPs (works in progress) as your babies. But it is important to keep in mind that the people giving you these critiques are not here to critique you as a human being. They are here to offer suggestions on your writing, and they might even open your eyes to things you didn’t even realize about your writing.
If you receive feedback with a negative mindset, you’ll often find yourself being defensive rather than being more open to suggestions. Go in with a more positive attitude, and you’ll find that most of the feedback you receive is really helpful.
2. Take the time to listen and understand the feedback.
This might seem a little obvious, but it kind of goes hand-in-hand with the first point. If you have a defensive mindset, you probably won’t really listen to what the other person is saying. I feel like this comes up the most when it comes to arguments, or, more so, this is how conversations turn into arguments. Now, I’m not saying you can’t clarify anything you think might be misunderstood, but you can do that after receiving feedback. Even that misunderstanding can help you realize that maybe something wasn’t written as clearly as you thought.
During my workshop, many of my classmates focused on things like the setting and time period of my piece, and I didn’t realize it wasn’t as clear as I thought it was. It was one of those moments where I wasn’t able to correctly translate what I had in my head onto the page, and I appreciated that it was brought to my attention.
3. Don’t be afraid to ask questions.
What if you are left confused after receiving feedback? Don’t be afraid to ask for clarification on anything. Or, if none of the feedback really touches on something that you thought was a big concern with your writing, then feel free to ask about that as well. You can even ask for ideas if you’re struggling to brainstorm! If there’s one thing that people should know about me, it’s that I love to ask questions. Even if I’m 99% sure about something, I’ll still ask to make sure I’m correct. So trust me when I say that it’s okay to ask questions. The majority of people don’t mind questions and are glad to answer them!
For my most recent workshop, I submitted a prologue for a new story that I had been working on. Much of the feedback I received mostly pertained to my character’s mother— they wanted to see how she acted towards my main character since it was a big motivator for my character’s actions. I was unsure how to portray the mother’s personality while also keeping my main character oblivious to it, so I figured: why not just ask my classmates for any solutions? To which they happily provided for me, and their suggestions got me to think about more ways to solve that issue for me.
4. It’s ultimately up to you what you do with your writing.
At the end of the day, it is your writing and it is whatever you want to make of it. Critiques are there to give you an idea of how readers may read your piece. Is what you’re striving to do working? And if it is not, feedback can help you get closer to that goal. One thing that my instructor emphasized was that it is fine if a suggestion is not something that you think would fit in your piece, but at least it jumpstarts the brainstorming process.
One example that comes to my mind immediately is when I had created two drafts of the first chapter for the same story. Both were pretty different, but after sharing them with the class, I took note of the things people enjoyed from each draft. In one draft, my main character was more active rather than passive, and people seemed to enjoy that more, while in the other, people really liked the dynamics of the main character and her best friend. So I decided, why not just make a third draft that combines all those things? My classmates’ suggestions didn’t fit the idea that I had for my story, but their opinions still helped me in the long run.
That’s about all the things I wanted to write about, but what about other fellow writers? What has your experience been with giving and receiving feedback?
About the Author
Born and raised in Las Vegas, Nevada, Loraine Garcia is currently a blog editor and writer intern for The Love Yourself Foundation. She is also studying English with a concentration in creative writing at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. She spends a lot of her time either crying over books, writing, or playing video games.