Accepting Criticism: A Mindful Approach to Sharing Your Writing
Most of us write with the intention of one day sharing our work. Yet when it actually comes down to it, the mere thought of handing over an early draft can cause the voice in our head to sound the alarm bells:
What if everyone hates it?
What if I’m a bad writer?
What if no one understands what I’m trying to say?
Yet sharing our work regularly can not only motivate us to keep going, but also help our writing improve. The trick is figuring out when, with whom, and how to share so that you aren’t discouraged to quit the writing journey all together.
Who should read your in-progress writing?
If you’re just starting your writing journey, you will be looking for a very different critique than someone who has a completed draft or is well into the rewrite process. Especially when you’ve never shared your work before, it can be extremely scary to trust in someone you don’t know and downright detrimental if you receive too much feedback too fast.
Early in the writing process, we often just need a boost of confidence to carry on. So it’s helpful to stick with a trusted friend or family member who can offer that encouragement with very little actual critique.
But other times we need an honest opinion so we know if were headed in the right direction. This is when you might want to branch out and look for a critique group, a writing coach, or even an editor. At some point, constructive criticism is necessary to grow as a writer and make your project better.
The difference between constructive criticism and just criticism
Constructive criticism is a critique that offers concrete reasoning as to why the writing doesn’t work as is, and may even have insight on how to fix the issue.
Criticism just tells you the writing doesn’t work. Period.
Example of constructive criticism: The main character comes across as annoying because he complains about his predicament to anyone who will listen, but does nothing to help his situation. Can he try and fail a few times to help himself so that the complaining is more warranted?
Example of criticism: I don’t like the main character. He’s annoying.
If you receive straight criticism from you reader, instead of getting upset, think of a follow up question you can ask to gain more clarity.
In this case: why did you find the main character annoying? What did he do or not do that made him come off that way?
The more you share your work, the easier it will be to not only identify when criticism is not constructive, but also how to extract the constructive aspect from the feedback.
Types of readers
As I mentioned above, there are different types of readers. Depending on your current stage in the writing process, you may want to use all or only one of the following:
Alpha readers: generally, an alpha reader is a close friend, a confidant, or a member of your critique group with writing experience of their own who will read your in-progress writing and give feedback. This person should be able to give constructive criticism that will inform the rest of your writing process and revisions.
Beta readers: A beta reader does not need to have any formal writing experience. Beta readers will read the completed work and give a general opinion that can help you decide what your next step of the writing process should be. I recommend getting two or three beta readers at a time so that you can compare the notes and see if multiple people are reacting the same way to a certain part of your writing.
Coaches: A coach can come into the writing process at any point in time—before you start writing, in the middle of a draft, or once you have a completed draft. Their job is to guide you through the writing process and help clear any obstacles that stand in your way. They can also act as an alpha reader.
Editors: There are several kinds of editors. A developmental editor is somewhat like a coach yet there is less focus on helping you revise your writing and more on just revising it; they will evaluate your writing and restructure or rework it as needed. A copy editor comes into the writing process at a later stage to help refine and polish your writing. If a copy editor gets involved too early, you could be polishing a work that still has inherent problems on a structural level. And finally, a proof reader is the last person to read your writing before sharing it generally. Their job is to catch any typos or errors.
Learning From Experience
When I first started writing, I only shared my work with my mom because, no matter how good or bad it was, I knew she would always tell me it was amazing. And for a while, that was exactly what I needed—encouragement to keep going.
But when an author I met at a conference suggested I join a critique group, I decided to try something different. Soon, I was receiving real constructive criticism!
At first it was hard. Some weeks, I would walk away from our talks with no confidence. I would feel as if I needed to change my whole story. Other times I felt encouraged. But no matter what, without fail, I learned something new.
Within one year of having a critique group, everything about my writing improved—even my ability to give constructive criticism to others, which in turn helped me gain a critical eye when it came to my own writing.
So while it can be scary to open yourself up to criticism, building trust to share your work with others will ultimately help you grow as a writer and ready your work for the world to see!
Do you think sharing in-progress writing is more helpful or harmful? I’d love to hear your opinion in the comments below!