To Get as Well as Give

I love getting critiques. It makes me feel acknowledged and important. Someone took the time to think about my work and give feedback. What a precious gift.

This is the place to learn how to take criticism in a supportive environment. There is no guarantee that editors and art directors will have the time to be as helpful and nurturing as your critique group.

Note: It's a good idea to mention what you want a critiquer to focus on. If you feel you need help with the characterization or the perspective, let them know.

Don't feel discouraged if you feel you received a negative critique. If your work were totally hopeless, you probably wouldn't have gotten a critique at all. The critiquer cared enough to spend time on you—that's a good sign.

Take some time away from your work, then pull it out and think long and hard about each comment. Some things that you may have assumed were clear may not be. Other things may be awkward or incorrect. That's the beauty of feedback. You are so close to your work and are wrapped up in it emotionally. Your critique group has no such ties—they can help you view your work from another perspective. Pay special attention to recurring comments. If more than one person is noticing a potential weakness, you've probably got more work to do.

Don't be afraid to ask for clarification of a comment. And just because someone offers a comment, you are not obligated to implement it. Just be open to other solutions—they might not be appropriate for this project, but they might spark other ideas. This is your story, but you must think of what's best for the story.

Conversely, don't be afraid to use a good suggestion. It's still your work.

If the Shoe Doesn't Fit
Critique groups come in all sizes and shapes. If you are constantly feeling under attack, however, you may either be in the wrong group or perhaps you're not ready for a critique group. Is it what they said that upset you, or the way they said it? Are they using attack words to describe your flaws or are you just not interested in any negative comments? Or worse, are the critiques always positive and vague, giving you no useful information? I've had my share of unhelpful critiques and critique groups. Sometimes it takes three or four tries to get the right mix.

Note: If you are looking for only positive feedback, you may not be ready for a critique group. There's nothing wrong with this—we're all at different stages in our careers. Perhaps a message board is better for your current needs

Most of all, thank the critiquer for her time. And remember what you valued about this feedback the next time it's your turn to critique someone else.