“On plenty of days the writer can write three or four pages, and on plenty of other days he concludes he must throw them away.”
-Annie Dillard


Those of us who share our work with others before we send it off to markets are familiar with the ins-and-outs of our work being critiqued. But what happens when you receive a critique that isn’t written with an uplifting tone? A critique that is unencouraging, blatant, and matter-of-fact of everything you’re doing wrong?

I once received a critique. It started off well — good observations — but as I read on, I felt like the reader was becoming borderline hostile. The reader shared absolutely NOTHING about my piece that they liked; everything was questions and corrections.

Let me say before continuing… My stories focus so much on characters and their decisions, my characters has been known to get an emotional response out of my readers. Is it every time? No. And it’s not every reader and it’s not every story. But it has happened that the reader has cried or sympathized or was frustrated or found a character annoying. So that may have come into play in this reader’s critique of my story.

I won’t share word-for-word remarks the reader made, but the story did have a morality issue surface, and that could’ve hit a nerve with the reader. Had it? I don’t know. But it seemed like it could have. If I was a writer with thin skin, I could have taken the critique very poorly. But I’m one of those people who don’t take offense. I mean, rarely something may sting for a brief moment but I do let it go.

With that said, I believe one should always want to deliver any sort of correction in the nicest way possible. And those who don’t end up writing critiques to people who are easily offended or easily discouraged. And that leaves the writers wondering if they have any talent at all. And that’s a shame because I have read stories where the authors haven’t written the best story but they had a good grasp on certain things and I could see their potential. Saying things like that can make all the difference.

We can’t control what other people do or say to us, but we can control what we do in response. Will we walk away and not write again? Or will we overlook the harsh delivery and use the truthful comments to make our story better? Because that is why we wanted our work critiqued, right? To make the story better.

Even though this particular reader disregarded finesse in their delivery, they did have some valuable input in regards to bettering my story. Would it have been nice if they mentioned SOMETHING they thought I did well? Absolutely. But the critiquer is a person and all of us don’t do things the same way. We have to remember that. We also need to remember that this person took the time to read our story and comment on it. Even if the assumed tone wasn’t pleasing, they did us a favor.

Some people just aren’t geared toward mentioning the positives when they critique. And some people let their personal dissatisfaction invade their critiques. But that’s okay, because we don’t get our work critiqued to hear praise. Is it nice to hear? Yes. Is it good to hear? You bet! But first and foremost, we can’t make a story better by constant lauding. That can only help us know what we did and are doing right; it can’t pinpoint what needs attention.

A reader/critiquer will bring his or her personality and beliefs (and perhaps bias) into it. When we ask for critiques, which is hugely someone’s opinion, we can’t justly be upset when they give that opinion. And although the initial sting can be hard to get over, if you look through the critique objectively, I’m sure you can find the good that your story needs to flourish.

Keep writing!