When you’re an author, you’ll be getting plenty of criticism at every stage in writing. For a lot of aspiring authors, that’s a big part of what’s holding them back from getting their work off the back burner and out in the world. To cut to the chase, there are two main areas of criticism with books, and I’m going to explain them, and how to deal with them. This week, I’m going to explore pre-publication and in the next two weeks, I’m going to explore post-publication.
This is when the book is freshly written and you might post it somewhere online for feedback (places like writing.com) or a writing group.
Bad Criticism: This is where people comment saying things like “This is bad. This is wonderful! I don’t like it. The characters are weak. The plot is choppy. The descriptions are wonderful!”
Why is it bad? It isn’t a helpful comment. It doesn’t point out what exactly it is that makes the character weak or why they think the plot is choppy. I’ve seen the “why” missing very often in a lot of criticisms, and good or bad, it just doesn’t give you anything to go on or prove that they even read your work.
How to deal with it: There are two different ways to deal with this, first, you can ask the commenter to elaborate on the “whys”. Secondly, you can just ignore it. Usually, if it’s a trusted commenter in my writing group, I’ll ask them to elaborate. If it’s a commenter online, I’ll probably just ignore it.
Good Criticism: Also called “constructive criticism”. This is where, good or bad, you have information about what you did right – and why – and what you did wrong – and why. "
“The character was weak because of all of the “telling” in the work, and also, you use a lot of crutch words.” This is the bare minimum for a good criticism.
Why is it good? It tells what’s wrong and gives you an idea of how you might fix it. It also is clear that the commenter is familiar with what they’re talking about, making them a valid source.
How to deal with it: This might sound like a no-brainer at first, but it’s a little more complex than how to deal with bad criticism. First of all, it’s a rule for me to not apply what I’ve learned with the new criticism unless I strongly agree with it or at least one other commenter says the same. This is because everyone has their own opinions, but if more than one person says that same, it’s more likely that others will also agree. So you may hold off on applying it to your work.
In terms of what you’re doing right, it will probably be a good idea to take note for future reference. It can be helpful in revisions and in your future writings to know what to add more of and what to do minimally.
Constructive criticisms can help you to learn about your habits, your weaknesses, and your strength. They’re really a necessary part of the writing process and – new writers especially keep in mind – NOT a bashing of your work. If you understand what kind of criticism you’re getting, then you’re better equipped to handle it.
Lastly, I would like to make sure you never bash someone for commenting on your work whether it’s good or bad criticism you’ve received, or even just an outright bashing. Never. Ever. Make a big deal of it. Best thing to do is ignore it.
Good luck in your writings! Any questions, leave them in the comments.