Critique guilt

There’s this weird thing that happens in creative circles. Critique is always desired, but not everyone can handle it. And when somebody gets their feelings hurt, the critique person feels bad.

I’ve been in an active critique group for over a year now. Between them and my crit partner, I’ve had my stories torn apart and rebuilt in much better ways. I’ve learned pitfalls to look for and how to critique other people’s work. (Tip #1: Always temper with praise!)

But occasionally someone will join the group who can’t take the heat. There’s been people who dropped in massive slabs of stories and never critiqued anything in return. I slaved over crits on their stories–and the person vanished, never to be seen again.

It always makes me guilty and second guess myself. I mixed in praise with the critique, right? All I nitpicked was stuff from various self editing books, like passive voice, repetition and adverbs. Or massive backstory dumps that bog the story down.

Bam. The writer is gone.

How do you handle this, in your creative circle? Can you take it when somebody says, “Hey, this is good, but it could be better and here’s how”?.

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7 thoughts on “Critique guilt

  1. I try to take critiques even if it hurts, and I will give critiques even if it hurts.

    Because there was a time when I was badly hurt and embarrassed because I didn’t see an issue in my work. It shattered my confidence and to this day I’m still dealing with it.

    I know that when I critique I am hurting to help–like a doctor’s scalpel–and that the people who critique me are doing so because they care. If someone gets hurt in the real world because of a fault in their work, it won’t be because I didn’t say something. That’s how I handle the guilt.

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  2. You know I can take the heat. XD

    I always feel that if someone can’t take the heat, it’s their own fault. If they aren’t willing to take the steps to improve, there’s nothing you can do about it. You’ve done your job to help them improve, and it’s up to them to really take that final step and WORK at it.

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  3. Boy do I hear you. I recently volunteered to help with a man’s sample he needed for publication. After slaving over it, he never even had the courtesy to either thank me or tell me I was way off the mark. One or the other would have been better than totally ignoring the notes I gave him. At least I did what I thought was helpful, can’t control his rude behavior.

    Rant over…I have learned so much from crit groups, and still attend, and encourage others to do so no matter the level of experience.

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  4. I appreciate all the feedback I get from people, and I try to do the same for them. I have blindspots that I am trying to see in my own writing and they have helped point them out.

    Doing everything through emails and track changes is hard to convey the tone of voice. When we read comments, sometimes we can insert our own baggage and assume what they say, what they might be saying, etc. So I try hard to write out comments so it doesn’t come across negatively, but who knows. And looking for ways to praise is a great idea. It’s one of the things I miss from a face to face group, but the online group is awesome too. And I have learned so much.

    Now that I’m on a deadline and drowning in details, life, etc, I wonder how to participate in critique groups and what that will look like once everything slows down. If it ever slows down! Ha!

    Also, echo Rachel’s sentiments.

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  5. I think it depends on the person; the only reason I’m commenting is 1. I’ve been a longtime follower of your Sonic fics and 2. I’m one of those people that struggles with heat.

    Constructive criticism is necessary, but I think what a lot of writers have issues with is separating their story from themselves. Some writers – like me personally – get so attached to their work that criticizing it is like criticizing a part of them. They’re the perfectionists, the obsessive compulsive. It doesn’t help that praise barely registers with this kind of person and criticism is a loud call. I’m an adult and I still have a hard time if someone goes after a big part of my story, like an important piece of plot. I have a very bad habit of reading it as downing me personally. That’s just something some people have to overcome with practice. It’s our thorn if you will.

    Mixing praise with criticism is a very good method and I try to use it as well, but there are just some people that have a hard time swallowing that what they did isn’t perfect…or, in several instances, just not someone’s cup of tea.

    That aside, it’s also more common for criticism on the internet to be laced with insults and condescending remarks, but I don’t worry about you doing any of that. Somebody else might have given them criticism in a much less caring, gentle way. If it’s given with good intentions I think your criticism might really be helping them. They might take things down now but they may return in a few years with more experience, having benefited from it.

    Anyway, that’s the take of the person that’s been reading your Sonic fics since she happened upon them at twelve years old.

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  6. Anzu, thanks for taking the time to comment! I understand about how hard it is to take critique. I don’t give it unless I’m asked–I know I don’t enjoy getting a critique unless I asked for it!

    It’s just part of developing rhino skin, which is necessary if you want to publish. Bad reviews will come. Pick any popular book and read the 1 star reviews on Amazon. Can you imagine that kind of venom hurled at your work? It gives me chills, so I’m working and working to desensitize myself. Haters gotta hate and I don’t have to be one. :-p

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  7. We used to (and occasionally still) get a lot of sudden entries and exists on another site I moderate–new people would come in, say “hi”, and the second someone replied they would vanish. Eventually some of these people started sticking around long enough to talk to, and they explained that they had left because it was their first time chatting online and they had chickened out. It would be pretty rude, but I can see some people having cold feet when it comes to asking for critique.

    As far as being critiqued myself… I don’t post what I write online anymore, so it’s something of a non-issue.

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